India is an extraordinary country comprised of over 1.2 billion people and ripe with a vibrant and diverse sense of culture. However, more than 29.8% of India’s population – equal to the combined inhabitants of USA and France – is living below the national poverty line (World Bank, 2010). Whether in the urban slums or remote village communities, large portions of Indians are not realizing their social or economic potential.
Yet, the country’s economy is on the rise. This is evident by better-than-forecasted growth rates, an increasing number of impact-focused public-private partnerships, an improving landscape of internationally educated graduates, a growing sector of professionals focused on social change and a visibly entrepreneurial culture.
As a result, India is proving to be a hub of innovation, more poised than ever to meet the needs of those in living in low-income markets.
Sources of Innovation
In order to change the lives of people with a new idea, behaviour change and large-scale acceptance is required. As a result, ‘game changing’ innovations are near impossible without the driving force of an innovator to challenge the status quo and promote the adoption of a new model to a community, region or group.
Perhaps surprisingly, some of India’s most unique innovators are often found in households of the same underserved communities where a new idea may have the greatest impact. From a washing machine mounted on the back of a scooter and powered by the engine to a solar mosquito repellent, people from the lower-income segments of India have proven they’re often best placed to find cheap and efficient solutions to their own problems.
However, true entrepreneurs are often the engine of innovation in India. By nature, entrepreneurs, conceptualize, test, pilot and seek to perfect a new product or service to enhance the lives of those around them – while also focused on profit generation. According to 2007 data, the number of registered and unregistered micro, small and medium enterprises in the country is 26,100,797; there is one MSME for each 46.3 people in India, and the numbers are increasing.(Fourth All India Census MSMEs, 2007)
While an entrepreneur may not directly set out to create an impact, developing affordable, relevant and accessible products and services tailored to the needs of low-income markets – even to create a profit – does directly improves the lives of those in bottom of the pyramid markets.
Beyond understanding those driving innovation in India, it is critical to grasp in what sectors new ideas are taking root.
Sectors of Innovation
Water and sanitation is an often reviewed and sometimes debated sector when it comes to development. It is a core area where innovation, in India especially, can improve and even extend the lives of those living in poverty.
Ten years ago, only 27% of India’s population had access to sanitation facilities and 83% to water sources. In 2010, with the efforts of the government, of non-profits and of entrepreneurs, 92% had access to water, but only 34% to sanitation facilities (World Bank, 2010).
Presently however, the range of innovations in the sector varies from solutions promoted by FICCI for water conservation and efficiency, water recycling and reuse within companies, to gravity-induced water supply, water purification systems and rain water harvesting models. While progress has been made, significant opportunity exists to deepen the water and sanitation solutions available in low-income markets.
Innovation is abundant in the clean energy and climate change sectors. Affordable solar energy based products for rural households like cook stoves, water heater or lamps, solution for generating electricity from rice husk or water pumping or crowdsourcing systems to highlight the energy demand and supply across the country are just a few examples. However, with 89% of rural and 28% of urban households still dependant on firewood for energy (NSSO, 207), there is room for improvement over the long-term.
Surprisingly, the education sector is not that prolific in bringing about innovative solutions across. The rate of female literacy has grown with only 10% in 10 years and in 2011 stands at only 65.46% of the entire female population across India(Census India, 2011). A great need exists for women empowerment innovations; it has been proven that women who receive a better education can support their family income and participate in the decision making of the family for a brighter future.
The above only represent a few of the key sectors where innovation is critical. However, agriculture, food security, maternal and child health and family planning are other core areas where India is generating new ideas, yet where the potential for innovation remains high.
Innovators, such as entrepreneurs, require support, encouragement and resources to kick-start and even scale their ideas. Because of this, Ennovent works to accelerate innovations having a sustainable impact on low-income people with a global network of entrepreneurs, investors and experts. Ennovent aims to discover, startup, finance and scale up the best for-profit innovations – recognizing that the need for innovation support remains strong.
Since inception in 2008 Ennovent has placed an investment in Barefoot Power – a solar energy company – built an online network of almost 4,500 stakeholders focused on supporting product and service innovation, facilitated a USD 50,00 investment in a forward-thinking education company called Sudiksha Knowledge Solutions and identified over 150 new enterprises addressing pressing social issues around the world.
More than ever, Ennovent is working to facilitate innovation, aspiring towards a sustainable living for people at the base of the economic pyramid in India, and beyond.
While India has undoubtedly begun harnessing it’s strength to improve the lives of those living in poverty, the conditions for continued innovation are strong – and the need for new solutions to old problems is greater than ever.
Join Ennovent’s online Global Network now to access entrepreneurship-related resources and engage with investors, experts, entrepreneurs and mentors focused on driving global innovation.
Daniela F. Gheorghe is a Romanian communication specialist and a social entrepreneurship enthusiast. During 2011 – 2012, she completed a fellowship as the Branding and Communication Manager for the social enterprise Jaipur Rugs Group. Daniela has been associated with Ennovent since September 2012.