Interpreting Innovation in IndiaTweet
Arun Maira, Member - Planning Commission of India
"We need to have a million jugaads, it means solutions have to be found that are really fit for the situation and in most situations there are constraints of resources and so the solution must fit the constrained resources which one generally calls the jugaad. What we have to do is enable these jugaads to happen quickly to happen more widespread so that benefits of innovation, that's jugaad are happening, all over."
In this podcast interview Arun Maira, a member of the Planning Commission and National Innovation council believes in enabling social inclusion and innovation from the ground up.
Arun Maira, throws his weight behind the idea that government and private enterprise must do what they can to reward home grown solutions or jugaad that make a change for the large Indian population still without access to basic healthcare, education and employment.
Unlike the Silicon Valley model of awarding or funding innovation, Arun Maura believes his role is to work with the highest authorities to create many common platforms, connecting stakeholders - government, local innovators, social enterprise, NGOs and media to reward the right innovation of what he believes is jugaad to create social impact and drive economic growth.
Hear the man himself, as he shares his views on why rewards, and not subsidies, should be used to boost the productivity of those struggling to make ends meet and ultimately handle the growing needs of the Indian populace and economy.
Do listen in and tell us what you think.
For a full transcript of the interview you can scroll below.
Transcript - Interview with Arun Maira
Shivraj: Thank you Mr Maira for speaking to us at Brevis.
Arun Maira: You're most welcome, looking forward to this.
Shivraj: Mr Maira, you know you've been quite vocal about innovation and a complete overhaul of processes and governance to make growth more inclusive, but in a country like India where there is always this immediate need, how do you reconcile that with the magnitude of the situation that we are confronted with?
Arun Maira: Well as you put it yourself, there is always an immediate need, it suggests that we should be fixing the systems resulting in there always being an immediate need. So to apply ourselves immediately to fixing the system is the need of the hour. And the system as you mentioned in your question itself is one which is to do with better governance and better processes of delivering benefits to people - health, education, better infrastructure and we need innovations in the processes of governance, whereby we can deliver benefits more quickly and more effectively. So that is why I have been concentrating very much on the need to overhaul the system of governance and the process of involving people in governance and in service delivery.
Shivraj: So would you say that we need to move beyond the whole jugaad culture, make it perhaps more concretised?
Arun Maira: On the contrary we need to have a million jugaads, if you could put it in that term. It means solutions have to be found that are really fit for the situation and in most situations there are constraints of resources and so the solution must fit the constrained resources which one generally calls the jugaad. And we need a million jugaads in everywhere there has to be an appropriate solution. What we have to do is enable these jugaads, and I am going to continue to use the word jugaad to happen quickly to happen more widespread so that benefits of innovation, that is jugaad are happening, all over.
Shivraj: Ok, and Mr Maira the criticism of the way things have gone on in India we are great at ideation, we are a hot bed of ideas, but when it comes to actual delivery and execution on those ideas we are not there yet, is this something we really need to change?
Arun Maira: See when you talk of delivery and execution, if someone on the ground figures out a solution with very limited resources that person is delivering, he's executing. So now you are talking about the idea of scaling up and you are saying okay we are very bad at scaling up and we don't deliver against the idea of and execute against the idea of scaling up. And the reason is I think that the idea of scaling up when you need to have local solutions of great variety to suit each and every condition in different localities that idea of scaling up by the traditional way and executing in a very efficient top down standardised process is the flawed idea itself. We need a change in the idea of how do you spread around innovation, the benefits of innovation everywhere and it can't be by just scaling up by the traditional modes of organising.
Shivraj: And what about funding for social projects, that's something you've been writing extensively about. Can we afford to like we have been doing over the last 60 years, subsidise all these projects. Is there a new way that we can look at funding good and innovative ideas?
Arun Maira: They don't need to be subsidised. I just had before you called an interesting discussion with the head of Intel here, they are working on inventing models of investing in small innovations, jugaads you might call them, in the back of beyond in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and Himachal and so on. And what he said to me is something very interesting. He said Intel has grown up on this thesis of an investment made into Intel and Intel thereafter keeps acquiring other companies and it has so grown. He says the VC world and the private investment world which has usually has been drawn into investing into the big innovations, in things that turned out like Google, eBay, previously Intel itself, is the model which cannot work for the kind of innovation we are finding in the country and in which they are beginning to succeed to support. Because he says that model of one that is of Silicon Valley model, has a brunch of very people who expect to get a lot of money themselves out of their investments and so they have partners and principal partners and all that and very high internal rate of return expectation. In that model he says that what you do if you come to when you come to India is that you look for maybe 20 or 30 things to do, all very small from your end and their end. Where you don't want to risk too much you don't know what they're all about. You are not close to them and frankly financially you don't care if they fail, so you have no emotional or financial skin in the game, really speaking. So you need to have people locally who are the investors in these jugaads, if you were to call it. Now to support these local jugaad investors they need someone else behind them from whom they can get money and that person behind them gives these local people money because they understand the local innovation and will support it. So we need to, and we are working on it, improve the architecture of the financial system in India such that this, let me call it the last mile to the jugaad.
Shivraj: In a country where we have been given such a heavy dose of socialist thought all this political agendas, do you think we really need a paradigm shift before we can actually look at the markets as a place to get that funding?
Arun Maira: You know you said socialist thought and a paradigm shift, I do agree that we need a paradigm shift. But if you characterise socialist thought as a thought which is only about the state giving things to people, yes we do need a paradigm shift. But if a socialist thought is that the whole society should benefit including the last person should be included in the progress of the society and economic progress that is the thought which we should not change. We need that. The capitalist system has not been able to deliver against this thought of rapid inclusion of people in the growth of economies. So we do need a paradigm shift in the capitalist model also, if I might say. So we need to discover and invent a new model which has the good connotation of socialism in it and also has the energy of capitalism in it. So how do we do this, we do this by enabling people to earn on their own, make money out of their small investments and to become capitalists as well, then we don't have to give people things, they are making things themselves and by their income growth and by their investment growth they are growing the economy. So the growth of the economy is coming about by inclusion, it's not that you first grow the economy and then you start including people in it.
Shivraj: And you know you're a member of the National Innovation Council, this is something which is forward thinking, what is the vision and plan, how are you going to take these social innovations to the kind of scale you are talking about, right now?
Arun Maira: Well there are several things, but let me mention three of them, the most important perhaps. The first is, we have got to focus the energy of our people, the innovative energy of people as well as the energy of those who want to support innovative people by funding them and coaching them, also the challenges that we have if we want to make our country a better and more inclusive country in a good way a more socialist and in a good way a more capitalist country too by saying - well here are the challenges that people don't have good quality and affordable accessible healthcare, people don't have good quality education , people don't have good quality accessible water and sanitation so on, solutions have to be found to these challenges. Who will find solutions to these challenges? Only innovators, because present methods are not delivering against these requirements. So the discovery of a new solution is an innovation. So you want to spur up entrepreneurs, innovators to address these challenges. So recognising these challenges and then supporting through this financial system which we are tweaking so that it reaches the last mile. Those people that are addressing these challenges, not anybody who says look I've devised another version of a cell phone which enables people to watch you know 3-4 movies at the same, which is an innovation, but we don't want to be supporting that, because that is not at the moment the basic thing that most people in the country need. And three is, we want to link up financiers, people with ideas, people with needs, information about each other whereby there are things we can do things that spark together and innovations emerge, entrepreneurs and models emerge and so on. So there's knowledge of what is going on and how others are succeeding should be available to many people than it is today. So want to create a network and we are doing that already, linking in with other networks that are already gathering information about what is succeeding or not. To make a grander connection, a knowledge network of innovations. We want more and we don't want to be, you know when we acquire something we promptly kill its identity because we want to smother it into becoming a part of a grander machine we don't want to do that, that's not the model for including people and getting their energy to produce results.
Shivraj: Mr Maira thank you so much for taking out the time for speaking to us.
Arun Maira: My pleasure.