Amandeep Singh, 21, of Sangharia village in Rajasthan is an experimental innovator. He speaks enthusiastically about his solar laminator project. Singh started work on the laminator at the age of 17, when he was still in school. He felt the need for a machine that would laminate documents without depending on the village's erratic electricity supply. Quirky but nifty, it has the potential to be developed into a workable prototype that will work well commercially. Happily for him, Singh has received funding for further research.
At a time when most research and development is targeted at the urban elite, handy, comparatively inexpensive items designed for rural India find little support. The private sector is not focused on looking into the requirements of rural Indians and creating products that meet their specific needs. Banks and funding agencies are also hesitant about funding individuals with innovative ideas; it is far easier to justify a loan to a registered entity with the right credentials. This is where Grassroots Innovations Augmentation Network (GIAN) steps in.
Singh recalls how he first heard of GIAN (also Hindi for knowledge) at a school science fair and decided to approach them for support. He also talks about the technical snag he was up against then - not being able to acquire the right temperature. GIAN helped him sort this out with the help of a technical person in Gurgaon, Haryana.
GIAN (North), set up in November 2002, is the regional implementation cell of the Ahmedabad (Gujarat)-based National Innovation Foundation (NIF). NIF was set up in March 2000 by the Indian government's Department of Science and Technology to provide institutional support for "scouting, spawning, sustaining and scaling up grassroots green innovations and helping their transition to self supporting activities". GIANs have been set up in Jaipur (Rajasthan), Ahmedabad (Gujarat) and Guwahati (Assam) to provide support for the North, West and Northeast regions respectively. In addition, there are GIAN cells at Tumkur (Andhra Pradesh) and Madurai (Tamil Nadu) in South India, which are tie-ups with local technical institutions.
The GIANs operate as technology incubators; they tie up innovations and investments to create a viable business enterprise. Each GIAN-supported innovation has been developed on the basis of specific feedback from users and aims to address the problems users face with existing technology. Sometimes, the product looks for an alternate, more efficient energy source.
GIAN (North) covers seven states - Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, Uttaranchal, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and Chandigarh - and operates much like a commercial organization.
Rajeev Singhal, Senior Manager, Product Development with GIAN (North), explains, "GIAN's mandate is to link grassroots innovation with enterprise development. This includes incubation (idea to product), product development, intellectual property protection and market research. The last stage is venture promotion, which includes project planning, technology transfer, commercial launch, pilot, commercial scale production, distribution, vendor development and dissemination of information."
The focus of its work, however, is very different from the usual commercial enterprise. Madan Lal Kumawat, 37, of Shikarjila, Rajasthan has created a thresher that efficiently separates wheat from chaff. The grains are clean and can be carted straight to the market. The earlier machine required manual cleaning after the machines were through with the wheat. Today, Kumawat has three prototypes with prices ranging from Rs 105,000 (US$1=Rs 46) to Rs 175,000. These machines can be used on all crops, from mustard to groundnut. In a good monsoon year, he sells 10-15 machines. GIAN is working to provide Kumawat with the capital to work out a stock and sale method, so he can move on from working on orders alone.
When GIAN is offered a project for initial prototyping, it gets the project evaluated by experts at well-known institutes (like the Agriculture Research Station, Jaipur) for technical feasibility. If there is no problem with feasibility or if the performance of the product needs improvement, GIAN offers the innovator product development support. For commercialization activities, a soft loan is provided through GIAN's Micro Venture Innovation Funds via the Small Industries Development Bank of India. The loan is for the commercialization of the product, with capital assistance for making and selling the product. The loan can be repaid in the form of profit-sharing or contribution to some development project in the village.
These, however, are just technicalities. GIAN's work is truly reflected in the difference that it makes to the lives of the innovators and those who benefit from the innovations. GIAN (North) alone, with a core staff comprising just three people, has helped over 50 innovators so far.
Take, for instance, the success story of Yusuf Khan, 34, from Sikar village in Rajasthan. He built a groundnut digger. The usual digger machines leave behind about 20 per cent of the groundnuts sowed, which has to be picked manually later. Khan's digger, which is attached to a tractor, not only digs out all the groundnuts but also tills the land. Priced at Rs 55,000, this has been a very successful product. GIAN helped Khan with crucial research and development assistance and with commercialization, advertising and publicity. And so pleased is Khan that he is now an unofficial recruiter of innovators looking for support. "It's my way of paying GIAN back," he says. Khan, who has also won the Third Grassroots Technological Innovations and Traditional Knowledge Award 2005-06, has now received funding to upscale his production.
(Contact GIAN (North) at: Science Park, Shastri Nagar, Vigyan Udyan Marg, Jaipur 302016. Ph: +91-141-2304161; E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)