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Taking stock of innovation

India has earmarked the current decade as the "decade of innovation". Manu Kaushik reports from a CII conference looking back at what has been achieved in the first year.

twitter-logo Manu Kaushik   New Delhi     Last Updated: November 17, 2011  | 19:06 IST

In June 2009, President Pratibha Devisingh Patil, in her address to Parliament, declared the next ten years (2010-2020) in India to be a Decade of Innovation. Almost 30 months later, when an invitation for a two-day CII event titled "Decade of Innovation: India @ Year 1" landed in my mailbox this November, it sounded like the perfect opportunity to explore what has happened in the world of innovation in the past one year.

There were a total of eight sessions spread across two days but I decided to attend a select few (speaking candidly, the ones where the speakers were known to me). Sam Pitroda , chairman of National Innovation Council (NInC), who inaugurated the opening session, set the agenda. He mentioned the five focus areas of NInC and how his organisation is not concerned about the problems of rich people. "We have no interest in creating billionaires as part of NInC initiatives. In the process if that happens, we are happy but we really need to put our nose down and look at 500 million people below the poverty line and see what the innovation is going to bring to them," he said.

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Following Pitroda's address, Naushad Forbes, Chairman of CII Innovation Council and one of the speakers at the session, raised his concerns about the idea of innovation czars in organisations. "I believe innovation should be everyone's business but the problem, of course, is it ends up being nobody's business," said Forbes, to which Pitroda replied: "We are a feudal, hierarchical society. If you don't have innovation czars, things don't come together. Maybe in some places you don't need this, but in most places you need Maharajas of innovation and then everything works. It's unfortunate sometimes but if it works, then it's perfectly all right."

The third session on Day 1 also turned out to be interesting with people from two different backgrounds-two government officials (George John, Senior Adviser, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology; and Samir Mitra, head of National Innovation Clusters at Office of Advisor to the Prime Minister) and two private sector executives (Gautham Parthasarathy, CMO at Aditya Birla Science and Technology; and P. Anandam, MD at Microsoft Research India-shared their insights on creating preconditions for innovation in the country. Parthasarathy gave the example of how GE took more than three generations-the first R&D centre was set up in the US in 1900-to establish a strong R&D network across the world. "The challenge is how we can cut down this century of efforts into one generation," said Parthasarthy. Moderating the discussion, Gaurav Kataria, Head Consulting (Customer Division), Feedback Business Consulting, tried to instill confidence in Parthasarthy's views, saying, "Perhaps, it could be possible in the current times".

Day 2 got off to a flying start, with a large audience in attendance. Prof Anil Gupta, Executive Vice Chair, National Innovation Foundation, touched upon the idea of grassroots innovation. Neelam Chhiber, Founder Director at Industree Crafts Private Ltd. and a co-speaker, gave an example of how her company was empowering local artisans. "We aim to build a strong production and marketing platform that connects high-quality artisan-made products in rural India to urban markets. Our model allows artisans to buy a stake in our company for just Rs 100 per share while the same share is sold at Rs 2,000 to outside financial investors," she said. In 2009, Industree received venture capital funding from Kishore Biyani's Future Ventures.

Subsequently, an award ceremony was held in which Minister of State for Planning, Science & Technology and Earth Sciences Ashwani Kumar announced the winners of India Innovation Initiative - i3 2011.

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