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Padmashri Anil Gupta – Founder of Honeybee Network

9 October 2011 2 Comments

“Creativity comes from constraint” ~ Biz Stone, Co-Founder, Twitter

In today’s show in search of role models, CWS introduces you to a person who created Honey Bee Network to support grassroots innovators who are rich in knowledge, but not in resources. Please join me in welcoming Padmashri Anil Gupta. Mr. Gupta found ways of capturing inventions at grass roots, writing them up for a worldwide internet audience, getting the most ingenious ones manufactured so that the inventor can benefit financially from an idea which previously might have helped only friends and relatives. This is the concept of Honey Bee Network, which now has over 100,000 inventions and discoveries on its website – http://www.sristi.org/hbnew/

Anil Gupta’s TED talk on India’s hidden hotbeds of invention can be found here.

Me: Sundar Rajan G S

AG: Padmashri Anil Gupta, founder of Honeybee Network

Me: Dear sir.. I am very proud to host you on CWS! Honey Bee network is an amazing concept! Bees collecting its pollen from the flowers, benefiting them rather than impoverishing them. What led you to this idea.. Can you share some interesting anecdotes and explain the model to the audience..

AG: Sure.. The concept is actually more than 24 years old.. I have been studying studying creativity of people since 1980s.. In 1984, I was working on how farmers solve problems in such a high risk environment.. In 85 – 85, I was in Bangladesh, trying to study farmers and farming system research.. I came across a vast range of innovations.. But hardly any one of of them got the due attention.. When I came back, I wrote various reports about the same.. all these reports didnt seem enough to me in terms of giving back to the people from I studied the ideas.. I wanted to do something more.. I had that guilt sown in me.. That is when the thought came about the interaction between the flowers and honey bees.. The pollination of flowers by honey bee is a mutually benefitial process.. This acted as a guiding priciple of the network.. It slowly started identifying creativity in 1999.. By 2000, Shriti was set up and was announced in budget.. A microventure financing was set up in 2003.. Many have heard of venture financing.. This is the something similar, which looks for innovation from the informal sector.. Last year, technology acquisition fund was set up when we acquire innovative solutions and take it to the next level..

Me: You have witnessed a number of amazing innovations in the bottom of the pyramid.. Like the coconut tree climber to mobile washing machine.. What in your opinion is the driving force for such inventions.. Is the necessity indeed the mother of all innovations or do you see any other of factor influencing it..

AG: First of all, it not correct to use the term “Bottom of the pyramid”. It not a fair term. They might be at the bottom of economic pyramid. That doesnt mean that they are at the bottom of every pyramid.. we are distancing ourself from them by using such terms.. Companies are trying to sell things to them.. But where will they get their money to buy things if they cant sell what they produce.. We need tools, techniques and institutional support..

If you look at the inovations at lesser known hot beds.. First there is motivation, which in turn leads to initiatives.. and that will lead to innovations.. There can be a number of triggers which change motivation to initiative.. but for translating the intiative to innovation.. there is a need for favourable social, ecological & institutional systems in place..

Having showcased these innovations, we still dont see massive effort in this direction.. of the 60,000 Crore budget, only 8 crore was allocated for these initiatives.. That too was allocated last year.. before only 1.4 crores were allocated.. Institutional support is very scanty.. True potential is not yet harnessed yet.. Growth of the Indian economy itself wont include the entire society.. We need to think how to reduce this widening gulf.. And their innovation provides this possibility..

Me: What are the key challenges you see for such innovations? Does it attract a critical mass to support itself if such ideas are translated into ventures.. Although scalability is a secondary issue, there must be self sustainable local acceptance in the first place.. In other words.. Do see sufficient market for such innovation to survive..

AG: There are a many challenges to overcome.. many bottlenecks to overcome.. first and foremost, financial resources are very scanty.. Except Futures Group, no other large corporation has an inclusive CSR.. secondly, if you see.. the rate at which these innovations add value is quite slow.. There are constraints in finance, design, capacity etc.. Unless people conserve these innovations, we can only go so far..

Here is where I think technology should be linked to value adding activity.. For example, in www.techpedia.in 104,000 engineering projects are there.. about 50,000 students across the country are participating in projects which assist small & medium enterprises in the informal sector.. Mr. Mehta, a student who started this is now leading this initiative.. Every engineering student should define the problem and solve a problem for society.. This should be made a part of every corriculum.. Solving such micro problems helps in innumerable number of ways.. there are projects in crop growth, vet. medicine, plot growth.. etc..

Advancements are encouraging to push the affordability frontier.. We are coming up some really amazing low cost products.. For example, a wind mill was developed to pump water at just Rs. 65,000/- Two innovators made a Rs. 5000/- wind mill for their paddy field.. This was made in Bamboo.. There are solutions to reduce the cost.. in pollution.. in pest control.. safer & affordable technologies are being developed.. most importantly.. accountable technologies are being developed..

Me: What about the scale? Do they self sustain?

AG: Agreed.. Scale is necessary.. But there might needs, which only 500 people in the society might need.. Denying them a solution, just because there is no scale.. is just unfair.. If demands of such small groups are not met, there are social strifes and unrest.. This is where state and markets become helples.. Heterogeniety and diversity is not bad.. For the sake of scale, everyone cannot wear the same dress.. eat the same food.. like the same music.. Sure, they might bring down the cost.. But is such a life worth living? How will we innovate.. Different thinking is good.. You shouldnt kill the golden egg just because you want scale.. Neighbour community is as important as 100,000 acres.. Scale is important, we welcome it.. But it should not be a necessary condition.. We have 130,000 post offices across 650,000 villages.. We can use this as a way of sourcing and diseminating ideas.. Some of our ideas do have scale.. I have written quite of few of them on my blog..

Readers, hope you enjoyed this edition of Coffee With Experts. Stay tuned for part 2 of the interview. Previous interview with Padmashri Ananda Shankar Jayant can be found here.




  • Shankar banjara said:

    really very interesting story about Honey Bee Network and its founder

  • golden nifty said:

    very fun article!