This is a blog post written for an Indiblogger contest sponsored by Franklin Templeton Investments titled Idea Caravan. Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012. All the TedX videos are hosted at www.ftideacaravan.com
Although I know Arunachalam Muruganadam even before this Idea Caravan initiative, I never wrote about this topic. I should thank the initiative and Indiblogger as they hav helped me to take my thoughts about this to my readers.
I always believe that grass root innovations can change a community. To be fair, every invention made by scientists long before were grass root innovations. They had a problem facing them and they somehow found a solution. All these people were driven by curiosity. That’s what drives grassroot innovations. Grassroot Innovation is about activities that improves products, techinques and crafts so that it’s economical and solves a basic problem. There is a basic difference between grassroot & corporate innovations. Corporates put their money where they can get back a profit. Yes, they solve problems but not the problems which people want to solve. They will solve problems where the solution would be profitable.
You would have seen a lot of grassroot innovations- for the uninitiated, the easiest way of understanding is to see the climax scene of 3 Idiots – those are grass root innovations done by individuals and supported by National Innovation Foundation. Recently, even Anand Gandhi tributed that organisation in Ship of Theseus where Navin’s friend watches NIF channel.
What do these people do? They just solve problems in an innovative way. These are not workarounds. These are not jugaad solutions. These are sustaianble innovations that solve real problems in a real way. For instance, Mohammaed Saidullah of Champaran invented a floating cycle to cross the river, Appachan created an easy cocunut tree climber and Remya Jose created Cycle Pedal Washing machine. Pudhiya Thalaimurai, a Tamil News Channel, runs a weekly program that showcases such innovations – it’s rightly titled “Aayudham Seivom” (We will make tools). There are people around this world who solve these kind of problems. Evans from Nigeria has invented a winnowing machine that will peel off outer shells of melons or Yacouba Sawadogo, who found a way to cultivate in semi arid land with less water in the African Country of Burkina Faso. These are people who change lives one innovation at a time.
One of the biggest criticisms kept against these grassroot innovations are sustainability and scalability. Corporates,Governments and Bureaucrats don’t believe these innovations are scalable although organisations like NIF help them in that sense, there should be more strategic ideation from innovators themselves to solve this problem.
That’s what Arunachalam Murugunandam did. He just broke that myth and proved grassroot innovations are scalable.
Arunachalam is from a small village near Coimbatore, who was bitten by curiousity when his wife wanted to buy sanitary napkin pads. He saw how costly they were and learnt that 88% of the women in India don’t have a hygienic way of tackling their period woes. He started working on it and now has created a movement that challenges the corporate behemoths like Colgate Palmolive and P&G, who are running this industry. I want you to listen to his story in the following video because I will kill the humour if I write about it. For a sample, he actually wore a sanitary napkin for a week to test them. I am not kidding.
But what fascinated me in his story was the way he has scaled up his business model. First, he created a simple machine that can mass produce these napkins. He made sure that any person who wants to start this business needs only Rs.75000 as capital. The machine can churn out 120 packs of sanitary napkins per hour and each pad can be sold at Rs 2 with a sizeable profit.
Next thing, he didn’t license his machine to some company, he patented it, started his own company Jayashree Industries. He wanted to create entrepreneurs like him. He sought the help of women self help groups. With loans from NGOs, banks and government organisations, these women start their own outfits. Now Jayashree Industries has facilitated 600 such machines deployed in 23 states (2012 data, should have increased). The self help Groups sell these pads to rural women, educating them why unhygienic methods are hazardous and why pads are necessary.
A business model, a clear process and a winning distribution mechanism – I don’t know what else is needed for a sustainable business. He didn’t stop at innovating. He found a way to make it a profitable business not only for him but for many others like him. Organisations like NIF, Honey Bee Network are helping these grassroot innovations to scale and sustain but a little bit of thought process from these inventors needs to go in to their innovations that will make this business viable. We need more of Arunachalams, after all you know he is successful and made a dent in those corporate behemoths’ business when you see Whisper advertisement while you search for Arunachalam Muruganadham. Do you need any other testimony?