Thursday, April 19, 2018

ASSURED Innovation to Remove Inequality in India

Greetings from the Australian National University, where Dr R A Mashelkar, Chairman of India's National Innovation Foundation is presenting the 2018 K.R. Narayanan Oration. Dr R A Mashelkar's topic is Dismantling Inequality Through Assured Innovation. He started by drawing parallels with K.R. Narayanan's early life, both walking barefoot to school and then receiving a Tata scholarship. He pointed out the Tata Trust dates from 1892 and predates many other such foundations.  He described this as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) 1.0 and propose CSR 2.0.

Dr Mashelkar described CSR 2.0 as frugal, functional, but high quality approach and used the acronym ASSURED:
  •  A (Affordable), 
  • S (Scalable), 
  • S (Sustainable), 
  • U (User friendly), 
  • R (Rapid), 
  • E (Excellent) and 
  • D (Distinctive).
Dr Mashelkarthen showed a table assesing failed technology products assessed against each ASSURED criterion. As an example, he suggested Google Glass failed on all criteria, except Excellence and Distinctiveness.

While new technologies follow a lowering cost curve (similar to More's law), Dr Mashelkarthen pointed out that the rate needs to accelerate. He pointed out that cataract surgery had become 100 times cheaper, while maintaining quality, due to work-flow innovation in India.

Dr Mashelkarthen proposed three Mantras to accelerate innovation:
  1. Pole-vaulting: For this the example of India's increase in the use of broadband data was given. This was attributed to India's Aadhaar identity card and low cost 4g mobile broadband. I didn't quite understand how this worked, but it seems to be the provision of mobile banking to the poor.
  2. Next Practice: The example of a lead-less credit card size hearth monitor connected to a smart phone. The idea seems to be that the low cost sensor can be used by the patient at home, with their smart phone sending readings to the hospital. 
  3. Disruptive Innovation:Unlike a typical innovation presentation, Dr Mashelkar gave an example of an Indian product which failed: the Simputer. However, its American equivalent, the OLPC also failed (I purchased one of the remaindered OLPC tablet computers on
The last question to Dr Mashelkar was how to cultivate innovation in Indian education. He suggested starting with schools and pointed out this is about culture, not just new school buildings.