Forbes recently profiled 7 rural entrepreneurs whose “inventions are changing lives” of the people across the country. The entrepreneurs were selected by the Honey Bee Network, founded by Prof. Anil Gupta. The network identifies and documents innovators and have been the source of pollination and cross-pollination of ideas, creativity and grassroots innovations.
Call it ingenuity, call it frugal engineering, call it toilet paper entrepreneur or call it Jugaad – entrepreneurship is being redefined in India. A lot of this is actually happening away from the urban areas. While innovations of large companies like Tata and Godrej’s Chotu Kool have been extensively covered by media, the less known entrepreneurs are equally interesting.
I met one such entrepreneur 10 days ago at TEDx Chennai. It so happened that he was not one of the speakers. The TEDx team had identified a few entrepreneurs who were showcasing their venture and products during the umpteen breaks. It was at one of these stalls that I saw this assuming guy sitting with his laptop. Not too many people were approaching him because he did not have an fancy product on the table – but he had an inspiring story to share. I, along with my brother and a friend were humbled by his modesty and his approach to life.
His name is Muruganantham. He is a school dropout, but has installed an innovative small-scale model to manufacture sanitary napkins that enables rural women to lead a hygienic lifestyle and has encouraged rural women to turn entrepreneurs. Till date he has installed 250 such machines installed across 18 states. This has lead to creation of 250 women entrepreneurs and has generated employment of around 2000 people.
Muruganantham’s machine converts the elaborate process of manufacturing sanitary napkins into a Gandhian operation. The tools used in this model are as much “machines” as the charkha, the pestle or the grindstone. It operates on simple tasks that can be mastered within 1 day, and he himself trains these women entrepreneurs. Through his innovation he has been able to addresses the issue of sanitary napkins being unaffordable and/or unavailable to around 97% of Indian women.
It took him 4 years of research to create this jugaad machine at a cost of Rs.75,000 (while large machines of similar kind cost Rs.35 million), but he did not think of creating a “for-profit” enterprise – “money is a by product” as he told us. He shared his experience of speaking at TiECon in Mumbai where he asked the elite audience – “When a school dropout from a small place in Coimbatore can think of making his innovation useful to society, why don’t you educated people think on these lines?“. Muruganantham is truly an inspiring individual.
There are many others like Muruganantham who have created innovative products or services such as:
- the decentralization of handwoven cotton through the Malkha revolution
- training of rural women at the barefoot college
- building eco-friendly and more durable roads by using waste plastic
- training of domestic servants to enable standardisation in the unorganized sector
- manufacturing a 35 dollar laptop
- micro finance institutions creating and training entrepreneurs
There will be many such more examples and I would love to hear from you if you have come across any.
A lot of these innovations are also curbing the rural to urban migration which has been rapidly rising. By creating entrepreneurs, by training and by generating employment these entrepreneurs are creating a more inclusive India. Of course jugaad alone cannot be enough as some have pointed out, but this is the start of a positive change in redefining entrepreneurship in India.