[Book Review] Inventive Indians: 23 Great Stories of Change

Madanmohan Rao
15th Oct 2012
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Edited by Rita and Umesh Anand

2011 Westland / Nimby Books (Amazon)

259 pages; 23 chapters


This book is a good example of innovation journalism, particularly in the social sector in India. The compilation features a range of activists and innovators in healthcare, education, environment, media, children’s rights, agriculture and retail, who in their own ways are improving people’s lives and livelihoods. “Inventive Indians” joins a range of emerging books on changing India (see other reviews).

The 23 profiles of social entrepreneurship in this book were collected over six years of issues of Civil Society magazine. The style of writing is simple and engaging, and covers the background and achievements of social innovators, NGOs and corporate social responsibility initiatives in India.

Rita Anand is founder and editor of Civil Society magazine, and has reported widely on development issues. A teacher by training, she is a graduate from Loreto College, Kolkata, and holds a post-graduate degree in history from Jadavpur University. Umesh Anand is co-founder and publisher of Civil Society magazine. A journalist by profession, he has worked with leading Indian newspapers in senior capacities. He is from Kolkata where he studied at St Xavier's School and College.

“The shift from innovation to actualisation is becoming more and more important, not only for big corporate sector companies but for small traders, tiny manufacturers (including lone home-based workers), street vendors and farm labour. Indian civil society can play a key role in making India a garden of many blooms,” begins SEWA founder Ela Bhatt in the foreword.

“What can national planners learn from neighbourhood realities?” ask editors Rita and Umesh Anand in the introductory chapter. The balance for emerging economies to strike is between scale and sustainability. Innovations need to be put on bigger national and international platforms for replication and scale; one challenge is that many innovators are so absorbed in their immediate local objectives that they would prefer to leave issues of national awareness and policy to others in the innovation ecosystem.

I have summarised some of the profiles of innovators and activists in Table 1 below, but interested readers are certainly encouraged to read the full texts in the respective chapters, especially for the educational and work profiles of the innovators and their inspirational messages.

Table 1: Profiles and Achievements of Social Innovations

Innovator / OrganisationActivitiesImpactsSuccess Factors / Takeaways 
Girish Bhardawaj, bridge engineer, KarnatakaConstructing low-cost bridges in rural areasImproved access for villagers to livelihood, healthcarePeople’s participation in local construction projects;  team mix of experts and freshers
Devi Shetty, Narayana Hrudalaya, BangaloreAffordable cardiac surgery through clinics; Asia Heart FoundationExtending quality healthcare to poorer communitiesTiered payment slabs for patients; innovative use of IT; alliances with pharma companies
Kabir Vajpeyi, VinyasCreative design of schools (eg. doors and walls as learning aids)Improved learning, long-term engagement of studentsCommunity involvement in school design; creating a database of innovations
Anupam Mishra, “Water Guru”Documentation of rural water management practicesCreation of rural water bodies, improved water security and food suppliesLocal communities are rich in environmental knowledge; culture is an integral part of local environments
Darshan Shankar, FRLHTPromotion of ayurveda as part of integrated holistic healthcareBridging Indian and Western medicine; professionalisation of local healingUse of IT to build databases of indigenous herbs; partnering with ‘kitchen gardens’
Harivansh, Prabhat KhabarCreating an independent citizen voice in news mediaExposing government corruptionCarving out an independent role for entrepreneurial journalists
Chetan Maini, Rewa Electric CarManufacturing energy-efficient carsPromotion of clean electric cars, reduction of urban pollutionPartnering with green-friendly companies and cities
Chandrashekar Hariharan, housing engineerZero-emission homes (BCIL: T-Zed)Reduction of consumption patterns of housing complexesRainwater harvesting, use of local plants and plant products
The Smile FoundationFinancial support and guidance for NGOsImproved schools in slums, healthcare for ragpickersMultiplier effect by investing in many small NGOs
Anil Ranai, Janhit FoundationOrganic farming in Uttar PradeshImproved agricultural yields, less dependence on chemicalsCapacity building, study visits, certification, market linkages for farmers
Dhrubajyoti Ghosh, engineer-ecologist, KolkataSewage treatment in ponds to create fisheriesWetland conservation, livelihood for localsEffective pond design, use of local water plants, involvement of local communities
People’s School of Energy, KeralaMicro-hydel power plants in village streamsEnergy self-sufficiency, improved quality of life (south India, Africa)Low-cost materials, design, assembly; local funding and participation
Hawker Sangram Committee, KolkataCapacity building and management expertise for hawkersBetter hygiene and services for food hawkersInnovative design; training by health institutes; endorsements by FAO, WHO

Other profiled organisations and activists include Rural Medicare Centre and Aparna Health Centre (affordable healthcare in Delhi), Attapady Hills Area Development Society (bringing a Kerala river back to life), Loreto House (inclusive education in Kolkata), Neelam Singh (crusading for girl child rights in Uttar Pradesh), Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram (customised yoga therapy in Chennai), Manimekhalai (restoration of irrigation channels in Tamil Nadu after the tsunami), and Dharmendra Hegde (bee-keeping in Karnataka).

Two corporate social responsibility initiatives are also profiled in the book: Tata Steel’s Rural Development Society (to train forest tribals in agricultural practices) and TVS Motor Company (promoting small businesses and empowering women in neighbourhoods around factories).

In sum, this is an informative and inspiring read, providing snapshots of what has been achieved on the social innovation front in India. Links to Web sites of the relevant organisations would have helped interested readers follow up and get more involved.

[Follow YourStory's research director Madanmohan Rao on Twitter at @madanrao]

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