Newsletter: 22 Feb 2019: Frugality and Innovation

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Compiled by: Manisha Gutman

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THE CROAK is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Read more…



An interesting word. To me, it doesnt speak of lack and poverty. Neither does it allude to self interest or small mindedness. Frugality is about choices. It is about knowing that time is precious and choosing wisely what to spend it on.


Is seen in every aspect of Nature. Innovation is the ability of the life force to find ways to express itself in the face of any obstacle. All species of life, conscious and intelligent, possess the abilities to create and innovate.

Both these words were words we heard a lot in the recently held ICCIG – the fourth International Conference on Creativity and Innovations at/for/from/with Grassroots. The conference held at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad was attended by an astonishing diversity of participants from professors at IITs, to farmers who had won the Padmashri awards and to people with disability.
eCoexist was honoured to have the opportunity to present our work at the ICCIG – in two sessions – one on Social Innovations and the second on Creating Open Cultures.

This newsletter is to share with you some of our learnings from the event.

Prof Anil Gupta: A vision for Grassroot Innovations

Prof Anil Gupta, holds four words very dear.

Creativity, Compassion, Collaboration and Curiosity.

In his world view, all minds are inherently creative – irrespective of their education. Communities that are marginalised by society or circumstance, are as innovative and creative in their problem solving, as privileged students of design in any formal institution. Anilji has led 42 shodhyatras – ‘journeys of discovery’ into rural India – looking for the signs of creativity and offerring recognition and acknowledgment to these ingenious minds. His work involves documenting, safeguarding and highlighting this work so that it is protected for the innovator. He also encourages sharing and collaboration, through fair means, to augment the ideas that germinate in these rural areas so that they may spread and help larger communities.

Prof. Gupta has been a professor in Centre for Management in Agriculture, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad since 1981. Various positions held by him in IIM-A include Chairperson of Research and Publications, Chairperson of Ravi J Matthai Centre for Educational Innovation and Kasturbhai Lalbhai Chair in Entrepreneurship.

He is the Executive Vice Chair of National Innovation Foundation and founder of the Honey Bee Network. He is also the Co-ordinator of SRISTI (Society for Research and Initiative for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions). He was awarded the PadmaShri in 2004.

Sustaining Frugal Green Innovations: blog post by Prof Gupta

Can a frugal life be beautiful?

Image Source: eCoexist

At the face of it, it might seem that frugality demands sacrifice. That it is more about giving than receiving. That frugal lives are hard and austere. Can frugality create beauty?

In the natural context, the use of resources involves no waste. While Nature is bountiful, none of what she creates ever goes to waste. The human body, like all other living bodies are self regulatory and will only take in as much as they need. Going beyond this , creates disharmony and ill health. On the other hand, a healthy individual, can create abundance and surplus for the entire community, just as a tree that has grown fully offers an abundance of flowers and seeds for the ecosystem.

At the ICCIG, we had the opportunity to hear of and meet several such individuals whose individual efforts towards frugality and empathetic innovations have enriched their communities manifold. With little access to resources themselves, and having faced many physical and financial challenges, these people have shown what is possible to create with little.

Chintakindi Mallesham, was intent on reducing the pain his mother experienced in the weaving of the Pochampally Ikat sari. He invented a machine called the Laxmi Asu machine to process yarn mechanically and increase productivity of sari makers.

Arunachalam Muruganantham, whose mission was to improve menstrual health for women, invented a low cost sanitary pad making machine which made the pads affordable to women and helped them earn.

Balbir Singh Seechewal, known as Eco Baba, innovated on a sewage system that helped ressurrect the Kali Bein river in Punjab.

Daripalli Ramaiah has been planting trees for to the extent that he has planted a tree for every third person in Telangana.

Open source models and Sharing

How do such social innovations at the grassroots level spread out to a larger community? How do they confront the vagaries and unreal demands of the market forces?

Prof Gupta believes that a culture of sharing is essential to scaling up these innovations. Besides what sharing does to help others, he feels it is fundamental to ones own growth. In a beautiful couplet he says ,

‘When we care
to feel or just share
what is left, inside
is a cracked layer,
through which the sprout
of serenity, concern and compassion
overcomes the hesitation
to dare.’
In both the sessions that eCoexist attended, discussions were held on what allows beautiful ideas to scale up and grow.
In the session on Social Innovations, chaired by Anshu Gupta, of Goonj we heard from various social entrepreneurs who had taken their deep desire to help and had built organisations that could do this systematically. Lakshmi Murthy, of Jatan Sanstha spoke of her vision for sustainable menstrual management and her work around this for 35 years in Rajasthan. Shubranshu Choudhary of CGNet Swara spoke of the caste divide that technology creates and how a simple phone call can collect and provide news among tribal communities.Extending the discussion to architects and urban planners, the session on Open Cultures, discussed community based building technologies, the role of traditional craft in achieving sustainability and how closed economies often impinge on open cultures. S Vishwanathan spoke of the traditional well diggers of Bengaluru and how their skills could be the solution to recharge the aquifers of the region. Sandeep Virmani of Hunnarshala spoke of the need to humanize architecture and to revisit our ideas of ownership and the lessons in sharing he had learnt from the Maldhari tribes.

Absorb, Assimilate, Augment

For the past twelve years, the work of eCoexist has been to look for natural, ecofriendly and sustainable alternatives to toxic and polluting materials and products. We have been able to successfullly validate and create a market for these products – gradually changing the consumer mindset to bring about a willingness to pay for the long term environmental good.

Our role has been to take simple solutions to market, using traditional knowledge and reviving them for the contemporary urban markets. We have worked with a range of vulnerable grassroots levels groups from prisoners, to people with special needs, women farmers and self help groups.

How can this role expand in the future to serve a larger purpose?

At the ICCIG we recieved clues to ways in which we could move towards an open source model of thinking.In his book, Grassroots Innovations, Prof Gupta outlines the work that institutions of excellence can do to fulfill their social and environmental accountability. He says this can be done by:
‘1. Creating standards of excellence
2. Responding to unmet needs through high quality basic and applied research
3. Learning from and sharing with grassroots innovators productive ways of blending formal and informal knowledge systems
4. Recognizing their own limits of understanding regarding solutions of social problems.’

The same set of guiding principles would also apply to the entrepreneurial sector.

The market


This inspiring vision for spreading social innovation cannot but be confronted by the ground realities of the current market system. The conference addressed these issues and explored what it would take to achieve the golden triangle they envision that connects – Innovation, Incubation and Enterprise.
In an open culture, the model of benefit sharing would have to be transformed to ensure more equitable sharing of surplus. Creative thinking is required in reforming the current market economy to create an inclusive and nurturing ecosystem for innovation and distinctive traditional knowledge based economy.
To achieve this vision , several institutions have sprung up under the guidance of Prof Gupta.

Sristi Innovations
GIAN : Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network
National Innovation Foundation
The Honeybee Network
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The Croak is a weekly environmental newsletter put out by the eCoexist team. It is the voice of the environment on its last legs, the final croak that can either be a plea for attention or a call of triumph as the frogs jump out of the well of ignorance and denial. Satirical, urgent and wise the newsletter brings to your attention, topics of global environmental relevance as well as emerging encouraging alternatives. Put together by a team of passionate Nature lovers, The Croak hopes to look at the environmental crisis in its face. It is a tool to reconnect readers to Nature, through questioning and self reflection. To understand the outer environment as a reflection of our own inner state, individually and as a species. And to take responsibility for enabling change.
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