Guest AuthorPavan Soni

Innovation across the space: Lessons from ISRO and Honey Bee Networks

By | Dr Pavan Soni | IIM-B Innovation Evangelist 

Yesterday the CII Karnataka Knowledge Forum hosted its third meeting of 2012- 13 at the IIM Bangalore campus where the speakers were the Chairman of Indian Space Research Organization – Dr. K Radhakrishnan, and Founder of Honey Bee Network and Professor from IIM Ahmedabad- Prof. Anil K. Gupta. Listening to such thinkers and doers at your door-step is one of the several benefits of studying at an IIM, and I think it was one of the best sessions I have ever attended. Not just for the prestige and the passions of the speakers, but also because of two very contrasting views on innovation that the audience got exposed to. The ISRO view is from the space, and that of Honey Bee Network is from the grassroots level, and for a scholar of innovation, it was a sheer treat. Many thanks to CII for putting it together and to IIMB for hosting it. Here’s the excerpt from that inspirational and informative session.
Kris Gopalakrishnan, the Vice President of CII, and Co- Chairman of Infosys Ltd. did a great job in setting up the context and introducing the two speakers, who didn’t anyways need much introduction. Kris couldn’t have done it better by hosting two very accomplished speakers on innovation coming from two ends of the innovation continuum. The ISRO takes pride in science and technology driven large- scale innovations, while Honey Bee Network and SRISTI engages in encouraging and demonstrating the grassroots level innovation at emerging economies. 
Dr. Radhakrishnan took the stage first and opened the discussion with the historical significance of ISRO and the times it was established in 1961 and alluded to the foresight of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, the father of India’s space programme. He spoke about the six key focus areas of ISRO as: Space Applications, Space Science, Satellite Navigation, Earth Observation, Launch Vehicle, and Satellite Communication,  of which Space Application is an area pioneered by India way back in 1995, and has been a role model for several nations. With over 101 space missions since 1961, ISRO has moved from strength to strength, and the Chairman attributes it to the ingenuity of employees and the several partnership it has with large and small Indian companies. This open model of innovation has led to cost savings, capability and ecosystem building, and given India the much needed self- reliance in its space mission. In terms of applications, Dr. Radhakrishnan cited several instances where ISRO has helped with irrigation, climate monitoring and alert, helping fishermen, improving efficiency of groundwater exploration, communication, and surveillance, among others. These were emphatic examples, and demonstrated how ISRO is silently but concretely influencing development at the grassroots level. Talking of the roadmap, the Chairman spoke about India’s Mars Mission due in late 2013, GAGAN satellite navigation system, testing of cryogenic engine, and strides in planetary exploration. Being an Indian and an engineer, you couldn’t but feel proud of the feats of ISRO which made us one of the most advanced countries in space technology as demonstrated by the 2008 launch of Chandrayaan- 1. With regards to practices of honing a culture of innovation, the speaker referred to the open culture within the organization where employees across levels are encouraged to ask questions, and to value knowledge and curiosity over hierarchy. Personally, I am looking forward to visiting ISRO someday. 
Prof. Gupta has been a hero to me for many years now. Right from the way he dresses up, to his work, his passion, and eagerness to share, all are the traits I wish to hone. Here is one professor of the IIM fraternity who doesn’t just believe in writing cases, and teaching students in an insular environment, but is busy bringing a transformation in the way innovation is understood and practiced. The fundamental belief that drives him and his institutions is: creativity and ingenuity is widely distributed in our society, and there is an acute need to identify such creators, and share their creations. Built on the blocks of acknowledgement, attribution, and reciprocity, the Honey Bee Network engages in enabling institutions, education, technology and culture to encourage grassroots level innovations. One of the aims of the institutions, like the National Innovation FoundationTechpediaGYAN, and SRISTI, that Prof. Gupta help found is to gather and share open- source solutions for survival, which have a huge market within India and in other emerging country. Accompanied with a emphatic call for acknowledging and encouraging innovations at grassroots level, there were several ingenious solutions that the professor shared. It was an eye opener and a reassurance that Indians are resilient and ingenious people.
So here we had two apparently different organizations, one working for space exploration and other for exploration of innovations at grassroots level. Both demonstrating the  ingenuity and frugality that Indians possess and the vitality of collaboration and self- confidence. 
I encourage you to watch out for upcoming lecture series organized by the CII Karnataka Innovation Forum, and make the most of activities at the innovation frontier. 
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