Following TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks on YouTube is one of the markers of geek cred these days, and “ideas worth spreading” have never been so popular. Coming up next month in Pune is the third edition of the innovation and knowledge (INK) conference, which takes place in association with TED, and is hosted and founded by Lakshmi Pratury.
Pratury was the co-host of TEDIndia in 2009 along with TED curator Chris Anderson.
The third conference will be the first to have co-hosts aside from Pratury. David Rowan, editor of Wired UK, Joi Ito, director, MIT Media Lab, Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, and Neeru Khosla, co-founder and executive director, CK-12 Foundation (a non-profit educational organization operating globally) will host one session each. We spoke to Pratury about the INK conference, and her favourite talks so far. Edited excerpts:
Among the past speakers, and the list of speakers for the forthcoming conference, are a large number of scientists. Is this a conscious decision, and why?
I wanted to bring out the importance of asking questions for the sake of asking questions. Anything that we do without a particular application to product is an important field that requires support. That’s why we’ve been featuring scientists, to bring research into the spotlight.
For India to become a truly innovative country, we need to move beyond jugaad. Jugaad is fantastic, but building scientific minds and scientific inquiry will drive innovation.
At the same time, one of the criticisms which is often levelled at TED is that a techno-centric focus on social issues takes the focus away from the underlying issues themselves. What do you feel?
The focus isn’t on technology, but on how it can change lives. No one will ever say, look how many chips my gadget has. But take Manshukbhai (Manshuk Lal Raghavjibhai) Prajapati. He made a fridge out of clay which doesn’t need electricity. This is a major technological innovation which will directly impact lives.
He was a speaker at INK last year, and his work isn’t about technology, it’s about changing lives. At the same time, you can visit his website www.mitticool.in to learn more.
Technology isn’t an end unto itself, but it can definitely help to change lives, and INK helps people like Manshukbhai, who have unique ideas, to find support.
There’s also a lot of focus on people whose work is entirely online. Does that fit with your mandate?
We don’t say we want the Internet entrepreneurs, or people with a strong online presence. But today, technology is a part of everything you do, and we won’t turn down a good idea just because it has technology in it.
Last year, we had a talk from Arpit (Mohan), who is a co-founder of Gharpay, an online payment system. The idea they had was that a lot of people don’t have credit cards, but want to buy things online. So Gharpay can collect money from people, and make the online payment to websites that don’t support cash on delivery. It’s a great idea, and it provides a new avenue of access for people who would have been ignored otherwise. The conference helped to bring their idea into focus, and helped to reach more people, and now they’ve been funded by Sequoia Capital.
So the goal of the conference is to help people gain exposure?
It’s about finding talent, and showcasing it. We want people who care to make a real world impact. Sunitha Krishnan, the founder of Prajwala, shared a dream to build a safe-haven home for women rescued from sex trafficking.
With the help of INK, 18 months from the time she shared her dream on our stage, we enabled her dream to come true. INK’s goal in this capacity is to provide the extra leverage and connections it often takes to transform a dream into a success story.
We have taken a direct role with art as well, producing Shilo Shiv Suleman’s award-winning interactive iPad storybook, Khoya.
At other times, it’s about gaining exposure, gaining confidence, and even getting feedback.
The INK 2012 conference will have speakers such as Maria Isabel Pedraza Morales, one of the scientists who researched the ‘god particle’ at CERN, and Sourabh Kaushal, who worked on space debris mitigation. At the other end of the spectrum, you have Sandesh Reddy, described by you as one of India’s most promising chefs. Which talks are you most excited about?
We chose a group of INK Fellows who we believe are going to have a huge impact on designing our future. I am really looking forward to all their talks.
To attend the conference, you can register at www.inktalks.com.