Ahmedabad: The National Innovation Foundation (NIF), set up by the department of science and technology, has been providing institutional support to scout, spawn, sustain and scale up grass-roots green innovations by farmers, artisans and women in rural India. Shifting its focus to school-going children, the foundation is planning a national competition on innovation, Ignite ’08, across 51 cities and towns. The six-month exercise will end on 15 October, the birthday of former president A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. Executive vice-chairperson of NIF and a professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, Anil Gupta, shares the vision of this initiative. Edited extracts:
What’s the objective of holding Ignite ’08?
Children are born creative, but as they grow up, they lose their creativity. The challenge is to ensure the creativity within the child prospers with time and not vanishes. We want to instil confidence in them and help them grow as citizens who do not live with unsolved problems, but find their own unique solutions to the problems. We had a similar event last year, Ignite ’07, focusing primarily on South India. Now we plan to take it national, and if we succeed, we may even think of taking it globally.
Who is expected to participate?
We have tied up with the Central Board of Secondary Education that has a network of over 8,000 schools across the country to participate in this event. In all, NIF expects over 10,000 schools and at least 50,000 students to participate in this six-month innovation festival.
What are the main events?
We have divided the campaign to unlock children’s creativity in four segments, the first being creative and innovative solutions developed by the children. Every student would be motivated to try and develop original solutions to various problems around them during the summer vacation. They can also submit ideas if they have not been able to convert them into physical projects. We may give financial and mentoring support to complete the projects. In the deserving cases, applications for patents will be filed in their name and we will bear the cost. The second segment consists of children identifying the problems and inefficiencies in everyday life. For instance, the cooking gas gets exhausted without any advance warning. Why couldn’t there be an indicator telling in advance how long the gas will last? They will submit these problems with possible solutions. The third segment is the rich traditional knowledge of India related to health, child care, women’s problems, clothes, cosmetics, haircare, construction, food processing, etc. There is an erosion in new generation’s knowledge in these areas because of lack of connectivity between grandparents and grandchildren. We will encourage children to document such knowledge.
Igniting it: Anil Gupta, executive vice-chairperson of the National Innovation Foundation and a professor at IIM, Ahmedabad.
Finally, it’s not enough to be creative. We have to learn to appreciate others’ creativity and innovativeness. Students have to scout for the innovations and outstanding attempts to solve problems, even if unsuccessful, in the neighbourhood. It does not matter whether the innovator is educated or a school dropout.
What do you propose to do with these ideas?
After the ideas are collected, they will be screened by scientists and innovators. NIF will organize exhibitions of the creative ideas and brainstorm with experts. We hope that each school will establish a creativity or innovation club to sustain such activities around the year. Innovation in everyday life should become a topic of daily conversation.
Why do you plan to involve A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in the project?
He is the people’s president and held in high regard by children. His scientific achi-evements, too, are well established. We have decided to commemorate his birthday on 15 October every year as ‘Children’s Innovation Day’ on the lines of Children’s Day on 14 November, the birth anniversary of former prime minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru.
Do you plan to make this a regular event?
We plan to organize it every year and, in fact, want to go global. Other activities such as long walks through villages and slums are also being planned to engage the students. This will sensitize them about the ground realities and problems facing our society. Apart from visits to various institutions such as the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Indian Institute of Science, we also plan to organize special guided ‘make yourself’ workshops.