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Special :: A grassroots professor in the ideas market Monday, July 16, 2001

By Swati Sucharita, The Times of India News Service
He represents what could be referred as the social face of a business school, arguably the best in the country. Such labels, however, do not mean much to Anil K. Gupta, professor, centre for management in agriculture, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

Gupta isn't too enthused, either, about the way the recently-conferred BusinessWeek Stars of Asia award has singled out his individual efforts. "What we are doing for grassroots innovators can never be achieved individually, it involves the entire team. Besides, it was a bit embarrassing that the media reports picked out only the paragraph in the award citation about our earthquake efforts," says the bearded professor.

What he would like to talk about, however, is rural innovators like Amritbhai Agrawat from Junagadh, and the tilting manure cart or the wheat sowing box that Agrawat designed. Or about how women innovators never get the recognition they deserve.

"Do you know that way back in 1898, a widow, Gangaben Yagnik from Mansa village in Mehsana, wrote a best-seller called 2080 Hoonar (skills) for people seeking self-employment? Records say that the book sold 1,000 copies in the first three days," says Gupta.

Born at Bulandshaher in Uttar Pradesh, Gupta went to the agriculture university at Hissar, Haryana, where he graduated in agricultural science and then MSc in genetics. Joining the Syndicate Bank as an agriculture finance officer was an eye-opener, working as he did in the rural districts of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and UP.

It was at the Indian Institute of Public Administration (IIPA) in Delhi where he worked on project planning for six drought-prone districts in Gujarat, AP, West Bengal, Haryana, etc that he was introduced to economics. "I wanted to study how market forces could be applied to the farm sector and it was at IIPA that I gained some useful insights on this. It was also here that I could publish a few papers," informs Gupta.

Gupta, who joined IIM in 1981, credits the institute for being extremely supportive in helping him implement his philosophy. "It was around 1987-88 that I did an honest appraisal of whether my so-called brilliance was fetching me the global acclaim or was it thanks to the faceless people I was writing about? Wasn't I guilty of being an exploiter of the ideas market? Try as I might, I could not really find satisfying answers," he recalls.

Out of this dilemma was born the Honey Bee Network, which is now 12 years old, and which remains close to Gupta's heart. Honey Bee, which is a quarterly newsletter published in Spanish and Portuguese, besides Tamil, Kannada, Hindi, Gujarati, Pahari (or Himachali) and English, is "A voice of creative farmers, artisans, pastoralists and other grassroots innovators."

The Honey Bee Network is backed by the more formal structure of SRISTI or the Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions, which Gupta founded in 1993. "We wanted to provide an identity to the hundreds of nameless farmers by helping them register patents for innovations devised in their daily means of livelihood," says Gupta. Sample: the afore-mentioned Agrawat is on the board of directors of SRISTI. Also, SRISTI has registered more than 10,000 innovations till date.

Not one for decrying the corporate face of modern India, confesses Gupta, "Let us be honest, we need our marketing guys to endorse and license our grassroots technologies, and sell them globally, besides providing the much-needed financial and infrastructural support. Many of my ex-students who work with MNCs overseas still have some regard for SRISTI as a philosophy, it is in their hearts. They help in whatever way possible."

After SRISTI, followed GIAN (Gujarat Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network) Society and Trust set up in 1997 to scale up grassroots innovations and convert these into viable products or services with appropriate benefit sharing arrangements, with a corpus of Rs 50 lakh in collaboration with the Gujarat government.

"Now, we have been asked to set up four GIANS in the country and the Rajasthan government has been extremely supportive," says Gupta.

What was remarkable for Gupta, however, was the establishment of the NIF (National Innovation Foundation) announced by the Union finance minister Yashwant Sinha in March 2000, with a view to help India become a global leader in sustainable technologies by scouting and sustaining grassroots innovations, working to develop a national register of innovations, helping link informal and formal sciences, converting innovations into products through linkages with investment and enterprise, helping set up incubators etc.

While NIF has Dr R.A. Mashelkar, the director-general CSIR, as its chairperson, Gupta is its executive vice-chairperson.

Besides writing poetry (my son is a better poet, he says), Gupta also dabbles in art. "I can't be fired, Slaves have to be sold", says the writing on the wall in his room at IIM. On being quizzed, Gupta laughs it off saying, "Maybe it reflects my general predicament."

News Source : Times Of India News Service [ Lightning News ]


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