Unleashing the Creative Potential of the Bottom of the Economic Pyramid



There are three factors needed for creativity: innovation, enterprise and investment. These three need not be sourced from the same place, however it is these three factors that will lead to successfully being able to tap creativity at the bottom of the pyramid.

Professor Gupta believes that grass roots innovations should be going global. He also believes that innovation emerges from people who do not have the resources to innovate.

Many examples of this have been documented by Professor Gupta and his network, and a few were cited here including:

  • A ribbed cooking which improves the heat transfer of the pan and could find application in higher income markets
  • Modified bicycle to easily carry heavy goods
  • Antibiotic wall coating to prevent mould from growing on the outside of buildings
  • A simple and low cost pressure cooker based coffee machine
rise of India and China.

May 2009, Cambridge

Innovation in India and China


All of these innovations have been created by rural Indians living on low incomes with inadequate resources, as compared with western standards. Many of these innovations can find applications at the top-of-the-pyramid. They also prove that high technology can emerge from low technology solutions. All that is required is to combine official scientific research into these innovations in order to scale them further (eg via collaborations with universities).

Innovation for inclusive development is important for India. To achieve this we must recognise, respect and reward grass roots innovations as well as providing further technical support and research to further these innovations. The biggest issue currently faced in this area, is that there is a global silence in grassroots creativity.

The strategy for engaging the Bottom-of-the-Pyramid should entail three factors:

  1. Ensure the grass-roots innovators are not punished for their innovations. Let other companies scale up the innovation, don’t necessarily force the inventor to become an entrepreneur.
  2. Support and reward the entire eco-system involved in the innovation process eg the innovator, his/her family, the local community that enabled his/her work.
  3. The big challenge is to make every consumer into an innovator.

Simone Ahuja screened a video she produced which documented Professor Anil Gupta’s (IIM) activities regarding grass roots innovation in India. Two case studies were filmed including the story of an Indian villager who has become a successful self-made entrepreneur by inventing and manufacturing a small ‘clay fridge’. Selco, an Indian rural solar energy company were also documented.

Anil Gupta

Indian Institute of Management, Co-ordinator, SRISTI and Honey Bee Network, and Executive Vice Chair, National Innovation Foundation

Dr Anil K. Gupta received his PhD in 1986 from Kurukshetra, and his MSc in Genetics from HAU, Hisar, in 1974. He is a Fellow of both the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the World Academy of Art and Science.

Anil is editor of the Honey Bee Newsletter, which promotes people-to-people networking and represents the voice of creative grassroots innovators for the last twenty years. He has published extensively in national and international journals, books and magazines, and has acted as consultant to several national and international organisations.

Anil established the Society for Research and Initiatives for Sustainable Technologies and Institutions (SRISTI) in 1993 and the Grassroots Innovation Augmentation Network (GIAN) in 1997; the NGOs support the Honey Bee Network and scale up and convert grassroots innovations into viable products respectively. In 2000 Anil also helped set up the National Innovation Foundation (NIF) by Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, to make India an innovative and creative society and a global leader in sustainable technologies. NIF has mobilised more than 100,000 innovations and traditional knowledge practices from over 540 districts of India, the largest database of its kind anywhere.

Anil was chosen by the leading weekly India Today as one of the country’s 50 Pioneers of Change (along with seven other grassroots innovators who made it to the list). He has received numerous awards over the course of his career, including the Bharat Asmita Acharya Shrestha National Award 2006 from MIT School of Management, Pune, in recognition as the Best Management Teacher, the Padma Shri National Award 2004 from the President of India for distinguished achievements in the field of management education, and the Star of Asia Award from Business Week in 2001.

Simone Ahuja

Principal, Blood Orange Media, and Film Director

Dr Simone Ahuja is the founder and principal of Blood Orange Media, a vertically integrated media company based out of Minneapolis, USA and Mumbai, India. Most recently she created, directed and produced the Best Buy supported television series, Indique – Big Ideas from Emerging India. For the series, she journeyed through India’s teeming metros and innermost rural communities to explore how innovation from India drives socio-economic development on the subcontinent and around the world. Meetings with CEOs of MNCs as well as grassroots entrepreneurs heralding bottoms-up, small scale innovation gave her an authentic, on the ground look at methods of innovation employed in India and the drive behind it. Indique – Big Ideas from Emerging India is scheduled to air on PBS in the US later in 2009 and on a variety of outlets internationally.

Simone’s cross border media company, Blood Orange, develops, produces and distributes documentary films and television programs in genres that include travel, business, history, lifestyle, and world culture. The company’s presence on two continents contributes to Simone’s rich understanding of the strengths of teams in the US and India, and how those complementary strengths can be leveraged. She has presented to and consulted with trade delegations, museums and Fortune 100 companies including Honeywell and Best Buy. Simone is also a consultant to the Centre for India and Global Business at Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge.

Dr Ahuja is based out of Minneapolis, USA, and Mumbai, India.