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Navi Radjou: 'Made in India' for the 21st Century

Navi Radjou at Asia Society New York on Jan. 28, 2010.

Navi Radjou at Asia Society New York on Jan. 28, 2010.

What defines an Indian entrepreneur? Are there certain principles which characteristically define Indian entrepreneurs?

Indeed. The research we are doing right now at the center is to formalize and codify certain innovative principles which Indians adopt. We have identified four. First is frugality—Indians are very parsimonious in the way they use resources. Second is inclusiveness—they think every citizen in India can become a potential customer.

Third is the principle of collaboration. What you see among new entrepreneurs is that they inherently partner—they understand they have to partner with local NGOs and local communities if they want to help bring the innovation to the masses. Fourthly, flexibility and adaptability, both in thinking and action. In a country like India, adversity surrounds you in every part of your life. So if you want to be successful in surviving in this environment, you have to be adaptive. We have to embody the principle notion that you have to be malleable in terms of your business model and also in terms of your process. All these principles epitomize the Indian entrepreneur.

How can India scale up existing initiatives on innovations?

I think the way that has to happen is through an ecosystem which includes large companies, small enterprises, universities, venture capitalists, public sector, and finally NGOs.

What we are seeing in India presently is that innovations are taking place at a very small scale. But what hasn't happened yet is the emergence of a network that can integrate all these innovations together and help scale them up. This is going to change in the future because one is now observing increasing partnerships between large companies and small entrepreneurs. So small entrepreneurs may come up with a proof of concept, they might implement in one or two villages and eventually partner with a large company that can take their idea and replicate across hundreds of these villages. So you will see the emergence of this ecosystem facilitating the scaling up of all these small-scale innovations.

How can innovation help India achieve faster and sustained growth? How can we foster innovations that target social and economic challenges like poverty, lack of health care?

I think it's a very good question. Economic growth hasn't yet bought tangible benefits for the masses. When I say masses I am talking about the 70 percent of India's population, which lives in the rural areas. So the innovations you are going to see coming out from India in the next coming decades are going to facilitate what I call inclusion in banking, health care and energy. To give you an idea, nearly 600 million Indians today live without electricity, and the same number if not more don't even have a bank account. If you look at health care, imagine how mobile technology can actually bring health care to the people in villages as opposed to people traveling to the cities to get treated. Similarly, in the areas of banking, mobile technology can help people in rural areas to receive and transmit money. Obopay Inc., a US based company, is one such example. It is providing affordable banking services via mobile phones to poor people in rural areas in India and Bangladesh. I think the real story of India is going to be how innovations help those people who live in the rural areas and by upgrading their lifestyle and living standards. That's a fantastic story of economic uplifting at a scale no other country has seen before.

Next: "How does one ignite the young Indian mind?"