Data Markets to support AI for All: Pricing, Valuation and Governance

Ramesh Raskar, Praneeth Vepakomma, Tristan Swedish, Aalekh Sharan*
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, MA 02139, USA


We discuss a data market technique based on intrinsic (relevance and uniqueness) as well as extrinsic value (influenced by supply and demand) of data. For intrinsic value, we explain how to perform valuation of data in absolute terms (i.e just by itself), or relatively (i.e in comparison to multiple datasets) or in conditional terms (i.e valuating new data given currently existing data).

Motivation for creating Data Markets

AI will benefit from Liquid Markets: Data is increasingly concentrated in large firms. For startups, and small organizations it is increasingly difficult to compete as the lack of availability of data can stymie any and all efforts to build better machine learning algorithms. Algorithmic capability indeed increases with the availability and quality of data. One way to tackle this is the marketplace approach. By creating conditions such that data, the raw material for AI, can be bought and sold with security, privacy and consent safeguarded, specialized niches will be created and firms will be able to tackle a smaller subset of the problem. A precondition for this large scale collaboration to occur is the existence of liquid markets at various steps of the value chain.

Example: Consider a diagnostic healthcare company aiming to do an acquisition of labeled X-ray images from various hospitals for developing state of the art diagnostics. The key problem in such a setting is: “How can value of datasets from each hospital be estimated to decide their price?” The data for some hospitals can belong to unique health traits and demographics and can be very valuable for the diagnostic use-case of the company while data from some other hospitals may be of a relatively much lower value.

A key problem therefore is that obtaining large amounts of diverse, yet useful data costs a lot of resources. There are also diminishing returns at some point when additional data does not improve the capabilities of the algorithm, if additional data is not acquired intelligently in a cost-effective manner.

Data sharing challenges that data markets need to address

Although acquiring the right amount of quality data is ideal, data sharing is heavily impeded by friction caused by lack of trust, data sharing regulations such as HIPAA/GDPR, lack of ease and lack of incentive. We further expand on these factors that cause data friction.

  1. Lack of incentives

    (a)  Large organizations need incentive mechanisms to share data with small players. For example, an incentive for data sharing between large centralized hospitals and local clinics, testing centers could be to foster better provision of health.

    (b)   Big tech players have taken a lead and are rapidly collecting and hoard-ing data while monopolizing the data resources and are preventing small players from entering into data acquisition. This stifles innovation.

    (c)   Individuals need incentives to share their data as they happen to generate and own tremendous amount of data on a daily basis. But this leads to the burden of consent management which is too complex to manage granularly across different modalities, time horizons, and trust-levels in data buyers.

    (d)   Governments and non-profit are often not allowed to sell data for monetary gains.

  2. Lack of ease of sharing data

    Due to lack of automated processes, digitization, access to data pre-processing pipelines, compatible data schemas, lack of standardization across data sources and other forms of siloing of socially beneficial data; seamless data sharing is restricted. To summarize, these factors include:

    (a)  Lack of digitization and lack of use cases

    (b)   Lack of data standardization across multiple sources

    (c)   Collection of data currently will likely cost more than market price of data

    (d)   Socially beneficial good data is locked away (e.g. with government, non-profits, hospitals, remote sensing data)

  3. Lack of trust

    Data sharing can also be impeded by the factors of market forces, need for maintaining trade secrets, competitive economy that impedes trust, fear of losing control and accountability over future usage of data for adversarial purposes. To summarize, these factors include cases when:

    (a)  Data owner does not trust what the buyer will do with data in a competing environment

    (b)   Data indirectly contains trade secrets of the data owner

    (c)  Fear of adversarial future usage of shared data

  4. Regulations

    Data sharing is regulated for privacy, security, fairness and safety and therefore any data transactions for performing basic data analysis or for any advanced AI/ML use cases has to be aware of these constraints and be able to safely circumvent these friction points while also maintaining compliance with the law. To summarize:

    (a)   In sectors such as health, finance and cybersecurity that are tightly governed by local, federal and international data sharing regulations such as HIPAA, GDPR, COX, PCI, SHIELD, we need a new strategy for safe data sharing.

    (b)   Policies for inter as well as intra organizational data sharing have to be adhered to.

    (c)   The origination of data may have country specific regulations on usage. Therefore international regulations need to be adhered to with respect to both the data provider as well as the data consumer.

    (d)   There are policies where data cannot physically leave the premises of the data owners.

Data is very complex to price

The value of an incremental unit of data is also conditionally dependent on data already possessed by the prospective data buyer entity that is valuating it. This is because one would like to obtain relevant yet diverse data from what is already available in-house. In addition, data can be acquired for performing either a similar or a more diverse task in comparison to the current use-cases being applied on data that is already available in-house. Also, there are so many archetypes that it is difficult to find a proxy variable (like weight or number in the case of other goods) that can be used to define the data. Since seamless discovery and a small spread in price is essential for a marketplace to function well, it has been challenging thus far to create a functioning data marketplace. A thorough data pricing strategy needs to adhere to the following guiding principles.

Data Pricing Guidelines

(a)  Liquidity: models freshness of dat in terms of value vs diminished/increased value over time

(b)   Traceability: can be only ‘sold’ once, or sold non-exclusively

(c)  Consent: maintains privacy of owner, tracks consent over time, and reduces friction with smart contracts or data concierges.

(d)   Neutrality: accessible to all buyers to prevent unfair trading practices. Otherwise, it would encourage some players (be it large or small) to unfairly price out the rest of prospective buyers during the trading.

(e)  Recourse: Allows for calling back, provides right to be forgotten, allows for some course correction, broadly remains self-sustaining.

Data Valuation for AI

Absolute, relative or conditional data purchase: Another required facet to setting up a data market is to build a capability to perform valuation of data in absolute terms (i.e just by itself), or relatively (i.e in comparison to multiple datasets) or in conditional terms (i.e valuating new data given currently existing data).

Intrinsic or extrinsic data valuation: Any of these data valuation use-cases can be performed via intrinsic factors of evaluation such as based on quality of information within the dataset or via extrinsic factors of evaluation such as based on demand-supply, market economics, game theoretic mechanisms and speculative market forces or via a combination of both as in [Kou+15; Kou+13; Bal+13; DK17; Li+14; Zhe+19; Zhe+17b; Zhe+17a].

Goal dependent or independent data trading: An additional slicing to this problem includes goal specific or goal independent data valuation depending on whether there is a specific well-defined goal for the data purchase or if it is exploratory by design for a goal that is currently undefined; but would be drafted later on.

Horizontal or vertical data acquisition: In addition to all these situations of data valuation, yet another categorization is based on whether the data acquisition is being done vertically (in terms of acquiring attributes/columns) or horizon-tally (acquiring records/rows) as in[GZ19; Jia+19]. This terminology of ’vertical partitioning’ and ’horizontal partitioning’ extends from the databases as well as distributed systems research communities.

Figure 1: Data market showing data providers, data customers, notions of market basket and data pricing

Figure 1: Data market showing data providers, data customers, notions of market basket and data pricing

Privacy aware data valuation: Ideally such a data valuation needs to be achieved by looking at as few records per data source as possible or via privacy aware AI [Vep19; Vep18a; Vep18b; Gup18]. Pooling of all data at a centralized location defeats the central purpose and the data sharing constraints of privacy, security, safety, fairness and resource efficiency need to be kept in consideration with regards to a data valuation solution for data markets.

Relevance and diversity of data acquisition: An optimal data purchase under these constraints needs to cater to high utility and low redundancy (high diversity) of data in terms of incremental benefit obtained. There is often a tradeoff of utility vs. diversity of data that needs to be considered in realistic settings. This concept has been the guiding principle for techniques like sure in-dependence screening (SIS) and conditional sure independence screening [FL08; ZZ15; BFV16] currently actively being studied in the field of statistics and in min redundancy max relevance (mRMR) [PLD05] in the field of data mining, during the precursory periods of current day AI and machine learning.

As shown in Figure 1, a robust data valuation acts as a good input for data pricing as well as for building an optimal market basket of data for every data consumer.

The intent of sharing these possibilities is to motivate further discussion and research. We summarize some of these points with regards to data valuation in the context of data markets as shown below:

Figure 2: Landscape of data valuation problems for data markets

Figure 2: Landscape of data valuation problems for data markets

Governance and encouragement for a data market ecosystem

In addition from the perspective of governance, the following would be key to support the setup as well as to sustain a good ecosystem for data markets [Sha18].

(a)  Need to support technological solution vs market solution vs policy-driven solutions.

(b)   Data governance policies by undertaking a study of changes needed in existing legal/regulatory frameworks.

(c)  Standardization of data sharing

(d)   Setting up national ‘nodes’ of servers for data exchange (like stock ex-changes)

(e)  ‘Clean Data’ credits like ‘clear air’ carbon credits

(f)   Treat data as labor (it’s from activity, that creates value)

(g)   Ethics and bias: self certification as well as audits


[1] Magdalena Balazinska et al. “A discussion on pricing relational data”. In: In Search of Elegance in the Theory and Practice of Computation. Springer, 2013, pp. 167–173.

[2] Emre Barut, Jianqing Fan, and Anneleen Verhasselt. “Conditional sure independence screening”. In: Journal of the American Statistical Association 111.515 (2016), pp. 1266–1277.

[3] Shaleen Deep and Paraschos Koutris. “QIRANA: A framework for scalable query pricing”. In: Proceedings of the 2017 ACM International Conference on Management of Data. ACM. 2017, pp. 699–713.

[4] Jianqing Fan and Jinchi Lv. “Sure independence screening for ultrahigh dimensional feature space”. In: Journal of the Royal Statistical Society: Series B (Statistical Methodology) 70.5 (2008), pp. 849–911.

[5] Amirata Ghorbani and James Zou. “Data Shapley: Equitable Valuation of Data for Machine Learning”. In: arXiv preprint arXiv:1904.02868 (2019).

[6] Ruoxi Jia et al. “Towards Efficient Data Valuation Based on the Shapley Value”. In: arXiv preprint arXiv:1902.10275 (2019).

[7] Paraschos Koutris et al. “Query-based data pricing”. In: Journal of the ACM (JACM) 62.5 (2015), p. 43.

[8] Paraschos Koutris et al. “Toward practical query pricing with QueryMarket”. In: proceedings of the 2013 ACM SIGMOD international conference on management of data. ACM. 2013, pp. 613–624.

[9] Chao Li et al. “A theory of pricing private data”. In: ACM Transactions on Database Systems (TODS) 39.4 (2014), p. 34.

[10] Hanchuan Peng, Fuhui Long, and Chris Ding. “Feature selection based on mutual information: criteria of max-dependency, max-relevance, and min-redundancy”. In: IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis & Machine Intelligence 8 (2005), pp. 1226–1238.

[11] Aalekh Sharan. “Data Marketplace for AI”. In: NITI Aayog,”https://www.” (2018).

[12] Zhenzhe Zheng et al. “An online pricing mechanism for mobile crowdsensing data markets”. In: Proceedings of the 18th ACM International Symposium on Mobile Ad Hoc Networking and Computing. ACM. 2017, p. 26.

[13] Zhenzhe Zheng et al. “ARETE: On Designing Joint Online Pricing and Reward Sharing Mechanisms for Mobile Data Markets”. In: IEEE Transactions on Mo-bile Computing (2019).

[14] Zhenzhe Zheng et al. “Trading data in the crowd: Profit-driven data acquisition for mobile crowdsensing”. In: IEEE Journal on Selected Areas in Communications 35.2 (2017), pp. 486–501.

[15] Reducing leakage in distributed deep learning for sensitive health data, Praneeth Vepakomma, Otkrist Gupta, Abhimanyu Dubey, Ramesh Raskar, Accepted to ICLR 2019 Workshop on AI for social good. (2019)

[16] Split learning for health: Distributed deep learning without sharing raw patient data, Praneeth Vepakomma, Otkrist Gupta, Tristan Swedish, Ramesh Raskar, Accepted to ICLR 2019 Workshop on AI for social good. (2018)

[17] No Peek: A Survey of private distributed deep learning, Praneeth Vepakomma, Tristan Swedish, Ramesh Raskar, Otkrist Gupta, Abhimanyu Dubey, (2018)

[18] Distributed learning of deep neural network over multiple agents, Otkrist Gupta and Ramesh Raskar, In: Journal of Network and Computer Applications (2018)



Economic Impact of Discoverability of Localities and Addresses in India

Out of seven billion inhabitants on Earth, approximately 75% [1] do not have proper addresses that allow their houses, properties or businesses to be located on a map with reasonable precision. To illustrate, consider the two addresses of one of our authors in two different continents:

Figure 1: Every place deserves an address. Seen here is the city of Jaipur in India. Photo Credit: Debabrata Majumdar

Figure 1: Every place deserves an address. Seen here is the city of Jaipur in India. Photo Credit: Debabrata Majumdar

  • [Name], 7116 Via Correto Dr, Austin, TX 78749: the location for this address is readily available and any navigation system can take you to the doorstep in day or night; or in good or bad weather! This is an example of a structured address.
  • [Name], College Tilla, PO Agartala College, Agartala 799004: Google Maps resolves this address to an area of roughly 76 sq. km. in the city of Agartala. This address is unstructured.
  • Adding a landmark to the above address, “College Tilla near College Tilla Lake, ..” narrows the answer to an area of approximately 3 sq. km. Upon reaching the place, and depending on how much detailed information about the occupant or the house or the location is known (e.g. whose son/ brother the occupant is, what’s his age, color of his house and if is located by the old mango tree etc.), one would take a additional 15-45 minutes, provided it’s not late night or raining. Moreover, landmark-based addressing is infrequent, incomplete and also inconsistent.
Figure 2: Most addresses in the developed world resolves within a narrow area, where those in India can resolve anywhere from town to a locality to (rarely) at a house level

Figure 2: Most addresses in the developed world resolves within a narrow area, where those in India can resolve anywhere from town to a locality to (rarely) at a house level

These are not merely one-off experiences that cause inconvenience. The inability to provide an accurate location for each and every address, impacts the livelihood of residents in many ways. It inhibits growth of their local trades such as salons, bakeries or food stalls. It reduces availability of amenities such as creation of bank accounts and delivery of goods and services (e.g., e-commerce) and delays emergency services such as fire brigades and ambulances.

Economic Impact on Industry

Case Study 1: Logistics and Transportation

The inability to locate an address within a reasonable accuracy, as demonstrated in the previous example, hampers a transporter’s ability to deliver shipments on time and without incurring additional costs. Consider the e-commerce industry, or any industry where goods are delivered to an address. In absence of proper geocodes, most companies in India, “sort” the packages or goods by pincode, since pincode is the only numeric location depictor that appears in most written addresses in India.

While this sounds like a logical solution, e.g., to have deliveries sorted by pincodes and even creating facilities (that store the shipments for delivery or return) according to the demand volumes those exist in respective pincodes. However, two major, practical problems arise while implementing this idea:

  • About 30-40% [2] of the pincodes in India are written incorrectly, leading to shipments being misrouted and requiring manual intervention for eventual routing to the correct pincode
  • The average area a pincode covers 179 sq. km. with about 135,000 households and over 100,000 business, educational institutions, government buildings etc. Sorting deliverables for more than a quarter million addresses, where only 30% of those addresses are structured, poses many challenges
  • We will pick an area within the Logistics and Transportation industry to illustrate the challenge in detail. Consider an e-commerce, which is growing at a 30 CAGR [3], driven by rising income, consumption and digitization [4], and it is expected to continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Indian consumers expect products to be delivered at their doorsteps for free, which causes a unique burden on the e-commerce companies not seen in most parts of the world.

When a product from an e-commerce site is ordered online, the merchandize is picked up from a seller or a warehouse and brought to a processing, where it is sorted for the destination city- a process known as the “first mile operation”. It is then transported between origin and destination cities in a “line haul” that involves long-distance transportation such as truck, air etc. In the “last mile operation”, the merchandize goes to the delivery center from where it is delivered to the shopper’s house. Figure 3 illustrates this process.

Figure 3: The “last mile cost” in India is ~30% of the total cost of delivery

Figure 3: The “last mile cost” in India is ~30% of the total cost of delivery

In western countries, structured addresses lead to a relatively accurate geocoding and consequently the last mile cost is about 10-12% of the total cost [5]. In India, the same cost is ~30% of the total cost of delivery; notwithstanding India’s low cost of labor. The extra cost comes from the longer time that a driver takes in locating an address- to drive to an address, stopping multiple times to either call the recipient or ask someone on the road or nearby shops for location and directions, time wasted on additional kilometers driven in search of the address etc.

Figure 4. Illustrates the challenges of delivering to addresses that cannot be disambiguated at the house level. In absence of a lat-long for the desired address, addresses are sorted based on pincodes and all the packages for one pincode are sorted, stored and delivered from one (or, sometimes, two or more) delivery center(s). Typical pincode-based sorting centers, located at the orange pin location can have a delivery “throw” (radius) of 4-20 km. In absence of understanding load distribution based on addresses, such centers’ locations often tend to be imbalanced. For example, in this case, while one delivery biker drives about 22 km, the other drives about 104 km, almost 5 times the distance covered by the first one. Such problems significantly hamper the initiatives to improve productivity and reduce costs at these centers.


Figure 4: The difference between a pincode-based sorting and local-address-based sorting. In this picture, the light orange area shows a typical pincode boundary. In this delivery center productivity can vary widely as optimal route planning becomes complex, as depicted by two delivery bikers’ routes

Figure 4: The difference between a pincode-based sorting and local-address-based sorting. In this picture, the light orange area shows a typical pincode boundary. In this delivery center productivity can vary widely as optimal route planning becomes complex, as depicted by two delivery bikers’ routes

If the addresses, on the other hand, can be disambiguated down to a household level, then each individual locality can have a small delivery center, much like it is common to have pharmacy, grocery store or a restaurants in most areas. In such cases, the “throw” of the delivery center goes down to an average of 1-3 km. The bikers typically cover small distances in a shift and multiple shifts can be run in a day to match the schedule of multiple trucks that can bring loads throughout the day from the destination hubs. In Figure 4, the locations for such small delivery centers are represented by red pins and areas they cover are shown in yellow. This results in a significant improvement in productivity at the smaller centers that can do address-based sorting.

Moreover, more granularity in the address geocodes, also allows us to perform route optimisation and provide system driven routes for the delivery boys. We provide the case of Delhivery, one of India’s leading logistics providers for e-commerce companies.

At Delhivery, a switch from a pincode based to a locality based sorting has improved the productivity of the last mile operation by 40-60%, depending on the type/complexity of the addresses and size/shape of the locality.

Table 1: An address-based sorting can result in a 40-60% better productivity

Table 1: An address-based sorting can result in a 40-60% better productivity

This high last-mile cost disproportionately affects a company’s bottom-line. In a simplistic analysis in Table 2, we demonstrate that a better geocoding which reduces the last-mile cost by 40%, well within the reach of current technology, can improve the profitability of an e-commerce company.

Table 2: Illustration: An improvement in the last mile cost can swing the profitability of an e-commerce business

Table 2: Illustration: An improvement in the last mile cost can swing the profitability of an e-commerce business

Even for a small industry in India, such as e-commerce delivery, which is estimated to be a 5,000 Crore (~$775M) business annually (as of 2017), the annual cost savings from a better addressing scheme is about 650 crore (~$100M).

For the Logistics and transportation industry, the same framework can be used for different types of goods and services transportations. When a shipment is moved from one city to another, the line-haul segment, which is typically the inter-city transport, is not much impacted by the lack of proper geocoded addresses. However, both the first mile (pickup from a client or a distribution center, for example) or the last mile (delivery to a house or business) are impacted significantly by the inability to resolve an address, whether a bike, truck or a bicycle is used for performing that operation.  

Case Study 2: Loan and Financial Services

India is a credit-deprived country where 642 million people, a staggering 53%, are excluded from formal financial products such as loans, insurance and other forms of credits and financial services. Even among those who are engaged in trades or small businesses, 48% cannot access formal credits or loans. The impact on the economy is significant. McKinsey estimates that the payoff for digital financial services in India by 2025 can be $700 billion and it can create an additional 21 million jobs [6].

The reasons for the paucity of credit are many: lack of verifiable identity (akin to social security number in the USA), absence of proof of formal income in a largely cash-driven economy and complexity of disambiguating one’s location, be it home, or place of business.

This has started to change in the past few years. Government’s initiative to provide biometric identity to all Indians (“Aadhaar”), has for the first time in history, given over 95% Indians a verifiable identity. Additionally, initiatives to open over 100 million bank accounts for the financially disadvantaged and push for digital transactions have pursued many startups to consider providing loan and credit services to the formerly unserved population.

Consequently, in the past two years, funded by large venture capital investments in financial technology (“fintech”) companies, over 100 startups have started providing services for connecting borrowers and lenders.

Figure 5 shows a typical process promised by one of such services. The process is reasonably straightforward. Once a user applies online or through the app and selects a product, they are typically asked for 5-8 sets of documents:

  • A proof of identity such as Aadhar, passport or a voter ID card
  • A proof of address such as a lease or house ownership documents, i.e., sales deed
  • Proof of income such as paycheck, tax returns or business earning
  • Proof of educational qualifications, particularly for students
  • Proof of age for loan eligibility
  • Employment verification, such as a certified letter from the employer
  • Bank statements
  • Additional documentation around proof of residence (utility bills such as phone, water or electricity) or a letter from the employer in the official letterhead, especially if original identity documents such as Aadhaar card or passport have been issued in another state
Figure 5: Typical loan generation process promised by one of India’s many digital loan or financing start-ups

Figure 5: Typical loan generation process promised by one of India’s many digital loan or financing start-ups

A courier picks these documents from the borrower. These documents are then scanned and saved in a database, from which it is compared against the information provided by the borrower on the loan application. Since the documents are typically paper-documents, an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) system is used for directly transcoding the information to a database.

This process works well for about 60-70% of borrowers, especially in large cities. From our survey with leading firms, we estimate that about ~70% of the documents are considered a “match” and go to the next step for loan processing, e.g, loan eligibility analysis, approval of loans etc., albeit with only a certain percentage of applicants being eligible for loan.

However for the ~30% of the applications, the address provided by the applicant in the application does not match the documents. To understand why, consider the following addresses for the same house, in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Same address written in multiple formats in different documents

Figure 6: Same address written in multiple formats in different documents

Consider the different variations:

  • The house number has been written in three formats. “TH-146B”, “146”, as well as “Unit 146”
  • The community has been described as both “Purva Parkridge” and “Purva Park Ridge”, and has been abbreviated as “PPR” again, in three different ways
  • The road name has been spelled in two ways as “Goshala Road” and “Ghosala Road” and omitted in one all-together
  • The locality is described as “Garuda Char Palya” and “Garuda Charpalya”. In one document, a neighboring community, “Mahadevpura” has been substituted

The one in Aadhar card seems to have taken the path of safest approach, adding both the localities of “Mahadevpura” and “Garuda Charpalya” to the same address. In other words, just four different sources of official address verification documents can produce over 50 combinations.

It is therefore not surprising that the addresses provided in documents often do not match. Since the processing of these information happen in a centralized facility, people there would have no idea about “Purva Park Ridge” and “PPR” being same community or “Garuda Char Palya”, with its different ways of spelling is often interchanged with its neighbouring community “Mahadevpura”

For the 30% of documents that do not match, the following process kicks in, as depicted in Figure 7.

Figure 7: 30% of the applicants whose addresses do not match directly are either asked for additional documentations or have their addresses manually verified, adding to the time and cost for the service providers

Figure 7: 30% of the applicants whose addresses do not match directly are either asked for additional documentations or have their addresses manually verified, adding to the time and cost for the service providers

This results in delayed approval of the loans by up to 5 days in best cases and even weeks or months sometimes. This affects both the borrower, who could be in urgent need of money; and the lender, who has to bear the loss of interest he could have earned until the loan is finally processed and the cost of additional verifications.

Table 3: Bad addresses delay verification and approval resulting in the loss of interest to moneylenders

Table 3: Bad addresses delay verification and approval resulting in the loss of interest to moneylenders

Also, the place of dwelling or the  business being a key factor in the risk-assessment process of a loan, the inability to disambiguate it shows up in the risk models, raising the rate and hence, the overall cost of the loan.

Pan-India Economic Impact

We conducted similar analysis for the top three industries- Logistics, Manufacturing (including consumer goods) and Emergency Services to derive a cost-estimate for India. Using this approach, our estimate indicate that poor addresses cost India $10-14B annually, ~0.5% of the GDP; see Table 4.

Table 4: The economic cost of bad addresses in India

Table 4: The economic cost of bad addresses in India

Further note that the numbers presented in Table 4 capture the cost of bad addresses, but do not include additional benefits of having better addresses like rising productivity and income gains, which lead to further growth of businesses and GDP etc.


Easily discoverable addresses are important for rapidly growing economies like India. Rather than just being a convenience, addresses are vital for driving a self-reinforcing economic cycles and therefore, improving livelihood and incomes for the next billion Indians. The consumers independently identify and adopt addresses for their own convenience while the businesses use technology or third-party services to resolve these addresses into geocodes to deliver products and services at reduced costs. However, the current addressing system in India does not lend itself to disambiguation to a reasonably accurate lat-long for most addresses.

Our case-study analyses indicate that the lack of a good addressing system costs India at least $10-14B a year, or about 0.5% of its annual Gross Domestic Product. As the Indian economy continues to grow in both economic output as well as variety of  new businesses and services, the costs due to lack of a proper addressing system will increase significantly. India therefore needs to consider a dramatically new approach to modernize the addressing system to bring in efficiency.

About the authors:

Dr. Santanu Bhattacharya is scientist collaborating with Camera Culture Group at MIT Media Lab. A serial entrepreneur who has led Emerging Market Phones at Facebook, he is a former physicist from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Sai Sri Sathya is a researcher collaborating with REDX and Camera Culture Group at MIT Media Lab and formerly at the Connectivity Lab at Facebook, focused on Emerging World Innovations.

Dr. Kabir Rustogi leads the Data Science team at Delhivery, India’s largest e-commerce logistics company. A published author, he was previously a Senior Lecturer of Operations Research at The University of Greenwich, UK.

Dr. Ramesh Raskar is Associate Professor at MIT Media Lab and leads the Emerging Worlds Initiative at MIT which aims to use global digital platforms to solve major social problems.


[1] Startup What3words Aims To Give Billions Of People One Thing They Don't Have

[2] Sample from Delhivery’s database of 10 million addresses

[3] Morgan Stanley Bets On Digital To Forecast $6 Trillion Economy, Sensex At 1,30,000

[4] Morgan Stanley Report “India’s Digital Future”

[5] Private conversation with multiple stakeholders at Amazon, FedEx and Staples e-commerce

[6] How digital finance could boost growth in emerging economies (September 2016)


What is the right addressing scheme for India?


What is the right addressing scheme for India?

Zippr, eLoc and beyond .. Which system will work for India?

Computer generated addresses are coming to your neighborhood because most places in the world do not have an assigned meaningful street address. In India, 80% of the addresses are written with respect to a landmark which typically lies between 50-1500 meters of the actual address; such addresses make geolocating very challenging. Accuracy in geolocation is critical for emergency services to navigate quickly to reach you and for logistics industries to improve on-time performance and efficient routing of the package coming to your house.

In this blog, we explore suggested addressing schemes for India, to determine what use cases and potential technologies will have the best adoption and therefore, greatest impact. Currently there is a rush to use machine generated codes such as 4ZXR3B (eLoc) or CAFE0098 (Zippr). These methods have proven to work in a few ways, but such systems can be confusing for the adoptee and there are technical drawbacks as well. It is critical that India adopts the most effective scheme, and not the scheme that is most readily available or has the largest company behind it. We ask: What are the requirements for machine codes so that they are easy for a layman, easy for a service company (eCommerce, taxi etc) and suitable for computer systems?

Here we review the desired features, compare various solutions, and suggest a path for widespread adoption of machine codes in India.

Figure 1. Indian cities are full of contrast; Visakhapatnam (erstwhile “Vizag”) has a well laid-out city center with proper addresses while the port area is overgrown and chaotic

Figure 1. Indian cities are full of contrast; Visakhapatnam (erstwhile “Vizag”) has a well laid-out city center with proper addresses while the port area is overgrown and chaotic

Cost of Bad Addresses

The economic impact of bad addresses in India is significant: our estimate from the top industries indicate that poor addresses cost India $10-14B annually, ~0.5% of the GDP; see Appendix 1 for details. Addresses we have encountered contain local abbreviations, colloquial neighborhood names, points-of-interest, embedded unclear directions and variations due to local languages being transliterated in English for writing. Localities and pin-codes have poor localization. In India, the average area covered by localities and pin-codes is around 1.5 and 179 square kilometers, respectively, where the latter may contain up to a million households. To make things worse, 20-30% of written pin-codes are incorrect. The average distance between the location of a point-of-interest written in an address and the actual location of the doorstep is around 400m, implying that including landmarks in the address does not significantly improve resolution. Moreover, landmarks are difficult to use for geolocating because there are about 10 million points-of-interest (e.g., “State Bank ATM”) in just the top 200 Indian cities, making it a complex cataloguing and updating task, especially in rapidly changing smaller towns.

Overview of Current GeoLOcating Services

Many systems have been proposed in the past few years to solve the problem of extracting precise geocodes from addresses. They primarily fall under two categories.

Hardcoded Addresses: Disambiguation and Geocoding

Structured hardcoded address, e.g., “26 Gandhi Road, Dhule, Maharashtra, India” can be converted to a fairly precise geocode. Unfortunately, only about 30% of address are written in such format in India. A more common address in the same town would be “B56 Niman Nagar, Near Green Park, Dhule, Maharashtra, India”.

Table 1. Large pin-code areas, dense population, lack of structure and multilingual support for addresses written and transliterated to English makes address disambiguation a complex task

Table 1. Large pin-code areas, dense population, lack of structure and multilingual support for addresses written and transliterated to English makes address disambiguation a complex task

For addresses that have structures, companies have developed algorithms to disambiguate a raw address string into a proper format, typically consisting of features such as state, city, locality, sublocality, street and house number. These features are then associated with geocodes or polygon boundaries, which are either obtained by crowdsourcing or by some form of surveying. Examples of such services include Google Maps, MapMyIndia, Delhivery’s AddFix (not publicly available, see [1]). This approach proves effective for resolving an address to an order of a few hundred meters, but rarely down to the house number. Its effectiveness is also limited by how structured the input address is and the depth of geospatial data available for each locality feature. Hence, for India this is not a scalable approach and for 70% of sites with no street names, there is no easy solution.

Machine Coded Addresses

A more disruptive way to solve the above problem is to replace traditional addresses using a machine generated code for each location. You can imagine an ‘Aadhaar-like code for each address’. Machine codes promise to be easily readable, are fast and are available through APIs for programmatic integration. Recently, there has been a wave of services that aim to achieve this goal. Machine codes can be classified into three categories:

1. Short-codes: Machine generated codes are assigned to each unique address record. This is often achieved by manual surveying or crowdsourcing the location of each address. Examples include:

  • eLoc - randomized alphanumeric code for each known address record, e.g., DIO5L6; see [2]
  • Zippr -  customizable alphanumeric code available for any point on a map, e.g., CAFE0098; see [3]

2. Auto-codes: This system follows a grid-based approach. The Earth is divided into 3m x 3m imaginary grids and a code is automatically generated for each grid. Given any latitude and longitude (lat-long), an algorithm identifies the grid it belongs to and returns the corresponding auto-code. Examples include:

  • Plus Codes - alphanumeric codes available for each 3m x 3m area on a map, e.g., 7JWVF23W+GQQ; see [4];
  • What3Words (W3W) - collection of 3 random English words available for each 3m x 3m area, e.g.,; see [5];

3. Street-codes: This system follows a street-based approach. Each point on a map is assigned a street number based on its distance in meters from the southwest corner of the nearest street. The system uses a street name if it already exists. If the street has no name, the system creates a short street name using north-south-east-west orientation with respect to the city or town center. Examples include:

  • Robocodes - four fields with hierarchical and linear descriptors, namely position with respect to a street, locality/street name, city, state/country, e.g., 90C.NE88.Dhule.MhIn; in this case, the site is on the 88th unnamed street north of Dhule city, and the location is 90 meters from the southwest corner of this street; see [6].

The combinatorics behind the above coding schemes can be found in Appendix 2. Each of the above services has its own advantages and disadvantages, which have an impact on its adoption among people.

Figure 2. Evolution of geocoding

Figure 2. Evolution of geocoding

Attributes of an Ideal machine code

Most of the machine codes described above are built as engineering services and often ignore the human aspects that will ensure their early adoption and ease of use for the public.

Are they Memorable?

Machine codes should have an easy recall among its user base. In this respect, Plus Codes and eLoc do not fare very well because they use seemingly random alphanumeric codes. Imagine giving your pizza delivery person your Plus Code 7JWVF36Q+P4 over the phone. Zippr and W3W are somewhat memorable, but still not scalable enough in the long run, since they do not contain any spatial clue or relation to the actual address. As a result, two neighbors may have completely different codes.

Figure 3. A slight variation of the What3Word code dripping.indeed.newlywed can take you over 13,000 km away from Valdez, Alaska, USA to Gurgaon, Haryana, India

Figure 3. A slight variation of the What3Word code dripping.indeed.newlywed can take you over 13,000 km away from Valdez, Alaska, USA to Gurgaon, Haryana, India

Moreover, What3Words can be quite confusing to use in countries where English is not the first language. Some of the words may be quite uncommon for the common man and minor differences in the word may lead to completely different locations on the globe; see Figure 3 for an example. Robocodes are promising in this respect, since they include features that people are already familiar with and are used to writing in their addresses, e.g. street, locality and city/state names.

Are they Intuitive?

Addresses have evolved over the millennia and have the following inherent properties that help us understand and quickly infer their relationship with other addresses:

  • Hierarchy: Typically, addresses contain features in decreasing level of granularity, from rooftop name to state/country name. This helps us identify if two addresses are in the same locality/city/state/country.

  • Linearity/Continuity: Typically, addresses which are close to each other have related names that one can understand intuitively. This helps us identify how distant two addresses are on the same street.

Figure 4: An illustration of the grid-based approach that powers Plus Codes

Figure 4: An illustration of the grid-based approach that powers Plus Codes

Most geocoding services such as W3W, Zippr, eLoc remove the geometric relations between addresses, blocking human intuition to naturally understand them. They neither follow a hierarchical system, nor are continuous, hence making it impossible for people to derive them logically. Plus Codes are somewhat more promising in this respect. They are generated by dividing the earth into grids of 20 x 20 degrees, and then further dividing each grid into smaller grids, all the way down to a 3m resolution. Plus Codes assign an alphanumeric value to grids of different sizes, thereby incorporating the concept of hierarchy and linearity in the schema.

While the combinatorics presented in Appendix 2 indicate that alphanumeric short-codes must comprise of a minimum of 6 characters to uniquely identify every associated address, it is advisable to have more characters in the code. This allows the code to incorporate desirable attributes such as being memorable, e.g. CAFE0048, or being hierarchical, and as a result becomes more intuitive. For instance, alphanumeric auto-codes must comprise of a minimum of 9 characters to uniquely identify every point on the Earth’s surface. However,  Plus Codes are made up of 11 characters, so that they can incorporate a sense of hierarchy in the code, e.g., each point in Delhi begins with the characters 7JW; see Figure 4 for illustration.

Robocodes further refine this approach to make it even more intuitive for the user. Instead of using an imaginary grid based system, they use actual street names and locality/city/state names in its nomenclature, to emphasize on hierarchical and linear relationships.

Figure 5: Many auto-codes do not provide spatial clues, structural organization or usage of road geometry to make the codes intuitive for its users

Figure 5: Many auto-codes do not provide spatial clues, structural organization or usage of road geometry to make the codes intuitive for its users

Ease of Adoption? Backward Compatible?

A key factor for the success of any geocoding service is the ease with which a user can convert their address to a machine code. Most of available services require the user to input a lat-long to generate a code. However, to capture precise lat-longs from a user is difficult.

The easiest way to get lat-longs is by capturing the GPS coordinates of the current location from the user’s mobile device, but this approach poses challenges. Sometimes the user may not be present at the location for which the lat-long is required, e.g., a parent ordering food for children at home while they are in office or informing a taxi app where you want to go. Moreover, the lat-longs captured by the devices are not always accurate. From a sample of 500,000 locations captured by a Delhivery, an Indian eCommerce logistics company, only 50% had a reported accuracy of within 50 meters and only 10% were within 5 meters. Poor GPS signal in densely built areas, low quality of GPS receptors in budget phones, users keeping their GPS off to conserve battery, etc. contribute to inaccuracy.

Another way to obtain lat-longs is by providing an interface to the user where they can mark their location on a map. This approach ensures that device errors do not play a role; however, human errors may be far more damaging. Delhivery piloted this approach with a sample of eCommerce customers. It was reported that only 25% of the customers were able to mark their location within 100m of the location captured by the ground staff subsequently. Unfamiliarity with digital maps, the inconvenience of performing an extra step for the user, etc. contributed to the errors.

A third approach could be to manually geotag address records by employing extensive surveying teams. Recently, the state government of Andhra Pradesh commissioned Zippr to manually tag each and every household in the state, so that they would be onboarded to the short-code platform; see [3]. This approach is not scalable for a country the size of India.

To a large extent, Robocodes can solve this problem, due to their linear and intuitive design. People can interpolate and infer from their neighbor’s robocode, since street name is shared and street number is sequential. Although this approach is somewhat limited due to its dependency on at least someone in the street to have the correct robocode of their address, it has the potential of spreading organically. For example, if the locations ‘200 Road N12’ and ‘220 Road N12’ start using the code to realize benefits, e.g., faster taxi arrivals, then the people between #200 and #220 may start using the robocodes with intermediate numbers.

The key for wide adoption also lies in whether a geocoding scheme can be used without complex technologies. Can people locate an address without using a smartphone, e.g., by simply using a printed map or a billboard? When addresses can be interpolated, it becomes easier to map a whole town with only a few street names and region names.

Are they Future Proof?

What happens when new streets emerge? Or if one wants to support locations inside a national park or in middle of the ocean? Grid-aligned auto-codes easily support this, but not short-codes, such as Zippr. Robocodes behave like new domain names or IP addresses emerging on the internet. They require someone to include new roads and will require updates from trusted agencies to spread.

As cities expand vertically and transportation evolves, it will be necessary to capture altitude in the machine codes. None of the mainstream solutions today provide this feature easily.

Machine Friendly? Free? Open Source?

Most of the services are built so that a machine can easily read the codes and convert them to a standard lat-long for further geospatial computations. The consumers of this service, e.g., enterprises who want to perform route optimization, are able to perform transformations on the machine codes by calling the APIs built by their creators. There are several factors to consider: Does the scheme require live internet connectivity for the API conversion call? Does it need a smartphone or can it be shared via SMS? Does it cost an intermediate business to make these API calls? Can the underlying lookup table be downloaded for local use? How easy is it to create and populate these codes? Who maintains them?

Table 2: Comparison of popular geocoding systems

Table 2: Comparison of popular geocoding systems

Auto-codes, such as W3W and Plus Codes provide a clever solution. The auto-codes can be calculated from a lat-long on a local device, without internet access, using a very small program that has about 40,000 dictionary words or purely mathematical formulas. Short-codes such as eLoc and Zippr, need a massive lookup table with no ability to interpolate or validate locally as neighboring locations have different codes. Most of the APIs, e.g., W3W, eLoc are opaque and are relatively expensive for a country like India. For example, Google APIs cost $1000 for 2 million geocoding queries; a relatively large sum for a small business in India. A small digital player with 10 million users that make only 2 map queries a day will incur $3M in API charges. A nationwide business will have to pay 100’s of millions of dollars per year to these companies if they dominate, become monopolies or locate outside India to avoid possible price regulations. This can be a real threat to digital businesses.

Robocodes are free, open source and could be communicated using SMS because they are human-friendly and are backward compatible, i.e., existing street addresses can be kept as they are. However, Robocodes require significant processing to generate in the first place. Hence, Robocodes require some entity to maintain tamper-proof versions and update as and when new street geometries are identified.

Conclusion: Lessons from Aadhaar

The need to create an addressing scheme for India is evident based on the rush of startups and companies in this space. This is the new “Aadhaar” mindset, a code for each location. However, this approach is faulty, as an ID for a person is a very different from an ID for a location.

A place is understood for navigation or for mental anchoring via hierarchy, linearity and memorability. A user-ID like Aadhaar is intentionally obscure and should not be based on any identifiable parameters. Addresses, on the other hand, should be identifiable and similar to other addresses in the neighborhood. Addresses are shared verbally and need to become part of the culture for rapid adoption and must not be obscure. We believe that using seemingly random codes as address for locations is misdirected. Just as Aadhaar has made banking, mobile phone and government services accessible to the population at the bottom of the pyramid, a proper addressing scheme will be required for geolocated government services but only if the scheme is simple enough to be used by everyone.

It is time for eCommerce, on-demand transport, package delivery, government agencies, hospitality and tourism sector to come together to work on an open source, human-friendly and business-friendly scheme. We hope our analysis of existing solutions and desired features will spawn a healthy debate and methodical approach towards the best addressing scheme for India.

We are concerned that a well-intentioned but misdirected effort to assign addresses will cause irreversible damage to the growth of digital economy in India. We already see experimentation with Zippr codes in Hyderabad and trials with eLoc in Delhi. A piecemeal approach by multiple states, without deeper analysis or comparison of products available, is going to create multiple solutions without interoperability; causing a huge burden downstream. A digital address is as important as a digital identify; now imagine if every state created their own Aadhaar?

About the authors

Dr. Kabir Rustogi leads the Data Science team at Delhivery, India’s largest eCommerce logistics company. A published author, he was previously a Senior Lecturer of Operations Research at The University of Greenwich, UK.

Dr. Santanu Bhattacharya is scientist collaborating with Camera Culture Group at MIT Media Lab. A serial entrepreneur who has led Emerging Market Phones at Facebook, he is a former physicist from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.

Margaret Church is coordinator of the Emerging Worlds Initiative at MIT Media Lab.

Dr. Ramesh Raskar is Associate Professor at MIT Media Lab and leads the Emerging Worlds Initiative at MIT which aims to use global digital platforms to solve major social problems.


[1] Rustogi, K. (2017). ‘Learning to Decode Unstructured Indian Addresses’, Medium. Available At: (Accessed At: 22 Nov 2017)

[2] ‘Now, government to start mapping your address digitally’, The Economic Times. Available At: (Accessed: 20 Nov 2017)

[3] ‘Andhra Pradesh kicks off Smart Pulse Survey of 14.8 million households’. Live Mint. Available At: (Accessed: 20 Nov 2017)

[4] Rinckes, D. (2015). ‘Open Location Code: Addresses for everything, everywhere’,   Google Open Source Blog. Available At: (Accessed: 20 Nov 2017)

[5] ‘Mongolia is changing all its addresses to three-word phrases’, Quartz. Available At: (Accessed: 20 Nov 2017)

[6] Demir, I., Hughes, F., Raj, A., Tsourides, K., Ravichandran, D., Murthy, S., Dhruv, K., Garg, S., Malhotra, J., Doo, B., Kermani, G. and Raskar R. (2017). Robocodes: Towards Generative Street Addresses from Satellite Imagery. In Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition Workshops (CVPRW), 2017 IEEE Conference on (pp. 1486-1495). IEEE. 


1. The Economic Cost of Poor Addresses

Our estimate from the top three industries indicate that poor addresses cost India $10-14B annually, ~0.5% of the GDP; see Table A1.

Table A1: The economic cost of bad addresses in India

Table A1: The economic cost of bad addresses in India

Note that the numbers presented in Table A1 capture the cost of bad addresses, but do not include additional benefits of having better addresses: rising productivity and income gains, which lead to further growth of businesses etc.

2. Combinatorics of Machine Codes

  1. What3Words: An arrangement of 3 random words is assigned to each of roughly 57 trillion imaginary 3m x 3m grids on the surface of the Earth. Each W3W code is derived from a static list of 40,000 English words, from which 3 words are chosen at random and ordered in all possible ways. This generates a total of 40,000C3  x 3! ~ 64 trillion unique arrangements.

  2. Zippr/eLoc: Both of these schemes assign a random alphanumeric string to each address in India. Assume that the minimum length required for such a short-code is n characters, which must be randomly drawn from a pool of 26 alphabets and 10 numerals. In order to assign short-codes for roughly 300 million households, the value of n can be worked out by solving 36Cn x n! ~ 36^n > 3 x 10^8. Using log transformation, we get n >= 6.

  3. Plus Codes: An alphanumeric code is assigned to each of roughly 57 trillion imaginary 3m x 3m grids on the surface of the Earth. Using the above logic, the value of n can be worked out by solving 36^n > 5.7 x 10^13. We obtain n >= 9, however, since Plus Codes maintain a hierarchy in the codes, they require up to 11 characters.


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Thinking big

As someone who worked in the social impact sector, I believed that impact should be measured in millions. I came to MIT because I wanted to truly understand scale, and to explore the intersection between technological and impact innovation. After engaging with the Emerging Worlds initiative, I now believe that we must push the boundaries of innovation, and aspire to impact billions of lives.   

In January, I traveled to India with a team of MIT scientists as part of the Emerging Worlds’ biannual trip. I was awarded a grant from MIT India and MIT International Science & Technology Initiatives (MISTI) to take part in this experience. Emerging Worlds is an MIT Media Lab initiative that has set up innovation hubs in Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Nashik to use technology to address issues across various sectors, including food and agriculture, financial inclusion, health and wellness, and housing and transportation. Emerging Worlds is unique because it is all about bottom-up innovation. The ecosystem collectively determines what the problem is, and how to go about solving it.

During the Emerging Worlds’ trip, our team connected with government officials in New Delhi, brainstormed with corporate supporters in Mumbai, and mentored young innovators in Nashik. Here are some highlights and insights from my experience:

Emil Kuruvilla works with entrepreneurs to learn about their solutions and business plans. 

Emil Kuruvilla works with entrepreneurs to learn about their solutions and business plans. 

Nilay Kulkarni with an early Ashioto prototype, deployed at Kumbh Mela.

Nilay Kulkarni with an early Ashioto prototype, deployed at Kumbh Mela.

Redefining Entrepreneurship

While at Digital Impact Square (DISQ) in Nashik  (one of the innovation hubs), I met with and mentored innovators. These innovators are focused on researching and really understanding the problem, and developing the best technology to alleviate it. They are bright young engineers and commerce graduates with many opportunities to take jobs at some of India’s top corporations. Instead, they choose to develop technologies that could one day transform the world.

Because the stakeholders, beneficiaries, users and other experts are part of the problem definition process, as well as the solution design, the innovators know that if they create a breakthrough technology, the ecosystem will provide support and scale. It is inspiring to see them unconcerned about venture capital or valuation. Typically, the daunting (as well as thrilling) part of entrepreneurship is the risk-taking element. Emerging Worlds essentially has taken that part out of the early stages of the process.

SPOT PROBE process well-suited to create greatest impact

During the trip, it was an honor to connect with Dr. Ramesh Raskar, the founder of the Camera Culture Research Group at the MIT Media Lab, and the visionary and architect for Emerging Worlds. He talked about how innovation models, used in places such as Silicon Valley, really don’t work for the developing world. He believes strongly that innovation and impact are very different from startup and venture models.

The Emerging Worlds model and approach (see image above) is unique. In the traditional sense, entrepreneurship usually starts with a person and his/her idea. In the case of Emerging Worlds, it's the community that comes together to determine what the problem is. Once the problem is identified, innovators step in and co-innovate with various stakeholders throughout the whole process. My work with the Deshpande Foundation, American India Foundation (AIF), and now with Emerging Worlds, has reinforced the notion that change must happen from the bottom-up. Moving forward, I hope the rest of the development sector will embrace this type of approach.

More than ever, India needs more entrepreneurs, especially on the impact side. I think the Emerging Worlds’ model will encourage more young people in India to look at impact innovation as a viable career option.

Leveraging human capital

While technology is a powerful tool, it alone will not solve some of the world’s biggest problems. One of the core tenets of Emerging Worlds is that the ecosystem must leverage human capital. Throughout the whole innovation process, government officials, community members, beneficiaries, and corporations all take part.

The Tata Consultancy Service (TCS) Foundation, the primary sponsor of DISQ, not only provides funding, but also spends a significant amount of time connecting with the Emerging Worlds’ program team and innovators. It is very apparent that the TCS team is just as passionate about solving these large-scale problems as the innovators. During this visit, I spent a whole day with senior TCS leaders in Mumbai. In my career, I have seen corporations write big checks, but rarely have I seen them deploy their top-level talent to work on the ground. With Emerging Worlds, everyone feels like they have skin in the game. I believe this dynamic has the potential to create big outcomes.  

Billions is the new metric

One in nine people still go to bed hungry. Just 8 people now have the same wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion. The lowest-paid workers in the most precarious conditions are predominantly women and girls. These are all clearly daunting statistics. If we don’t think big, these problems will continue to persist.

Dr. Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, one of India’s most respected scientists and a friend of the Emerging Worlds initiative, said, “India is at the tipping point. Its potential impact is enormous. We are talking about over 1.25 billion. You make an impact on 25,000, it means nothing.” The success metric for Emerging Worlds is in the billions. As the effort expands across India and beyond, I hope it will inspire government officials, innovators, and the corporate world to think just as big.

My next steps

Now that I’m back in Cambridge, I have joined the Emerging Worlds’ Leadership Council and will be helping the team think about and improve its programmatic efforts in India. We all can play a role in this amazing initiative. If you are passionate about technological and impact innovation, then I strongly urge you to engage with Emerging Worlds. It will no doubt take a global ecosystem to impact billions of lives. Click here to get involved.

Emil Kuruvilla is an MBA Candidate at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Prior to joining Sloan, he worked for innovative impact organizations, including the American India Foundation (AIF) and the Deshpande Foundation. While with the Deshpande Foundation, Emil headed marketing efforts for the organization’s entrepreneurship centers in India and the U.S.

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Digital Economy for the Unorganized Sector

a presentation by Ajay Bohora, Co-Founder and CEO of Credila Financial Services

Ajay Bohora shared his thoughts with innovators last summer during the Emerging Worlds workshop hosted at DISQ in Nashik, India.  Ajay outlined the context, challenges and opportunities available for people in the unorganized sector, an area that many innovators hope to disrupt and improve in the coming years.  Using this framework, teams were asked to formulate grand challenge statements to have the greatest impact.  Review Ajay's outline below to brainstorm your own ideas related to this underrepresented group and learn more about the projects that DISQ innovators are addressing here:


·      Going Digital: Empowers people, enables inclusiveness & brings in equity

·      Half-life period of most products & services is rapidly shrinking

·      Fragmentation of markets: The new reality

·      Hence, new organized initiatives have slowed down, creating opportunities for Unorganized Sector, driven by the spirit of disruption & mind boggling speed of change

Current Challenges

o   Underemployment & unemployment

o   Educated & skilled youth awaiting opportunities

o   Govt. constrained for revenues & hence the budget

o   Organized sector facing uncertainties, disruption & hence cautious

Enablers Available:

o   Aadhar (unique identity to citizens of India)

o   Mobile penetration

o   3G, 4G bandwidth

o   Payment Banks, Mobile Wallets, Unified Payment System,

o   eKYC

o   O2O & O2Ois becoming common


o   Survival of unorganized sector dependent on re-inventing their core & work flows

o   First mile & last mile digital interfaces for unorganized sector

o   Digitally driven customer experience for the unorganized sector

o   Micro payments available coupled with omnipresent Mobile & bandwidth

o   Govt. establishments want digital efficiencies which create jobs, without Govt. bearing fixed recurring costs

Matching Challenges with Opportunities

·      Unorganized going digital for customer acquisition, retention, supply chain, delivery & service

·      Unorganized human resources & businesses leveraging block chain kind of methodologies to distribute work in smaller packets & assemble them back

·      Can Govt. work be split into micro tasks enabled by technology


1) Inspection & Certification role of Govt. can it be split in smaller tasks which are person independent made possible by verifiable technology e.g. semi-skilled college drop out from rural India can carry mobile, does geo tagging, takes pictures of key inspection points, fills in info. on mobile driven block chain driven Govt. work flow

2) Unorganized sectors include unknown technologically driven rural semi-skilled part timers as a part of their supply chain where a centralized distribution platform, governed by Ratings & Reviews opens up jobs for unemployed youth

3) Leveraging online and offline network: Global entities tap into educated, trained, untrained mobile savvy and citizens of the world, who leverage their online & offline network to generate leads, conduct consumer surveys, do last mile physical or digital delivery of products & services on assignment basis




The REDX Invention Model: Impact Innovation for Today’s Challenges

By Leah Laucher

Photo Credit: John Werner

Ramesh Raskar was returning to his car after a conference in LA, when an unusual sign caught his eye. It was meant to be a friendly reminder to double check that any personal belongings, such as CDs or a camera, hadn’t been left behind. It struck him as odd that things that were once a part of our everyday lives had begun to gradually disappear.

Raskar pondered what would be next. “Things that we thought were really critical and stand-alone are disappearing into the fabric of our lives.“ Even things we still deem necessary ⏤ like keys and wallets ⏤ are nearing their end. On a larger scale, imagine receiving healthcare without hospitals; learning without schools; growing food without farms; or transacting in currencies that aren’t mandated by the government. This is the scale in which Raskar thinks.

Raskar is head of the Camera Culture Group and an Associate Professor of Media Arts and Sciences at the MIT Media Lab. He and his team developed a platform called Emerging Worlds, which focuses on the intersection of emerging technologies and emerging communities. Their primary focus is finding solutions for today’s most pressing challenges in India and other developing countries.

In July, Raskar spoke to over a hundred innovators and entrepreneurs at an MIT Emerging Worlds workshop in Mumbai, in collaboration with ReDx (MIT Media Lab) and the WeSchool (Welingkar Institute). The event centered around using impact innovation to solve grand challenges.

Traditional innovation is an incremental process, and progress is sometimes slow because it’s based on linear progression. Impact innovation, on the other hand, combines innovative ideas with cutting-edge technology to leapfrog forward and achieve game-changing results.

How can one-dollar wearables change our society? How can smart objects perform more efficiently? And how can we spread predictive health throughout all communities? Questions like these are shifting perspectives toward innovations that could impact the next 5 billion people.


Making an Impact


Raskar’s mentor, Desh Deshpande, says that there are three types of people ⏤ tolerators, complainers, and problem-solvers. Obviously, problem-solvers seem like the go-to preference; however, Deshpande emphasized that a balance of all three is necessary for change within a community. But a balance isn’t the norm.

Consider a talent-rich environment like Silicon Valley, filled with brilliant and innovative people who likely think of themselves as problem-solvers. Unfortunately, many of them are working on problems that affect only a small number of people. Because it’s such a talent-rich group, a small percentage of them will eventually go on to focus on problems that actually matter to society.  

In most of the world, however, problem-solvers are scarce. There’s no time to work on non-priority problems first. Furthermore, innovation models used in places like Silicon Valley simply don’t work for the rest of the world because they stem from traditional innovation models.

The way Raskar sees it, innovation and impact are different from startup and venture models. That’s why Emerging Worlds is passionate about models that can scale. They want to look beyond the Internet of Things, Big Data, and digital citizens to how we can leapfrog through technologies in order to solve problems.

For Raskar, the journey began with the question of how to solve the problem of vision for people in need of prescription glasses ⏤ poor vision often leads to illiteracy and unemployment. He and his team invented a hand-held device called EyeNetra that provides an immediate, low-cost prescription for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. It has done incredibly well.

Success aside, however, Raskar felt that this solution was a somewhat inefficient way to address the billions of people in need of eye care. With a larger goal in mind, his team spawned a new innovation platform called the REDX Model (Rethinking Engineering Design eXecution). They collaborated with the L V Prasad Eye Institute to launch LVP MITra ⏤ a unique program designed to build and deploy the next generation of screening, diagnostic and therapeutic tools for eye care ⏤ and have been making incredible advancements in eye care ever since.

Raskar then took that model a step further to consider how innovators can move beyond contests and hackathons, incubators and accelerators to make the most difference.

Building a Culture of Innovation


Raskar sees co-innovation as the most promising route for solving the grand challenges of our time. Emerging Worlds has worked in India throughout the past four years ⏤ collaborating with corporate leaders, business leaders, educational institutes, small businesses, and corporate partners ⏤ to discuss solutions that could truly make an impact. During this time, Raskar and his team have been delighted by the sheer number of people that have come together with a shared vision for impact innovation. For Raskar, it was a great experience “to see how we can expand our thinking.”

There are now three permanent co-innovation centers in India (Hyderabad, Mumbai, and Nashik) with the purpose of tackling major problems that most startups simply aren’t interested in. Instead of investing in e-commerce or dating apps, Raskar and the Emerging World initiative want to create solutions that will influence and improve billions of people’s lives.

These co-innovation centers will take a close look at solutions like monetizing garbage, automating a blood supply chain, and viewing crime in an entirely new way. How can one-dollar wearables impact issues like school attendance or improve transport system efficiency? How can we create detailed maps and solutions for agriculture using satellite imaging?

They’ll look at new ways to improve and expand healthcare, asking questions like: How can we significantly advance instrumentation? And even further, how can we go beyond thinking about simply advancing medical instruments or doctors?

The list goes on, and it will always be evolving ⏤ along with the questions, ideas and solutions. Raskar hopes that the success of this model “will inspire others to think of innovation” in far greater terms than just venture or entrepreneurship.

At an Emerging Worlds event in Mumbai in July 2016, Dr. Raghunath Anant Mashelkar, one of India’s most prominent scientists, followed Raskar’s presentation with his own powerful talk. He pressed the need to shift our innovative vision to encompass billions of people. “India is at the tipping point. Its potential impact is enormous.” “We are talking about over 1.25 billion ⏤ you make an impact on 25,000, it means nothing.”

Whether it’s an outdated sign or a decades-old movie, reminders of how rapidly the world is changing are all around us. As a society, we can continue to try and solve problems the same way we have in the past, or we can embrace Raskar’s vision and forge a new world where technology and collaboration empower citizens to create impactful innovations to truly change the world.



An Entire Village Gets Street Names

Village council following street naming ceremony

Village council following street naming ceremony

During the 2015 Kumbh Mela, Professor Ramesh Raskar realized that a physical address for every business and home is critical for digital solutions. Without street names and signs, it's difficult to navigate a place, and that makes a lot of everyday activities more challenging. With street names and signs, people can get emergency services, and they can order products online and have them delivered to their door. Plus, they make it easier for the municipality to organize drainage and street cleaning.

Life is now becoming much easier for the village of Wadhiware, near Nashik, in Maharashtra, India. In July 2016, the Emerging Worlds team from the MIT Media Lab worked with the people of Wadhiware to map their village, name their streets, and develop street signs.

Street signs implemented in Wadhiware

Street signs implemented in Wadhiware

We worked closely with Ms. Priti Shejwal, the sarpanch or “mayor” throughout the entire process. Ms. Shejwal demonstrated leadership by opening Wadiwahre to innovative new ideas and technology. Ms. Shejwal is a visionary who understood how her village could be transformed through comprehensive street naming.

Having street addresses will help us organize drainage and keep our village clean.
— Priti Shejwal, Sarpanch (Mayor) of Wadhiware

Prior to this project, the village had little to no existing addressing system. When it came time to document street names village-wide, there was a conscious effort to preserve the history of the village by making many “unofficial” names official. Most of the new names were consistent with the use of the particular roads; others were based on recommendations of the villagers. For example, Market Road is where you’ll find the center of the village’s trade and economy. This collaboration worked because of the trust and respect between the Media Lab team and the Wadhiware villagers. We listened to each other.

Wadhiware is the first village in India history to take part in this street naming initiative. With the leadership of Ms. Shejwal, the village came together to make it all work. The complete project -- mapping the village, naming the streets, and printing the physical signs -- was completed in only a week!

Ceremony to celebrate new street names and signs

Ceremony to celebrate new street names and signs

This on-the-ground effort involved a lot of manual operations. In the future, we plan to automate much of the process. We can dramatically improve the scale of adoption with digital technologies and techniques such as satellite imaging and machine learning. Wadhiware is one village on the road to empowering citizens in many villages across India and worldwide.

We would like to thank divisional collector Eknath Dawale, sarpanch Priti Shejwal and upsarpanch Raosaheb Katore of Wadhiware, as well as Subhash Patil of the Kumbhathon Foundation for helping to ensure the success of this initiative. They all helped to make addresses a reality for the 10,000 people who live in Wadhiware.



Address grand challenges to impact billions of lives

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Learn more about the July event HERE

The Emerging Worlds: Innovating for Billions is hosting presentations and brainstorming sessions in three cities this July. Join us to address global challenges in emerging economies in areas such as health, distributed objects that make systems, wearables, cameras for good, agriculture, and digital economy for the unorganized sector. Learn about our shared vision and work to solve billion dollar problems that will impact billions of lives.  

Hyderabad - July 8 and 9

Mumbai - July 11 and 12

Nashik - July 14 - 16

Our aim is to influence and improve human lives. The proliferation of mobile devices and wide connectivity, as well as the availability and growth of machine learning, crowdsourcing, Big Data, and the Internet of Things offer new possibilities for research and development. In both developed and Emerging Worlds, there is a great opportunity for game-changing innovations that will impact billions.  

Join Us!

Fill out this form to express your interest. An events manager will be in touch to confirm availability.

Additional Information

Emerging Worlds -

WeSchool -

DISQ (a collaborative innovation center in Nashik) - 



Nashik, Innovation, and You

By Rohan Puri

Rohan Puri worked as a research specialist at the MIT Media Lab in the Camera Culture Group where he built devices for health and human-computer interaction.  He has also worked at TechStars Boston, and was a mentor at Harvard i-Lab, Startup Weekend, and Startup Institute.

Rohan runs the newsletter Fives, where he shares cutting-edge research and technology. He currently resides in San Francisco, CA working on his next soon-to-be-announced project.

Nashik, Innovation, and You

I had an amazing experience connecting with bright minds and resourceful people in Mumbai and Nashik this past January. At REDX, the Welingkar Institute of Management was gracious in helping support our model for rapid, multi-threaded innovation. The gatherings with selected participants in WeSchool allowed them to select new projects and showcase existing projects to key stakeholders from the Mumbai area. Then, teams were offered an opportunity to better validate and prototype their projects in the supportive city in Nashik.

Never before have I seen such a strong gathering of like-minded yet diverse people in one place. Innovators, mentors, government officials, local business owners, and everyday workers came together to help design better solutions to India’s toughest problems. Tata Consultancy Services helped craft a detailed approach strategy for each of the grand challenges and our MIT team helped guide teams focused on the health track. I encouraged members of our team (led by Alicia Chong) to go out on field trips and evaluate their hypotheses by actually talking with real people about some of the problems they face in their everyday life and what might limit their access to health.

Back in the Nashik Engineering College, teams built prototypes to help address some of the health problems and put them up against diverse panels of specialists from Nashik and all over the world. The panels put the teams’ thinking to the test and helped the teams ensure that they thought through every possible side of the challenge they were attempting to solve: culturally, technically, and financially.

So, what happens now?

We wait a bit. This is where where the magic happens. You see, I’ve found that the most ambitious, resilient, and relentless people in the world become obsessive with the work they are passionate about. They can’t stop; they keep pushing. This is what we are already seeing from the innovators on many of our projects and I can’t wait for the most passionate individuals to bubble to the top. We’re waiting for the self-starters and self-pushers to keep going.

I hope we see many more of our innovators take this initiative as an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. This is not a hackathon, not a networking event, not even a learning event. This is a doing initiative. The TCS, MIT, Nashik, and WeSchool teams have done an incredible job providing a foundation and infrastructure for innovation to happen. We have the resources, connections, and influence to make many of these projects come to life in a record amount of time. Take advantage of the hype, ride the wave of momentum you started in Nashik and take the projects to a place where you can say “I deployed that.” In general, I hope to see a much stronger emphasis on completing one project rather than just starting a bunch of projects as you see with many hackathons these days.

For the initiative as a whole, I hope to see more companies donating their support and infrastructures. In India we have a unique advantage in that organizations are incredibly well connected with one another. They can pull in partners, collaborators, and resources at the snap of a finger. I hope to see many more organizations offering their support for this platform in any way they can -- these innovators need all the support they can get and the last thing they need to worry about is funding, internet connectivity, development resources, or access problems. They need to focus on one thing and one thing only: building, implementing, and deploying these projects to the people who need them. To produce winners, we need to build a strong foundation and I think we have a great start.

But, there’s still a lot to be done. If we can launch a satellite to Mars at a greatly reduced cost, there’s a lot that can be done here on earth if we put our minds together. Let’s stop thinking independently about our own problems/goals and learn to work together to help one another. As a recent transplant to Silicon Valley, I’ve seen it myself. A strong network of support is vital. Sometimes you need to give a little before you can get anything. Let’s create a culture of giving.

To the innovators: Keep pushing, we’re here to support you.

To the organizations: Let’s help each other. There’s no reason that Nashik and India can’t be the best place in the world to rapidly iterate and deploy hugely impactful technologies and systems.

To the observers: Stop observing. When did you ever get credit or passion from watching from the sidelines? There are ways for everyone to help out and get involved. Don’t wait until you have more experience. The best way to get experience on how to innovate for billions is, well, to start innovating for billions. We’re here to pick you up if you fall down along the way.

Remember, people rarely regret action. It’s inaction they regret.
Here we go!



Pashon Murray recounts on her Emerging Worlds experience

Director's Fellows, Pashon Murray and Eman Jaradat, joined the Emerging Worlds team in Nashik, India this past January for the weeklong workshop.  In this blog Pashon recounts her time meeting young innovators, working with multiple teams, and inspiring the next generation of young innovators to solve pressing global challenges.

An excerpt of Pashon's post is below  Read the full blog on the Directors Fellows website

"On the third and fourth day we listened to people introduce themselves and inspire the students to be better thinkers, creators, entrepreneurs and inventors. The corporate leaders, Media Lab team and others started sharing the challenge statements and the group categories. Each leader and mentor had to introduce himself or herself to the students in the main auditorium. I spoke very briefly during the introduction for Food and Agriculture, Transportation, Waste Management and soil and water. Instead of speaking about Detroit Dirt or my past experiences, I kept it clear and concise about the UN recognizing me for my work in composting and soil. I didn’t want the focus to be on Detroit Dirt only. My role was to judge the talent and be a mentor.

I decided to mentor the Food and Ag group. However, the group had multiple focuses so instead I decided to work with the soil group. Beth and I explained to the whole group the importance of the areas of focus, soil testing, supply chain, and crops. I also reiterated the importance of healthy soil. Four students said they would like to dedicate themselves to soil testing. After some extensive discussion, I couldn’t understand why so many students were interested in supply chain issues. Many felt like the farmer wasn’t being respected in the supply chain throughout India. I understood their passion but some Indian farmers weren’t following protocol for soil testing. Also, many of them have to address other issues before selling crops."

Read the full blog on the Directors Fellows website



Kumbh Mela and MIT Kumbhathon: a government leader's reflection on innovation and spiritual events

Dr. Praveen Gedam is an IAS Officer and Commissioner of the Nashik Municipal Corporation. Over the past two years the MIT and Kumbhathon teams have worked closely with Dr.Gedam to deploy technology to impact the Kumbh Mela, a massive religious festival drawing 30 million people.  We are grateful for his help, insight, and support.  Under the guidance of Dr.Gedam, Kumbh Mela was incident free with no lives lost, no epidemics, and no missing children, a truly impressive feat.  In addition to his interest in government administration, Dr. Gedam is also a qualified medical doctor, further adding to his impressive portfolio, and creating even more synergy with the MIT team.  Learn more about his work and Nashik, India HERE

By: Dr. Praveen Gedam 

Kumbh Mela was not only a spiritual gathering for Nashik but it also turned out to be a gathering for science, technology and innovation. Thanks to Kumbhathon, an initiative from the MIT Media Lab in collaboration with local government and various private companies, Kumbhathon was more than a hackathon. It provided a platform for all innovators to come together and create solutions to better mankind.  As a result of our work with the MIT Media Lab we have a new innovation culture in Nashik which deployed many technologies during the Kumbh Mela and continues to impact our city creating solutions for our city and our citizens.

As a government official I am often approached by people in the private sector who want to showcase their innovations. Often the so-called idea is already built and they have determined which government problem it will solve and where it can be sold and marketed.  Kumbhathon was different. Government agencies were involved in sourcing the problems and creating the innovations from the beginning.  Many of these solutions from Kumabhathon were directly related to the organization of Kumbh Mela*.

Kumbh Mela is all about crowd, crowd and more crowd. If solutions work during Kumbh Mela, we realize that they can work at any place and any time. The crowd size in Nashik was an advantage for the innovators who had to create robust solutions to be able to tolerate the data of the masses. Apart from this, the city is ideally located near India’s commercial capital and it is one of the best tier II cities to invest in and to do R&D. Nashik Municipal Corporation is one of the few corporations in the country that has adopted latest technologies at times moving more quickly than other nearby cities. This ensured success of the Kumbhathon movement. Analysis of the crowd was made very simple by use of ping technology of cell towers and projecting the 2D maps to show crowd movements. This was also supplemented by experimental use of Ashioto mats.  Simple and cheap housing structures were built in the sadhgram to be used for Kumbhmela and they will continue to be used in the future for similar events. Meditracker tracked the symptoms and diseases in and around Nashik in real time and real location making us alert about impending problems at early stages.

However, above all, Kumbhathon has provided a platform for our government to interact with innovators on continual basis. This has become a movement. A new innovation center is about to open in Nashik, with support from corporate partners, the MIT Media Lab team and the local government. There are many problems that need groundbreaking solutions including traffic, water supply, sanitation, nutrition, education, health and many more. I am sure this perpetual scientific movement where the scientific community, businessmen and government have come together will go a long way in creating a better world.

*Kumbh Mela is a massive hindu gathering that occurs every several years in different cities in India.  The Nashik Kumbh Mela was in August and September 2015 and drew crowds of 30 million pilgrims.



Apply yourself and make an impact

Innovating for Billions workshop - Day 5 - January 27, 2016


“We are addressing ground-breaking problems. Use every minute here to see how you can apply yourself and make an impact.”

– Professor Ramesh Raskar


This morning began with teams huddling and collaborating and consulting their mentors and others. They are extremely eager to demonstrate that they “get it,” that they understand what is expected of them and that they can develop a solution that will satisfy a challenge and have local and perhaps global impact.


Tell your story and follow your heart

Innovators took a break for a few brief presentations. I gave a 10-minute presentation entitled “Tell Your Story.” This was designed to get people to do two things: (1) Prepare before conversations with stakeholders. Know what you want and whom you’re talking to, and (2) Use the language of the person you’re speaking to and what they’re concerned about. I shared highlights of things that I have carried with me from early in my career when I sold office copiers (for A-Copy in Boston, then engineering printroom equipment for Océ), including an introduction to three models: an active listening technique, SPIN® selling, and the difference between features, advantages and benefits. Building relationships is key to business success. These tools and concepts should help the innovators as they progress with their innovation program, and overall in their careers.


Eman Jaradat spoke from the heart, with lots of energy and enthusiasm. Eman is a Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab. She is a community activist in the Middle East, focused on building capacities and advocacy, and creating a freer and more open Arab world. At the Innovating for Billions workshop she is working most closely with the teams that are addressing education challenges. When she speaks, it is personal. She appealed to innovators to find and follow their passions, and to be genuine in their dealings with people throughout their lives and careers.


Professor Raskar highlighted what’s cool and new this time

The crowd in the main workspace of the Nashik Engineering Cluster was excited to hear what Ramesh had to say. His comments were brief and inspiring. First, he explained that this workshop marks a transition to a more concrete model of co-innovation. The MIT team has run over 10 workshops in the past year, with corporate representatives participating as mentors. Now corporate members are joining the effort and making it much more significant. So much has happened in just one year!


While it may seem confusing to some as MIT works more closely with corporate members on this initiative, this is an exciting time. Together, we are establishing an innovation center in Nashik that will operate year-round and host innovators for six-month internships. Fellows will spend time at the MIT Media Lab. And there will be a summer program with a lecture series. Having a formal space in the center of Nashik means that there will be a more stable innovation presence in the city. This is an exciting new beginning for all of us.


New corporate engagement opportunities

This is a great time for corporations to get involved. Getting in early means that they will be able to influence the challenges and the innovations that spring out of the Emerging Worlds initiative. This is the future of technology. Corporations appreciate the value of the bottom-up innovation model. Everyone feels the energy. Corporate members can use the platform to: access innovation, train their employees in innovation, recognize talent, propose challenges, have an impact in social innovation.


Ramesh called several innovators to the stage

He asked for volunteers to share what surprised them how they feel about the process so far. Both men and women got up to speak. They represented engineering and business students from across India.


What the innovators had to say

“I’m not so scared to speak on stage, even though I don’t have so much experience.”

“My advice is to accept ideas from other people and you may end up with a better idea in the end.”

I like the team structure. We’re going to make it work!”

“I’m learning so many things from so many different backgrounds. We’re mixing up experiences.”

“Make something big that will affect the lives of people. Create something and give back to society.”

“I knew before that education was a challenge. Now I really feel the challenge personally.”


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Closing remarks from Ramesh

After hearing from the innovators who got up on stage, Ramesh shared some of his advice. He said, “Since you live only once, do something big.” He also shared some insights about the journey. He said that there are four stages in the life of someone who makes a difference: “Learn, apply, impact, activism – in this sequence.” So, he admonished the innovators to: “Extend your ability to apply your skills so that you have some impact.”


When you see a challenge through a new and personal lens, you will be much more vested in the outcome. Everyone in the room has creativity, ingenuity and confidence. We should emphasize these traits.


Gala event at the Nashik Klub

The day concluded with a beautiful evening event at the Nashik Klub, hosted by the head of Thakkers Developers, a real estate company. Everyone involved in the Innovating for Billions workshop was invited. Some additional local business people were invited as well, including a jeweler who owns and operates over 60 jewelry stores in Nashik, and the leadership of Anand. Two of the Anand executives had attended MIT, and they had participated in Kumbhathon5 in July 2015. Over 200 people were welcomed by a costumed musician playing a traditional warrior’s bugle. Then we were all honored with red dots and a spray of turmeric as we entered the party space. By the entry there were two musicians in costume playing traditional Indian music, and there was an Indian rock band playing on a stage on the far side of the space. There were large-scale game tables and seating throughout. And the space was ringed with tropical palms. There was a long buffet table that ran the entire length of the space. The foo was delicious! It included make-your-own wheat bud dishes with a seemingly endless array of colorful spices and condiments. There were also refreshing local beverages, some curries and naan. Another special touch included a henna and nail polish table where the ladies could have their hands and nails painted. One of the highlights was when Girish Pagare, a local businessman who has been instrumental in promoting the Kumbhathons and who is one of the leaders of the Kumbh Foundation, took the mic and sang a few Bollywood tunes with the band. No one knew he had this hidden talent! It was a wonderful, festive way for everyone to mingle and compare notes about the events of the week thus far.


Impact drives us all

The power of this platform is evident in the energy of the participants: the excitement of the innovators; the engagement of the administration of the City of Nashik at the highest levels; the investment of corporate members' time, effort and resources; the participation of the local business and professional leadership; and the commitment of MIT in the platform, the process, the technological solutions, and the relationships. We are all in it to have an impact on billions of lives.



Republic Day in Nashik marks day 4 of the Innovating for Billions workshop

Innovating for Billions workshop - Day 4 - January 26, 2016


Celebrating in style

It was fitting that day 4, the middle day of the workshop was a day of celebration with pomp and circumstance. Republic Day honors the date on which the Constitution of India came into force on 26 January 1950, replacing the Government of India Act as the governing document of India. Celebrations take place across India, and most people have the day off from work and school.


Several of us – John Werner, Pashon Murray, Eman Jaradat and myself from MIT, along with Sandip Shinde, Subhash Patil, and Girish Pagare from the Kumbh Foundation – were hosted by Sanjay Mohite, the Superintendent of Police. He sent police cars to escort us from the hotel to his government home. Mr. Mohite, his wife and son greeted us warmly and served us a celebratory breakfast consisting of several plates of local delicacies. Then they gave us a tour of their home. The house was originally built and used by the British Police. It’s a solidly built structure, made of stone. The interior is very comfortable and decorated with plush carpets, paintings and intricately carved wooden furniture.


After breakfast we proceeded to the adjacent field where several groups of uniformed personnel were assembled in formation, ready for the performance. Girish Mahajan, Minister of Water Resources, addressed the crowd. He and Eknath Dawale, Nashik District Commissioner wore celebratory local pagdis (headdresses). Dr. Pravin Gedam, Commissioner of Nashik Municipal Corporation, and the honorable mayor of Nashik were present as well. We were escorted to seats of honor in the front, under cover of a large tent.


Each group of uniformed participants paraded in formation, marching with precise synchronization of their matching khaki pants and white-gloved arms. As they filed past the assembled audience, the announcer stated who they were and what they represented, and the leader raised a sword with a loud and proud exclamation. Following the marching, there were several floats that drove by the crowd. They included a few social activist groups, such as a drive to vote, support for women and children, animal welfare, as well as representatives from police, fire, ambulance, and youth in uniform. One of the most dramatic were Muslim youth on horseback. There were also groups of women and girls in uniform. Very official and impressive.


Water administrators visit with innovators

This afternoon Girish Mahajan, Minister of Water Resources, visited the Nashik Engineering Cluster to meet directly with the innovators. He brought a team of party leaders to meet directly with the innovators working on water challenges. This was a great honor for the organizers as well as for the innovators. And it helped all the innovators to realize how vested the administration is in the success of these projects.


Innovation progress

During the day, innovation teams collaborated and progressed their projects. The focus was on refining the challenge statements from the stakeholder perspective, and specifying what data would be needed to test hypothesis and to provide analysis of value. Then they could proceed to considering possible solutions, with a focus on DIPS (digital interfaces for physical systems) and DAPS (digital applications for physical systems). The point is not to replicate physical systems with technology, but to utilize data and technology to achieve something new.


Teams spent more time on their innovation challenges and some engaged further with additional stakeholders. They collaborated with their assigned mentors from MIT, corporate members and government. And they used poster boards, sticky notes and markers to document how they viewed the challenge. In the afternoon all teams met with panels of mentors that included experts from corporations, MIT and the Kumbh Foundation. Each team got 15 minutes with the mentor panel to share and describe their challenge statement and key stakeholders, explain what data they had and what they needed, preview their initial ideas of solutions, appeal for help in specific areas, and get targeted feedback. At this stage, some were very clear, while others still needed to refine what they were going to address. We spoke with the assigned mentors and discussed what sort of guidance would be most beneficial in each case. The teams continued to work independently before and after the panels, applying mentor guidance to get to the next level with their work.


Win x 5

There are five entities that all stand to gain from the process of developing and implementing innovative DIPS and DAPS solutions to Nashik’s major challenges: the administration and citizens of Nashik, the Kumbh Foundation, individual innovators, corporations, and MIT. The city and its citizens will get problems solved and will enhance the way of life in the city. Innovators will get a major career boost from the opportunity to intern for six months in the new Innovation Center in Nashik. The Kumbh Foundation will strengthen its ties in the city, building a stronger community committed to solving pressing problems. Corporate members will be recognized for the social impact of their efforts, expand on some of the inventions to improve and grow their work in various sectors, use the model to expand their innovation capability across the company, and access a growing pool of talent. Using the world – and Nashik in particular – as our lab will enable MIT to provide even greater opportunities for innovative and impactful research in the Media Lab, use Nashik as a model to forge new strategic relationships with like-minded corporations in order to expand our collective impact worldwide, and generate solutions to major problems worldwide that will affect billions of people.


Beginning the selection process

Toward the end of the afternoon, Professor Ramesh Raskar met with the mentor panelists. We did an initial review of all of the teams, and discussed next steps. We are looking for two things: (1) innovators who will stay for an internship in the Innovation Center in Nashik, and (2) challenges that will be pursued in the next phase. Consideration will be given to solutions that will have a high impact. Most of the challenges that have an MIT scientist as a mentor will move forward. Also, there are individuals who have already displayed unique strengths and who will be asked to participate as interns moving forward.


A new app for all solutions

Ramesh recommended that we create an application to act as an umbrella for all of the solutions that are created in the new innovation center in Nashik. This will be similar to the Kumbh App that was created for the Kumbh Mela. It was a single place for people to access solutions developed by the Kumbhathon innovators, and it was downloaded and used by thousands of people who attended the Kumbh Mela, as well as by the leadership in the city administration. This new app will represent the future of Nashik.


A social evening for MIT scientists and mentors with Nashik business leaders

Throughout our visit in Nashik, the Kumbh Foundation, the Nashik government, and the business community have all received us warmly. This evening we were invited to a dinner party hosted by several leaders of the local business community. We were made to feel much more than just invited guests. We are part of the same team working together on the same goals: to create a better world through technological innovation.




Clarifying challenges to address

Innovating for Billions workshop - Day 3 - January 25, 2016


Teams of innovators started working in earnest today. Today was a day to clarify challenges. After conducting online research and meeting with stakeholders and experts in the field, they were expected to understand and articulate the holistic picture of their challenge. They had to map all the major stakeholders and their pain points, and to select a segment to use as a pilot. The other expectation was to ask questions that could be answered with data. Could they get access to data? Or would they have to collect data manually?


In the afternoon every team presented to a panel of mentors for 10 minutes, followed by 10 minutes of comments and questions from the mentor panel. The innovators prepared answers to the following questions:

·       What is the challenge?

·       Why is this an issue?

·       Who is impacted?

·       Where in the value chain is this?

·       Whom has the team met?

·       What are the 3 striking things?

·       What support is needed?


The mentors evaluated the progress of each team based on the clarity and importance of the challenge and the understanding of the stakeholders and their issues, as well as the cohesiveness of the team. Mentor panelists asked questions to encourage holistic thinking and clarity of focus:

·       Who feels the pain?

·       What is the impact of this issue?

·       What data do you have access to? What data do you need?

·       What finite data set could you start with as a beachhead market?


Over 27 challenges were presented, including:

1.     Reduction of antibiotic misuse

2.     Identifying a patient segment for preventable blindness

3.     Ensuring healthier lifestyles to improve heart health

4.     AgriMate to improve/enhance crop cutting for better productivity and yield

5.     InnoWater to reduce water wastage and enable more equitable distribution

6.     Don’t Miss the Bus! addresses the alignment of travelers, buses and routes


There was excitement mixed with a bit of trepidation on the part of innovators. They were energized and excited to get time with the mentors from MIT, corporate members and the government of Nashik. The panel tried to put them at ease by recognizing what they’re doing well and by giving them actionable feedback. In most cases, they recognized the importance of considering various perspectives, like Michael Porter’s Five Forces, such as distributors, payers, government administrators, providers, producers, professionals/healthcare providers/pharmacists, and customers/patients/users. They realized that there are stakeholders who affect the situation, and others who are on the receiving end. Once they have a map of all the stakeholders, they were encouraged to pick an initial stakeholder group and to define them clearly. This means specifying their characteristics; e.g., if the key stakeholder is the government, what department and what roles within that department will care about this?


The goal is to create solutions with impact that directly address challenges, that are unique, that leverage large data sets and digital technology, and that leapfrog existing solutions. We cannot solve problems in a week, but we can outline challenges and propose solutions that can be tested and developed over the course of a six-month internship in the new innovation center in Nashik that is scheduled to open in March 2016.


4 Tata Fellows.jpg

Tata fellows lead healthcare innovations at the MIT Media Lab

There are four Tata Fellows at the MIT Media Lab who are developing cost-effective health solutions designed to solve significant challenges in India and other developing countries with limited resources. Working in Professor Ramesh Raskar’s Camera Culture Group and led by Dr. Pratik Shah, the four fellows – Anshuman Das, Mrinal Mohit, Shantanu Sinha and Tristan Swedish – are advising and coordinating with innovators in Hyderabad, Mumbai and Nashik, India.

Anshuman Das is a Tata Center postdoc with the MIT Media Lab. He works with optical system designs, cameras and imaging, signal processing, low cost diagnostics, and prototyping. Mrinal Mohit is a graduate student and research assistant at the MIT Media Lab. He is passionate about redefining the limits of automated machines, systems, and algorithms, especially in perception, interaction, and health. He develops imaging solutions for predictive health screening. Shantanu Sinha is currently a graduate student and research assistant at the Media Lab. His interests primarily lie at the confluence of learning-based computer vision, digital signal processing and mechanical design. At MIT, he is developing imaging systems for predictive health diagnostic tools. Tristan Swedish is a research assistant at the MIT Media Lab where he has been building a new class of user-centric retinal imaging systems inspired by computational photography, machine learning and displays.

Health innovation in Nashik

In the evening, corporate members, MIT team, Kumbhathon leadership, workshop organizers, healthcare mentors, and local doctors were hosted at Winjit, a local company that has supported the Kumbhathon for the last couple of years.


Led by Dr. Pratik Shah, all of the healthcare scientists from MIT presented the work that they’re doing that can be developed further and deployed in Nashik. Pratik Shah welcomed and thanked Winjit, health mentors, the Kumbhathon team, the MIT health tech team, and the Nashik administration.


“Nashik serves as the base for health technologies in Nashik, across India and beyond.”

– Pratik Shah, MIT Media Lab


Pratik gave a quick review of some of the research projects underway in the Camera Culture Group at the MIT Media Lab. They are designed to exploit Big Data and access to digital technology:

·       A system to take images around corners will be funded by DARPA and the US military

·       3D displays

·       Vision correcting display

·       CAT scan in a rickshaw

·       Biomarkers - tag cells and image them in low cost fashion

·       Computervision and machine learning - train neural nets to help physicians make good decisions

·       Rapid execution of ideas - concept to prototype to deployment to success


The health facilities in Nashik generated 500 health maps at the Kumbh Mela, the religious festival that attracted 30 millions visitors to Nashik in August and September 2015. With a robust ecosystem of collaborators, and people passionate about working with us, innovators can get access to data and experienced mentors coach the innovators.


How physicians can engage

Pratik appealed to the physicians present to step up and get involved in some of the 27 grand challenges. There are several focused on health, such as to end preventable blindness, to address antibiotic misuse, for zero loss of life due to lack of blood, and for 100% institutional delivery and immunization. Physicians can serve as expert mentors, get first-to-know rights to new technology, conduct pilot studies, be early adopters, or participate on a unique and prestigious advisory council. Pratik reiterated that we're not here to make money; our goal is impact rather than profit.


Health tech innovations in process

Anshuman Das, a scientist in the MIT Media Lab explained the challenge of antibiotic misuse. There’s an issue around physician education and patient awareness. The team still needs to determine if there's economic benefit. He appealed for help with a five-minute survey, clinical studies and patient education.


Achuta Kadambi introduced Mrinal Mohit and Otkrist Gupta, all scientists at the MIT Media Lab. Mrinal shared information about a challenge to deal with overworked doctors that don’t have enough time to take care of all patients. The proposed solution is a way to conduct a preliminary screening. It requires starting with lots of data, determining what “healthy” looks like, and creating a machine learning model. Ultimately, more people will be able to receive treatment.


Tristan Swedish and Shantanu Sinha, scientists at the MIT Media Lab provided an overview of the challenge to reduce preventable blindness. We know that many cases are cataracts that can be corrected. They are using screening devices with algorithms. They need access to mass screening camps, a UI/UX mock up, and a deployment strategy for the Nashik ecosystem.


Rohan Puri introduced Alicia Chong, both scientists at the MIT Media Lab. Alicia provided an overview of a system called Heart-Fi, which is meant to increase awareness of people’s heart health. The team is designing a low-cost medical device for cardiac monitoring. This will enable people to use get heart diagnostic tests in public spaces. The diagnostics will provide information on risk factors.


“Everything we do in the new innovation center will be important to the City of Nashik. We want to create a showcase across India and perhaps overseas as well.”

– Hasit Kaji, TCS


Questions from the physicians

Hasit Kaji and Pratik Shah took questions from the physicians. Dr. Shinde asked about the scope and direction and timing. Hasit said that the goal is to focus on projects that will see light of day within a year's time. Pratik asked the physicians to connect with their colleagues, and to post information about the Innovating for Billions work that we’re doing. Hasit reiterated that the formula is to apply MIT technology and expertise to specific challenges, and to articulate bottom-up challenges. He said, “We'll do things that are futuristic, and other things that we see as more immediate. It’s important for us to collectively prioritize, and to make a difference.”

Nashik ophthalmologist with innovators


Pratik and Hasit invited the physicians to contribute challenges and ideas to the innovation portal. A radiologist offered to share contact information. Dr. Shinde said, “I'm excited about the antibiotic project; I met the team today.” When Dr. Shinde went on to inquire about 3D x-rays that various health care providers could read, Pratik commented that we want to augment the physicians’ experience, not replace physicians.


MIT President Rafael Reif in India

While we were at Winjit, Professor Ramesh Raskar and Maggie Church were in Mumbai at a dinner with MIT President Rafael Reif and MIT alumni. They got a chance to share information about the Emerging Worlds effort and the Innovating for Billions workshop. Several of the MIT alumni present are friends of our initiative and have participated in prior Kumbhathons, including the leadership of Anand. President Reif is supportive of the work that we are doing, and he will help us get increased visibility on campus and with other leaders whom he knows both locally and globally. We hope that he will be able to attend one of our upcoming events and witness the effort and energy and accomplishments first-hand.


Innovation Center coming to Nashik

The new innovation center in Nashik is scheduled to open in March 2016. It will have maker spaces and other designated areas, and a work-in-process area. The objective is to have 100 innovators plus 25 mentors, and to manage up to five health challenges. We will keep looking at issues, and keep solving them. The important thing is to deliver and deploy.


In closing, Pratik appealed again to the physicians to get involved. Since the program depends on a pipeline of college, he asked them to educate their students and share this opportunity with them. The team wants engineering, medical and pharmaceutical students. Pratik also asked them to share information about the initiative through their social media channels. The physicians were very enthusiastic, and they all pledged to do what they could.



Understanding challenges in context

Innovating for Billions workshop - Day 2 - January 24, 2016


Effective bottom-up innovation is about innovating in context. This calls for spending time to frame the problem that you are solving, to map out the various stakeholders, their concerns and what they serve to gain or lose.


Teams that formed yesterday were now charged with really understanding the problems assigned to them. They started by doing some research both online and with mentors who have subject matter expertise. They made wish lists of people and places to visit and data to collect. The goal was to get a holistic perspective of their assigned challenge, and then to begin to narrow it down to something that they could work on as a pilot project.


Field trips made the problems real

Innovators fanned out across the City of Nashik. Groups of students made field trips to a dairy farm, a slum, a hospital, a blood bank, an agricultural university, an ophthalmologist, a pharmacy, an industrial area, a composting site, an upper class neighborhood, and several schools. They interviewed people, went on tours, drank water, tested their assumptions and hypotheses, requested data, and suggested ideas of solutions to create.


Citizen award and address to thousands of youth

Today Professor Ramesh Raskar received a Citizen Award for his work in Nashik. Ramesh gave a keynote at the awards ceremony. At the same time, John Werner presented to 11,000 primary school students who were assembled in colorful formation, with the students wearing the unique colors of their school. In both settings, MIT was recognized as a game changer. Across sectors and age groups, the citizens of Nashik are growing to appreciate our work. They realize that we are here to make a positive difference in their lives.


Challenge and innovator takeaways

When the innovators returned to the Nashik Engineering Cluster, they spent some time with their teams to absorb what they seen and heard. They then corrected some of their assumptions, and mapped out the stakeholders, processes and issues as they understood them. At the end of the day several of them had a chance to spend three minutes each answering questions about where they had gone, how they define the challenge, and what they had learned. Following are some examples.


A team working on an agriculture challenge commented that eggs are wasted, and that packaging and transportation are problems. The team working on a challenge about new street addresses for homes and business had the opportunity to speak with the CTO of Flipkart. They noted that there are multiple streets with the same name. And there are many homes and businesses that don’t have unique addresses. This is a challenge for drivers making deliveries, for example.


The team working on personal security for self help groups (SHGs) noted that there’s no common platform for all SHGs. The administration would like them to be registered and licensed. Although this would require some time and money, there should be a payback for the groups. The team working on crime pointed out that they need to define different types of crime. One of the issues is that because of the stigma, people hesitate to go to the police to report crimes. The team learned that the Nashik police has an online system for filing complaints in multiple languages. The cities of Mumbai and Pune have online databases with fingerprints and photos, but a system like this does not yet exist in Nashik.


A team working on cardiovascular diseases found that there are several causes of cardiovascular disease, including changing lifestyle, environment, and diagnostics. They also learned that patient ages are coming down as low as the 20s. People get health checks only once every two years.


A team working on reducing unnecessary loss of life due to lack of blood visited a blood bank. They learned that there’s a disparity between supply and demand, there’s a shortage during certain periods, people give blood during holidays, and blood has a shelf life. They appealed to everyone in the room to give blood if they can. It could save someone’s life.


The teams assigned to address water issues scheduled visits to a slum, an expensive residential area, and an industrial area. They made some initial observations that would have to be refined. Specifically, they noted that people don’t know how much water they use, and that timing, quantity and availability of water are inconsistent. People are not concerned about water quality.


At the end of the day everyone gathered in the auditorium to regroup with the larger group, share observations and to hear plans for the rest of the week.


Nashik administration committed to innovation success

The leadership of the event – including organizers, Kumbhathon leaders, corporate members, the MIT team, Nashik physicians, and distinguished members of the Nashik administration – were hosted by some local businessmen by the side of the pool at a local country club. Besides the lovely surroundings, good food and drink, and congenial company, the highlights of the evening were the stated commitments of government bureaucrats to collaborate closely with MIT, corporate members and the innovators. Specifically, they offered to do whatever they could to facilitate data collection for teams that needed specialized data for their projects, and also to make themselves available to advise innovators.


It was heartening for all to recognize that the administration fully appreciates the value of the innovation platform that is now entering a new phase in Nashik. This represents an opportunity for Nashik to be a testbed for new technology and to set an example for all of India.


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Opening day of innovating for billions workshop in Nashik

Innovating for Billions workshop - Day 1 - January 23, 2016


On Saturday, January 23, 2016 the week-long Innovating for Billions bottom-up innovation workshop kicked off with lots of excitement at the Nashik Engineering Cluster (NEC) in Nashik, India. The event is hosted by the MIT Media Lab and corporate members, in collaboration with the Nashik District Innovation Council, Nashik Municipal Corporation, and the Kumbh Foundation. This day also marks the launch of the Nashik District Innovation Council.


“Using computation as the core, this really creative community can bring in some surprising results as we work on billion dollar ideas that could impact a billion lives.”

– Professor Ramesh Raskar, MIT


There was a rigorous process to select the best from over 60 innovators who applied from across India. They are undergraduates, graduate students and recent graduates, mostly with majors in engineering, business and design.


Challenges presented to innovators

Challenges in seven themes – health and hygiene; housing and transportation; food and agriculture; energy, water and environment; education and skills; financial and personal security; and citizen empowerment and transparency – were cultivated through extensive research that included conversations with various stakeholders, such as citizens and the local government administration. The objective was to identify problem statements that are important to the citizens and the City of Nashik. Innovators will form teams to refine the challenges and propose and develop solutions for them, using digital technologies.


Some of the challenges that will be refined and pursued this week include:

·       Health

o   Reducing antibiotic misuse/overuse

o   Reducing preventable blindness

o   Ensuring healthier lifestyles by focusing on heart health

o   Making health care more accessible

·       Agriculture

o   Increasing revenue for farmers

o   Improving crop cutting for better crop yield

o   Improving soil quality and testing for agriculture

·       Water

o   Reducing water waste

o   Improving water distribution

·       Transportation

o   Real-time tracking of buses to improve reliability

·       Citizen empowerment

o   Creating street addresses for all

o   Improving crime detection

o   Preventing and reducing crime

·       Education

o   Improving attendance in schools


Welcome from John Werner of MIT

John Werner of the MIT Media Lab kicked off the morning with a welcome to the teams from MIT and corporate members, the Nashik administration, academic leaders from Welingkar Institute of Management Development and Research (WeSchool) in Mumbai and Symbiosis in Nashik, executives from corporate members, mentors from the US and India, and enthusiastic innovators. John introduced the audience to the MIT Media Lab and the world of innovation, and he shared some history about this innovation effort. While India is the world’s second largest country by population, in the next 15 to 30 years India is poised to rise from seventh to the third largest economy.


MIT’s motto mens et manus means “mind and hand” or leaning by doing. John called attention to the fact that India does not have a strong system for apprenticeships: there are 10 million apprentices in Japan, four million in Germany, and only 400 thousand in India. A shift needs to take place. Innovation could stimulate the country’s economy in significant ways.


Welcome from Professor Ramesh Raskar of MIT

Professor Ramesh Raskar, the head of the Camera Culture Group and the Emerging Worlds effort at the MIT Media Lab, introduced the “innovating for billions” effort.  He spoke about impact innovation and about using today’s digital technology to leapfrog.


Ramesh urged everyone to think beyond what they have seen. For example, consider healthcare without hospitals, education without schools, and the ability to see clearly while driving on a cloudy or rainy day. From an innovator’s perspective, the keys are: (1) keeping an eye on the outcome, (2) having a holistic view (considering global uses for solutions), (3) using DOPS (digital opportunities for physical systems), DAPS (digital applications for physical systems), and CAPS (connected applications for physical systems).


This is not a contest, a hackathon, a degree program, an incubator, an accelerator or a corporate innovation center. This week is a buildathon to collaborate and learn and create. The ongoing work over the next months and years will build on what begins here.


The key members of the innovation ecosystem in Nashik – government, business and academia, as well as citizens and international players – are all supportive of the work that we’re doing. Let’s take advantage of the goodwill and access to smart and motivated people willing to share information and create mutually beneficial solutions.


Welcome from Hasit Kaji of TCS

Hasit Kaji of Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) introduced the event. The company is excited to work with MIT on the new innovation center in Nashik, because it is a vibrant city which in many ways it is typical of tier 2 cities in India. But it has an added advantage. Through the MIT Media Lab team’s involvement here over the past few years, the city has become a “kumbh” or a vessel for innovation. The entire city is encouraged to participate – to contribute to enhancing lives in this city and beyond. This workshop and the center that will operate year-round are a perfect launching point for ideators to transform themselves into innovators and entrepreneurs.


Teams will work on challenges that reflect the voice of citizens and the administration that captured what is important for Nashik. They will work with mentors who have subject matter, technical and business expertise. Some will be selected to work in the new innovation center in Nashik for 6-month internships to progress their solutions. The journey begins here.


“This is an opportunity to work on real, challenging problems that are relevant for the common person.”

– Hasit Kaji, TCS


Welcome from Nashik government officials

Eknath Dawale, Nashik District Commissioner, Dr. Pravin Gedam, Commissioner of Nashik Municipal Corporation, and Deependra Singh Kushwah, District Magistrate & Collector, all spoke. They are pleased that the workshop participants are addressing challenges that are critical to their city. They are confident that Nashik is a place where things will happen. As one example, wouldn’t it be great to have an “Uber” for garbage? Kushwah said, “We want a system where the government can have a relationship with innovators.”


A representative from NDIC took the stage to endorse the event and the new center and to inaugurate the Nashik District Innovation Council which is to promote innovations from the district level. He quoted A.P. J. Abdul Kalam: “You have to dream before your dreams can come true.”


Welcome from Anand Krishnan, TCS

Anand Krishnan, CTO of TCS talked about how transformative social innovation can be. He said that TCS is excited about connecting problems to an execution mechanism. The digital wave that we’re living in can solve a lot of problems. At the end he asked, “How is the solution going to help each of us to live our lives better?”


Welcome from Sunil, Sandip and Pashon

Other speakers included Sunil Khandbahale, MIT Fellow, and Sandip Shinde, the Program Manager for the innovation center spoke excitedly about the event and the new innovation center. Other corporate executives spoke about trying to leapfrog with low cost and high impact solutions. Pashon Murray, an MIT Media Lab Director’s Fellow and the CEO of Detroit Dirt, spoke about a closed loop system for waste management that integrates technology while serving as a social, economic and environmental model.


Evening celebration

The evening concluded with dinner at a private orchard that was tastefully decorated with lights between the trees and groups of tables set around hot coals to encourage group conversation. Sandip Shinde led a social game to encourage people to get to know each other. It began to feel like we’re all on this spaceship together. Let’s shoot for the moon!


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