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.”


Male innovator Jan 2016.jpg

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.