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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