Understanding Multi-Faceted Inclusive Innovation in India and Implications for Policy at time of Rapid Technological Change



Central Project Concerns

Innovation to accelerate development and alleviate poverty are all the rage in India today. Programmes by government and non-governmental actors that support inclusive innovation in various ways are multiplying. However, these all appear to target different kinds of innovation or different types of innovators, and it is not clear that there is a link between what is being supported and the expected outcomes from that initiative.

This project therefore asks: what are we actually talking about when we talk about inclusive innovation in India? And what policies and programmes can best support a diverse inclusive innovation landscape at a time of rapid digitalisation and technological change?


The study uses a mixture of data sources, including a review of literature and existing evidence on inclusive innovation, mapping of inclusive innovation policies, and the innovation support ecosystem. Finally, it compiles and analyses a database of about 300 inclusive innovation awardees from three large inclusive innovation award programmes in India over the past five years. The
database will be used to create the typology of inclusive innovation.

Preliminary Main Findings

Inclusive innovation has a long history in India, with roots in grassroots innovation and indigenous knowledge movements, and therefore emerged from a range of contexts and stakeholders.

Broad Understanding of Inclusive Innovation 

The on-the-ground understanding of innovation in India, is much broader than extant academic definitions of innovation, encompassing anything related to newness. Inclusive innovation, sometimes called social innovation, in India operates within the context of social change, and broadly encapsulates the idea of creating access to products and services for the underserved, or
livelihood opportunities as producers, primarily from the low-income segment at the bottom of the pyramid. Inclusive innovation generally is taken to be something new in the local context, rather
than necessarily new to the world.

Facets of inclusive innovation
While a new never-before-seen technology solution (an invention) is what is most commonly associated with innovation, there are many other facets of inclusive innovation on the ground in
India. Some are rolling out a successful model in a different location that requires a new approach (e.g. micro grids; solar powered ATMs), or adapting an existing technology, perhaps taking it apart to use specific components, to suit local needs. Others create novel ways of connecting producers and consumers through new networks and platforms(farmer distribution network connecting to urban consumers); or build new last mile distribution and collection models. Lastly, there are those that innovate in their operating processes or in their business model, for example cutting costs, or using novel revenue sources.

Inclusive Innovation Sources
Grassroots innovation is generated by individual innovators solving real world problems they face – often in smaller towns, peri-urban or rural areas. BoP Solutions by conventional private sector
corporations are products and services that are affordable enough for low-income households to buy. Likewise, many startups in the fintech sector are offering services to low-income households,
such as PhonePe, and Aye Finance. NGOs that work directly with communities and try out and scale new solutions, such as Akshaya Patra’s midday meals, often work bottom-up. They see a gap on the ground and look for new ways to fill that. Social enterprises and entrepreneurs are broad terms to denote entities and individuals that use entrepreneurial methods to create social impact, in the case of India, primarily development and poverty alleviation. Lastly, government at both state and central level engages in inclusive innovation in collaboration with other stakeholders.


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