Innovations don't just come out of R&D departments and university labs; they can also come from people operating in the "real world" needing to figure out new ways to accomplish necessary tasks more effectively and efficiently. For the leapfrog nations, improvements to rural conditions are quite often at the focus of new ideas. In India, the Rural Innovations Network (RIN) is a highly successful non-profit organization set up in 2001 to help promote and disseminate innovative practices in the rural parts of the country. In August, 2004,, RIN teamed up with the Indian Institute of Technology in Madras and the US-based Lemelson Foundation to launch L-RAMP -- the Lemelson Recognition and Mentoring Programme -- as a way of seeking out and supporting inventors and inventions coming from rural communities. This month, they announced a specific search for innovations with a "social purpose."
Part business incubator, part fabrication and market research facility, L-RAMP is meant to improve the ability of rural innovators to make their ideas more widely accessible, as well as more profitable. This builds on the core RIN agenda:
[Rural] people intimately understand their environments and create thousands of innovations that have immense potential to improve the well being of the rural population. What rural innovators don't have though is access to the skills, networks and other resources needed to take their innovations to the market. [...] RIN's mission is to identify, nurture and sustain innovations by enabling the management of commercially viable enterprises, thus leading to improved economic, social and creative environments for the rural population. [...] While other organizations take technologies and products into rural areas, RIN differs in taking technologies out from rural areas. RIN champions this "technology outwards" approach because it believes innovators innovate out of local need, and in many cases the same needs exist in other rural areas.
The Rural Innovations Network has a lengthy page detailing their various "success stories," from an irrigation system that reduces water consumption by up to 50%, to an all-organic pesticide, to chemical-free insect trap for grain storage. The insect trap was priced at Rs 90 (about $2), and is said to have been a "huge success."
The concept behind RIN and L-RAMP is a simple one: the people who live and work in rural areas are best-suited to come up with the tools and techniques to improving working conditions and capacities, but need the ability to test, refine, and distribute their ideas. Silicon Valley has its founding myth (based on reality) of hackers in garages coming up with world-shaking ideas, it may well be that, because of RIN and projects like L-RAMP, India will have its parallel, the inventor in the fields imagining a new world -- and making it happen.