Tuberculosis Medication, Parachute Oil and the Leh Berry – in an Innovation Medley

The FICCI Federation House graciously hosted the 3rd Marico Innovation Practitioner Session in New Delhi on August 8th  2011.

Chaired by Marico MD and Chairman, Mr. Harsh Mariwala, the panel of practitioners included Mr. Bharat Wakhlu, resident Director TATA Group; Dr. Shashi Singh Director of DIHAR, Su-Kam founder Mr. Kunwer Sachdev; founder of GOONJ, Mr. Anshu Gupta, TERI’s Dr. Alok Adholeya and Operation ASHA founder Dr. Shelly Batra. Moderated by Innovation Alchemy CEO, Parvathi Menon, the session brought out rich perspectives on Innovations across Business, Social and Government projects.

Harsh shared a peak into the evolution of Marico and how it grew from being a small family business called Bombay Oil into one of India’s most successful FMCG Businesses. Highlighting a key inflection point, Harsh shared the dilemma of building a professionally managed, family run business. Often considered a contradiction, Marico chose very early to bring in professionals and build a culture of diversity and openness where people could work on, and build ideas freely. Crediting much of Marico’s success to the diverse, rich corporate culture, he said Culture is the way to give talent direction”.

Illustrating how culture gets built, Harsh shared details of the fascinating battle between Parachute Oil and the competitor Nihar, marketed by HLL. Working within a very competitive market, against the might of a much larger FMCG to keep market share, the Marico Team had to assess their mindset and take the battle head-on. Innovating on the brand, the product packaging and the communication, Parachute kept its market and eventually bought over the Nihar brand. For the team this demonstrated that Innovation had to be result oriented and could help create great breakthroughs in Business. To further this belief in the power of innovation thinking, Harsh set up the Marico Innovation Foundation with the aim of fuelling innovation in India. In 2006 the Innovation for India Awards was established to recognize especially innovative breakthroughs in Business and Social sectors. Public Service Innovations were added as a category in 2009.

Encouraging proactive destruction and continuous, rapid prototyping

Building on the importance of a Culture conducive to Innovation, Mr. Bharat Wakhlu, Resident Director, TATA group  said “Buck the trend, indulge in creative destruction and do it proactively. This allows organizations to fail fast and succeed sooner”.

Su-Kam’s success in innovating is a direct result of constantly trying and failing; Mr. Sachdev, stating that he “..only knows how to keep working on a problem” talked about prototyping. Constantly re-working on the design of products at Su-Kam led to the creation of the popular range of Su-Kam inverters. A winner of the Innovation for India Award in 2008, Kuwar shared that he is now branching out into alternate and greener inverter technology.  (We look forward to an application for the Awards in 2014 Mr. Sachdev!! :-) )

Not just business, but innovation in Tuberculosis management and growing vegetables in Ladakh!

Dr. Shelly Batra gave a passionate perspective on the health problems inside urban slums. Tuberculosis, a disease which is really not considered a big issue, kills over 400,000 people in India annually and this can be completely reversed. The innovation challenge is to make sure that people take their medication. Considered a poor person’s disease – TB has a stigma associated with it, making it a bigger challenge to overcome. “The Government has medicines that expire and are wasted, people continue to suffer”. Dr. Batra talked about the innovation in process and technology that OperationAsha is implementing to dramatically improve the impact rate of the medicines.

Anshu Gupta, Founder of Goonj talked about transforming waste clothes into a resource for rural and economically repressed communities. Not just during times of disaster – but throughout the year. With a robust supply chain behind the operations and an effective delivery process, Anshu’s team manages over 70 tonnes of waste clothes and other material each month. They have been able to implement a significant shift in mindset, from donor’s pride to reciever’s dignity. (Read more about this case study in Mumbai Session post.)

The highlight of the Delhi session was the case study of DIHAR, the (Defence Institute for High Altitude Research), winners of the Innovation for India Awards 2010 for Innovation in Public Service. Dr. Sashi Singh brought alive the challenge of growing vegatables in Leh-Ladakh and the R&D that went behind creating the successful Leh Berry Juice. Innovation is percieved to be very technical – and here we were discussing cabbages and 73 other vegetables that are now successfully grown in the agricultural ecosystem created by DIHAR in the Ladakh region.  DIHAR has demonstrated that it is possible to transform R&D into very effective income generation projects if applied carefully and nurtured through an innovation process. Rs 5 to 6 Crores have been generated through the sale of locally grown Seabuckthorn or Leh Berry Juice.

Curious about the challenges within the Government, participants were keen to know if Innovation really happens within Government departments. A mind block exists within the Government regarding Innovation, there is no cross-fertilization of ideassaid Dr. Singh, but as her team at DIHAR have demonstrated, a little bit of conviction and innovation can help break many barriers, including that of growing vegetables in a cold and arid desert.

Mr. Srikanta Panigrahi, Director General of Carbon Minus India, a participant at the session summarised the discussion aptly. “We need many more such conversations. There is so much to learn from and so many stories that can give confidence to people who are looking to innovate and create new ideas – my congratulations to Marico for organizing such sessions. I wish more people could have joined.” We agree – we would like more people to join in to these discussions and make the debate richer and more diverse!

Here is a quick Excerpt of the Delhi Session:

If you would like to get a peak into the sessions held in Mumbai, Pune and Bangalore watch videos on the Innovation for India Vimeo Channel. Pictures from all the practitioner sessions are available on Marico Innovation Foundation’s Facebook page.

And finally – the last date for applications for the Marico Innovation for India Awards was extended to 16th September 2011 and over 400 applications have been received till the last date of application. We are looking forward to recognize especially innovative Business, Social and Public initiatives.

For more information click here.

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