Global Issues TEDTalks

9 talks about innovation in India

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Arunachalam Muruganantham may not seem like the most obvious person to have started a revolution in sanitary napkins — after all, he is male. But in this funny and uplifting talk, given at the TED Talent Search in Bangalore, Muruganantham describes how he is enabling women in India to make their own pads — all as a gift for his wife, Shanti.

“What you did in your early marriage days — you tried to impress your wife. I did the same,” says Muruganantham in this talk, describing how he one day noticed his wife carrying something behind her back. “It was a nasty rag cloth — I don’t even use that cloth to clean my two-wheeler.”

It was a moment when Muruganantham realized that his wife had to choose between buying feminine hygiene products and buying milk. And it launched a powerful idea — that making pads would be far more cost-effective then buying them. The problem: when his wife and sisters refused to test his creations, he had to devise a system to try them out for himself.

“That [experience] made me bow down to any woman in front of me and give full respect,” says Muruganantham. “Those five days, I will never forget — lousy days.”

To find out how Muruganantham created a machine that lets anyone make their own high-quality cotton pads — and why he decided to open source the blueprints — watch his talk. It’s a good reminder that innovation doesn’t just flow from developed nations to developing ones, but that amazing ideas can travel in both directions. After the jump, watch several more talks about innovation in India and how new solutions can be created if the resources of the community are taken into account.

Vinay Venkatraman: “Technology crafts” for the digitally underserved
Vinay Venkatraman is not your traditional designer. He has created a digital projector for a school out of a mobile phone, a lunchbox and a flashlight, as well as medical triage monitor from an alarm clock and computer mouse. In this talk from TEDxSummit, Venkatraman explains his idea of “technology crafts,” which use widely available parts to approximate technologies not affordable in rural India.

Anil Gupta: India’s hidden hotbeds of invention
“People may be economically poor, but they are not poor in the mind,” says Anil Gupta of the population in India. “The minds on the margin are not marginal minds.” In this talk from TEDIndia 2009, Gupta shares his work supporting entrepreneurs with brilliant ideas that are unable to flourish because of poverty. Gupta’s Honey Bee Network helps unsung inventors build the connections they need to market their products — from a coffee machine made out of a pressure cooker to a non-stick hot plate crafted from clay.

Jane Chen: A warm embrace that saves lives
Premature babies are unable to stay warm. While these babies are kept in incubators in Western hospitals, far too many babies in rural and poor areas die without a chance. On a trip to India, TED Fellow Jane Chen found herself deeply upset by this phenomenon — and determined to create a solution. In this talk from TEDIndia 2009, Chen shares Embrace, a low-cost portable incubator that looks like a tiny sleeping bag … and that could save a million lives.

Bunker Roy: Learning from a barefoot movement
Bunker Roy has founded a very unusual college Rajasthan, India: Barefoot College, a university for the poor. Roy’s school takes rural men and women — many of them illiterate — and teaches them to become solar engineers, artisans, dentists and doctors. From there, they bring their knowledge back to their villages.

Nirmalya Kumar: India’s invisible innovation
India has become a hub for software development — and yet this innovation is rendered invisible because so many believe that innovation doesn’t happen in the country. At TEDxLondonBusinessSchool, Nirmalya Kumar seeks to peel back these erroneous beliefs and show what is happening underneath.

Marc Koska: 1.3m reasons to re-invent the syringe
In underfunded clinics in India — as well as in other parts of the world — syringes are routinely reused. This practice kills 1.3 million people each year. In this talk from TEDGlobal 2009, Marc Koska introduces a promising solution: low-cost syringes that can only be used once.

Nandan Nilekani’s ideas for India’s future
Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani is often credited with making India a leader in IT services. In this talk from TED2009, he outlines what has helped India develop quickly in recent years — for example, a willingness to see people as a resource rather than a burden — and what needs to happen for economic growth to continue.

Anupam Mishra: The ancient ingenuity of water harvesting
The Golden Desert receives the least rainfall in all of India and, yet, centuries ago the local people devised an ingenious solution for harvesting water. In this talk from TED2009, Anupam shares how these feats of engineering are still used today — and may even be superior to our modern methods.