Another good example of how a student-led initiative can lead to lasting social change was brought out recently. After the first pan NIT student conclave was organised last year at NIT Nagpur by Priyank and his team, the student council at SVNIT, Surat, organised second conclave to explore the way education can be linked to socio-ecological, industrial, and rurban context of the young minds.
Representatives of South Gujarat Chamber of Commerce were also present to discuss long-term strategy for nurturing economic and social innovation by young minds recorded and recognised by SRISTI through Techpedia.in. Representatives of many NITs made it eloquently clear that no major systematic effort had been made in this regard. Several initiatives were collectively resolved:
It was decided to set up chapters of national innovation clubs which would search, spread, sense (the unmet social needs) and celebrate the innovations in various fields, as advised by the honourable President of India in the context of central universities.
It may be worthwhile to recall that Karnataka government has already decided to set up such clubs in every college, arts or technical, degree or polytechnic. Given the lack of social connectivity, it has been proposed that a team of students visit slums as well as MSME cluster and nearby villages to do a systematic need gap analysis and identify and spread innovations.
Open source standards of excellence must be created so that instead of just doing benchmarking, one should always try to create new standards of excellence and accountability in different domains. Special funds could be established to promote innovations. Four windows are available: a) Fund to fail and innovate, b) Fund to fuse formal and informal science, c) Fund for fabrication for social change and d) Fund for fashion social change.
Dr PD Porey, director, NIT Surat, who has been patronizing a very large number of student-driven innovations, offered to recognise students who set up enterprises, solve industrial or other social problems in outstanding manner and help in achieving social goals at convocation function every year.
This will imply that academic excellence is of course important but social and economic entrepreneurial excellence is no less important. I had also the opportunity to visit Drishti fabrication lab at SVNIT created on the top floor of the hostel of first-year students. It is managed by students and the place had all the chaos of creativity. Similar labs are set up in various hostels and surely results of such co-creation common labs will be visible in no time.
Students also showed interest in pursuing industrial, rural and slum shodhyatras drawing upon Honey Bee Network experience so that social connectivity gets forged, problems of small and micro entrepreneurs get put on the agenda of technology students.
The model that SRISTI and GTU have developed in this regard with excellence results achieved by GTU needs now to be replicated at all NITs and other state technical university. VTU, Karnataka has already launched Techpedia.in. I had the opportunity to meet vice-chancellors of majority of public and private universities, central university, colleagues from distance education department and several industrialists at a meeting chaired by the principal secretary, higher education, Ms Radha Raturi on the similar subject.
They are very keen to forge similar connectivity in the state supported by Industries Association of Uttrakhand.
Based on the experience of summer school by SRISTI to fabricate solutions to eliminate child labour, we realized that concentrated attention in a few weeks can achieve more concrete results than diffused attention over years or longer period of time.
NITs could organise similar co-creation labs with focused social objectives involving students from nearby colleges and polytechnics. Dr Mashelkar has stressed that NITs should act as distributed centre of excellence. Instead of focusing on only national laboratories, he felt, why the entire nation could not act as a laboratory.
There is a huge scope of linking grassroots innovators and other innovators from informal and formal sector (as was tried during Inventors of India workshops at IIMA during 1998-2008) with the NIT and IITs network besides other institutions. I hope this conclave will pave the path of a new model of inclusive innovations.
Even if the so-called India Inclusive Innovation Fund excludes young start-ups, NITs and local chambers of commerce will hopefully prove National Innovation Council wrong by showing an alternative way of banking on the creative youth.
The author is a professor at IIMA