Social Transformation through Disruptive Inclusive Innovation


Hon’ble President, Hon’ble Chancellor, Pro Chancellor, Vice Chancellor, Guest of honour, Registrar, Deans, Faculty, Proud Graduands of the Day, their equally proud parents, ladies and gentlemen.

I want to begin by thanking the University for inviting me to deliver this prestigious convocation address.

The journey of this university from its establishment as KL College of engineering in 1980–81 till today has been truly impressive. When UGC declared this institution as category l institution last year, it was a major milestone.

But the way you have progressed on all fronts of education, research and innovation, I’m quite sure that you will rise to become one of our foremost engineering institutions in the country. So I want to begin by extending to you all my very best wishes for a great future.

I am most grateful to the University for honouring me with the Honorary Doctorate. This happens to be my 44th Honorary Doctorate, but this is the second one that I am receiving virtually in a space of 15 days. Let me assure you that it is most precious for me as it is given by such a wonderful institution with such warmth and affection.

I want to congratulate the graduands of the day for a great milestone in your life. This is a very very special day in your life. I also want to congratulate your parents and teachers for giving the best gift that they could have ever given you in life, education.

Institutions can’t build the future of the young, but they can build the young for the future. You are fortunate that KL University has equipped you fully with the skills and tools to deal with the challenges most confidently. And what are these challenges?

You all are entering a world, which is exciting as well as challenging, as we are living in a VUCA world, which is volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

We have seen that 2020 will go down in the history as the VUCA year of the century, due to the unexpected onset as well as unprecedented aftermath of the Coronavirus pandemic.

We have seen vast devastation of lives as also livelihoods. While we repair and recover, there is also an opportunity to rethink, reimagine, reinvent a new India of our dreams.

In that direction, our visionary Prime Minister has given the clarion call for ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’, which means self-reliant India. But in today’s globalised world, the idea of self-reliance cannot be about a return to import substitution, or to licence-permit raj and inspector raj but an active participation in post-COVID global supply chains coupled with a strategy to attract foreign direct investment.

Atmanirbhar Bharat must be built with Atmavishwas, with self-confidence, it is all about standing up confidently in the VUCA world. And it is you, my young friends, who give me that Atmavishwas.

I am very impressed with the university’s mission, which says that the university aims to ‘undertake research and extension with emphasis on application and innovation that cater to the emerging societal needs’.

I am also happy to see that you wish to achieve the twin objective of our students becoming ‘globally competitive and socially responsible citizens with intrinsic values’.

The KL Incubation centre that you have created should be so designed that it will propel you to create a powerful innovation ecosystem.

To meet your mission, Innovation should be conceived as a means of promoting ‘inclusive growth’ – growth that embraces the have nots and brings them into the mainstream of the economic system as customers, employees, distributors and intermediaries.

And such inclusive innovation is more important now than ever before, as the world goes through economic challenges posed by the pandemic. Let’s not forget that within just 100 days 100 million families have been plummeted from poverty to extreme poverty, wiping out decades of achievement in poverty reduction in just days.

I have been championing the cause of inclusive innovation for years in my laboratories of CSIR, of which I was privileged to be the DG for over a decade. As a personal contribution, I also instituted Anjani Mashelkar Inclusive Innovation award in the name of my mother ten years ago in 2011.

I will just highlight the awardees of 2019 and 2020 to show how one can move from ideas to impact and make a difference to the society. The idea of taking these three specific examples is to give the sense to our student aspirants, who wish to move into the startup space, as they can achieve the twin objective of doing well for themselves while doing good to the society.

As you will see, each of the awardees, has looked at a social problem and solved it by using the power of disruptive inclusive innovation.

The first problem. Globally, lakhs of women die preventable deaths every year due to pregnancy-related complications. The 2020 award went to Senthil Murugasen, who found a solution.

Senthil visited his sister while she was pregnant. She was living in the outskirts of Madurai. She would have to travel 15 km for a 15-minute antenatal check-up. Senthil visited her gynaecologist and found out the vital parameters that are tracked for a pregnant woman.

Senthil founded a startup named as JioVio Healthcare. He created Savemom, which is an IoT-based maternal healthcare solution that monitors rural mother’s health using smart wearables, which have been innovatively designed considering the sociocultural realities of rural women.

It collects physiological signals – blood pressure, heart rate, ECG etc. – continuously from pregnant mothers and processes them with advanced techniques to monitor their health.

By collaborating with local government agencies and NGOs, Savemom provides 1,000 days of care to mother and child for Rs. 1,000, covering antenatal check-ups of the mother and post-natal care of the baby.

Savemom has been deployed in over 100 Indian villages, benefiting thousands of rural mothers who otherwise have limited or no access to healthcare.

The second problem. There was a big challenge of shortage of ICU beds during the peak of the pandemic. The second 2020 award went to Mudit, who found a solution to this challenge.

He created a startup named ‘Turtle Shell Technologies’. Then created Dozee as a solution to this problem.

Dozee is a continuous, contact-free vitals monitor with remote monitoring capabilities that converts any bed into a step-down ICU in less than 2 minutes. And that too at one-tenth of the cost of equivalent ICU facilities in hospitals.

Although low cost, Dozee is a classic case of affordable excellence, the excellence coming from a high technology, namely ballistocardiography (BCG). Dozee has medical-grade accuracy of 98.4%.

Setting up Dozee requires minimal technical expertise and it could even be used in home settings – freeing up precious capacity during a global pandemic. It helps reduce the workload of healthcare staff by almost 50% and provide proactive care. All this is exactly what India needs!

The third problem now. Manual scavenging – in cities, often visible as manhole cleaning – is one of the worst professions in the world. In India, four or five people die on the job every month. The 2019 award went to a startup Genrobotics, which provided a solution.

Genrobotics Innovations Pvt. Ltd was set up by young college students in 2017. During that time, a manhole accident took place in Kerala killing three people, including the person who tried to help the two sanitation workers.

This touched the heart of the Genrobotics team. It decided to take up the mission to develop a robotic technology that can eliminate human intervention for manhole cleaning with human level flexibility.

Genrobotics innovation is a robot called ‘Bandicoot’ that cleans manholes remotely using robotic arms and computer vision. It uses pneumatic and electric actuators, infrared cameras, sensors and Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer Composites (CFRP). This robot can do all the tasks that a man can inside the manhole, is remotely operated and can clean up to ten manholes a day.

Manual scavengers will not lose their jobs as they are being rehabilitated to become robot operators and be employed in the high technology sector, thus giving back to them and their future generations, dignity.

And I am delighted that Government is bringing out a new bill, ‘The prohibition of employment as manual scavengers and their rehabilitation (amendment) bill 2020’ which proposes complete mechanisation of sewer cleaning.

And for doing mechanisation, we are fully ready. Full scale use of our Bandicoot will be transformational in removing the shameful curse of manual scavenging.

As I always like to say science must solve, technology must transform and innovation must impact. These three are brilliant examples of the journey from ideas to impact, when you use this powerful path.

These three examples also show how the combination of innovation, compassion and passion among all these young people led to social transformation, completely in line with your University’s noble vision ‘application and innovation that cater to the emerging societal needs’. I hope many of the graduating students will be inspired by these powerful stories and dedicate themselves to the cause of social transformation through inclusive innovation.

At the end, my young friends, I will give you five Mashelkar Mantras, which have helped me in my life. I hope they will help you too. Here they are:

First, the beginning of your own life is not in your hands, but where you end up is. So, remember, your aspirations are your possibilities, and therefore, keep your aspirations always high. You can’t predict your future, when you are beginning your journey.

When I was studying Newton’s laws of motion in school, I did not realise that I will sign in the same book as Newton did, while getting inducted in a ceremonial process as a Fellow of Royal Society in a ceremonial process in London.

When as a poor boy, I could survive and study because of a Tata scholarship, I would not have imagined that Ratan Tata and I will get inducted as Padmabhushan one after the other by then President R K Narayanan, a Tata scholar himself.

Second, there is no substitute to hard work for becoming successful. Like instant coffee, there is no instant success.

I have myself worked 24×7, week after week, month after month, year after year and will do so till I take my last breath.
The golden rule is the following. Work hard in silence. Let success make all the noise.

Third, Perseverance matters. Always too early to quit. Quitters are never winners and winners are never quitters. Interpret FAIL as your first attempt in learning. Your best Guru is your last mistake as long as you learn from it.

Fourth, be always a part of a solution, never part of a problem. If you can’t find the way, create your own new way. You will keep on knocking on the doors. Don’t get frustrated if they don’t open. Create your own doors.

Fifth, there is no limit to human endurance, no limit to human achievement and no limit to human imagination, excepting the limits you put on your mind yourself.

Be `limitless’ in terms of your imagination. So, every day, when you wake up, no matter how old you are, say to yourself that my best is yet to come and may be today is that day.

My young friends, all my best wishes and choicest blessings will be always with you, when you keep on climbing on this limitless ladder of excellence and bring glory not only to yourself, to your family, but also to our beloved nation, our glorious motherland.