Meet Arkhiben Mithabhai Vankar, a village healer and midwife. She is 65 years old and a widow. She lives in interior Gujarat. She earns around Rs 12,000 rupees a year. Now all of that is about to change. Arkhiben is set to earn over a lakh rupees annually. So what is the secret of her success.

Arkhiben is credited with the invention of herbal pesticide that keeps aphids, white flies and mealy bugs away. That was just the beginning of it. Arkhiben has now a patent filed and a business deal with Matrix Biosciences of Hyderabad.

So how is it that enterprising individuals from interior Gujarat are able to exploit their Intellectual Property to realize their dreams into commercial products ?

The Wall Street Journal has a very interesting story titled “India’s Rural Inventors help open Student’s eyes” by Chris Prystay. Writing on how a network of inventors from poorer areas is emerging into a global model, Chris profiles the Honeybee Network. The Honybee Network started by Prof Anil Gupta of IIM Ahmedabad, in 1988 to create an online database of rural innovations, a wikipedia of sorts of grassroots inventions.

The WSJ reports that Honeybee has catalogued more than 70,000 innovations by rural inventors in India. It has also helped several hundred of  the innovators to meet third-party entrepreneurs to license their technologies as well as to file 142 patents.

The article profiles a few more examples of rural innovations emerging from Gujarat including a treatment for mastitis in dairy cows, made by a pool of 11 farmers in Gujarat which chalked up $3 million in revenues with profit sharing and branding with the inventor names.  Another innovation from Gujarat is a natural pesticide that fights mites and prevents leaf-curl disease. The inventor is one Popatbhai Rupabhai Jambucha, an illiterate farmer from Gujarat.

As Gujarat heads to polls Chief Minister Narendra Modi is seeking to put development in Gujarat at the heart of the political debate. The Gujarat Congress much to the disappointment of the left wing radicals has also chosen to challenge Modi and his model of development rather than focus on the past. Nitin recently ripped apart Tehelka’s lame attempt at drawing misleading conclusions, Offstumped has a hindi summary of Nitin’s pieces here. Much has been said about Modi’s model of development for Gujarat as well as some questions have been raised on his contribution to what was already happening in Gujarat before he came into the picture.

In the context of the culture of innovation in Gujarat and initiatives like the Honeybee Network that have been fostering the spirit of enterprise to commercialize these innovations, Modi’s remarks at the WEF Dalian Summit are relevant. Speaking on “Perspectives on Entrepreneurship — Why Culture Matters”  Modi had this to say

 “The new world business acumen has to be based on the three sound pillars of ancient culture — vision, mission and goals,” 

 “A society that values these ethos and which promotes commerce with culture, trade with tradition and entrepreneurship with empathy is a society that will see its people succeed in any endeavour,” he added.

“bridging the gap between societies and cultures by sharing the fruits of success, as well as knowledge, labour and capital”. Acceptance of globalisation will succeed only when the concept of “global family” is put into practice.

The global family Modi is referring to is much like the global network Honeybee is aspiring to build.

The question for Gujarat as it heads to polls is not whether Modi was directly responsible to its economic success.

The real question for Gujarat is who can catalyze the spirit of enterprise that already exists in Gujarat and open it up to global opportunities.

The real question for Arkhiben and Popatbhai is who is best placed to empower their fellow innovators to view the whole World as their market.

Will they make the next election about opportunity and empowerment or will they regress into seeking entitlements ?

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