Innovation the key to pandemic recovery

Source: By Raja Murthy: The Statesman

Every problem arises with a solution in the benevolent geometry of nature. But the problem can lie in developing the mind muscles to find this solution. It needs to bravely face unpleasant realities. It needs the ability to innovate with what is there, not crying about what is not there.

India entering the top 50 rankings for the first time in the Global Innovation Index (GII) showed modest progress to tap unused potential. Innovative solutions become crucial friends in the pandemic economic recovery.

India, the world’s fifth-largest economy by GDP, moved up four places to 48 among 131 countries in the annual Innovation Index released on 2 September 2020. Much work needs to be done to bridge the gap between India and the world’s most innovative countries.

Switzerland, Sweden, U.S., U.K and Netherlands lead the global innovation rankings. The Republic of Korea entered the top 10 for the first time. Singapore (ranked 8) overtook Germany (9) to be the highest-ranked Asian country.

The Confederation of Indian Industry was among the three ‘GII 2020 Knowledge partners’ in the 13th GIobal Innovation index from the World Intellectuals Property Organization – the annual reminder of innovation being the key to economic success.

What secrets create successful organizations, brands, economies? What made Switzerland, Singapore and Germany innovation leaders?

Innovation ignites with ‘creative optimism’. Optimists see the glass half-full, not half-empty. Self-confident creative optimists find solutions through out-of-the-box thinking. They open a new path rather than follow derelict tracks. They are determined to find a way, and so they find a way.

India is on the way to be a world leader in innovation. The world’s fifth largest economy is expected to become the world’s largest by 2050. To meet this expectation, India needs a quality work and innovation revolution, bigger investment in research and development. Honesty becomes most crucial in the innovation path to quality work. Corruption and quality work cannot co-exist.

India’s ‘Mission Karmayogi’ to reform the civil service can only work with honest individuals. The necessary new administrative reform aims “to prepare Indian civil servants for the future by making them more creative, constructive, imaginative, innovative, proactive, professional, progressive, energetic, enabling, transparent and technology-enabled.”

Sounds good in theory, but dishonest civil servants become not ‘Karma-yogis’ but “Yama-yogis” – Yama, the god of death – choking already suffering citizens with delayed payments and red-tape strangling national growth.

Seven decades ago, Myanmar’s prime minister U Nu asked Accountant General Sayagyi U Ba Khin to reform a corrupt bureaucracy. U Ba Khin knew that mere sermons and punitive laws would not work. Corrupt behaviour patterns in the mind have to be first changed in the individual to bring organizational change.

U Ba Khin used the ancient mind-purifying process of Vipassana to revolutionize four governmental departments. The State Agricultural Marketing Board In the two years that U Ba Khin held the chairmanship posted record exports and profits. Efficiency reached an all-time high.

U Ba Khin set the example. He was incorruptible. He refused to accept even small gifts like a basket of fruit. A subordinate once left a silk lungi at U Ba Khin’s home on his birthday. He auctioned the lungi in the office, gave the money to the staff welfare fund and scolded the official for disobeying his orders not to give him any gifts.

“So careful was U Ba Khin not to allow anyone to try to influence him by bribes whether large or small,” wrote his student Sayagyi U Goenka (1924 – 2013) who brought back Vipassana to India in 1969. “He was a man of principles so strong that nothing could cause him to waver. His determination to establish an example of how an honest official works brought him up against many of the practices common at the time in the administration.” It is a growing worldwide phenomenon, the recognition that quality work starts with strengthening the mind. Mind matters most.

Innovation needs clarity of thinking. It flourishes with honest work and seeing the larger aim of compassionate service to society.

Innovative individuals and corporate entities in India have attained significant success in past decades, even during difficult days. The Amul brand owners Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation converted the pandemic into an opportunity. With hotels, restaurants and café chains shut, loss-hit dairy farmers were dumping milk on the road to seek governmental attention.

Amul solved two problems with one creative solution: buying an additional 35 lakh litres of milk per day during lockdown months. It generated an extra Rs 800 crore income for rural milk producers. At the same time, Amul released new pandemic related dairy products.

Amid the pandemic, Amul consolidated its position as the world’s ninth-largest and Asia’s largest dairy company. It aims at a turnover of Rs one lakh crore (US$ 14 billion) by 2024-25 to be among the world’s top three dairy companies.

Amul’s path to becoming India’s largest food brand was paved with openness to innovation, like its Amul girl mascot. Amul was one of the first corporate entities in India to have a website circa 1996, when most people had heard more about mosquito nets than the Internet.

In 1994, Amul used the pioneering Total Quality Management (TQM) principles to create transparency, openness and leadership in organizational culture. Amul generously shared the TQM with all its business partners, from the rural farmer to the urban wholesale supplier.

The Amul White Revolution ensured villages across India had better social infrastructure of schools, clean water facilities, health centres, roads, communication systems, banks. Developed villages lead to a developed country.

Enroute to being a globally renowned brand, Amul turns 75 years old in 2021. It is in a field that takes a long time to master. Switzerland’s celebrated Lindt Chocolates is 175 years old.

But innovation and quality work first start in the mind. Think differently. Make sustained honest efforts. Nature’s law of cause and effect takes care of the rest.