Commercial Innovation vs Social Innovation

Nimesh Sharma

Here we have a robot that can help you walking back again on your feet if you have been disabled by fate to do that. Rex Bionics, a New Zealand based company has developed this great invention, revealing this project after being shrouded in secrecy for 4 years.

Well, for a market in India, it may be a very expensive product, priced at $150,000 and surely cannot solve the problem of those who cannot afford even through social venture route. However, withstanding all arguments, the product is revolutionary.

Imagine, if you can suddenly walk after years of having to depend on others for daily physical needs. And not just that, you can also climb stairs. See the video of Rex, short for Robotic Exoskeleton. To be launched internationally in other countries as well in 2011, Rex is a great robot.

Now, not taking into account Rex, it being a foreign company, a question that one might ask is how much useful is such human friendly technology if in a country like India or a continent like Africa, it cannot be used by the needful masses. Commercial considerations apart which no one can question, I am questioning the social considerations.

 And I am questioning this based on my readings in past few months about people from India who have developed technologies which are essentially solutions to problems of rural or poor people at grassroot level. Take example of remote tiller, which a farmer can operate even in rainy season or in dense sunlight, or a “Chhotu Refrigerator” which is cheap and performs almost the same function, or the $10 solar lamp by D.light, or a Rs 250 worth imitation of ventilator created out of urgency.

These have been inventions that have been revolutionary in terms of potential of usage and have the power to create an impact on social fabric of the users. The companies who will manufacture great products like Rex will definitely do that without any support as well. However, to enable change of social fabric and standard of living, we do need to support those who are undertaking the social innovations.

How many organizations do you know of who are giving such a support? Lets get them out in open, if they are not.
And which innovations do you personally support - Commercial Innovation or Social Innovations?

Published in Dare Edition August, 2010