India has become synonymous with innovation. Inexpensive mHealth applications. The Tata Nano. Low cost eye surgery. These are just a handful of the frugal innovations that India has developed and is now exporting. With a booming social enterprise sector, a number of the world’s leading academics, Nobel Prize winners and thinkers, a vibrant private sector, and world-class NGOs like Pratham, India has been dubbed the innovation hub for the West.
In light of this innovation boom, Administrator Raj Shah challenged us to think about how we could harness the enormous creativity and frugal innovation found in India, and how we could partner to find and scale high-impact development solutions that drive down the cost of development and get results faster—not just for India but for the rest of the developing world, and even here in the United States. USAID has had great success in significantly reducing HIV transmission rates and was within reach of eradicating polio in India. How could we do more of that while thinking globally, not just locally?
We didn’t have to look further than Lalitesh Katragadda, who is an Indian citizen who earned his robotics PhD at Carnegie Mellon. Lalitesh joined Google when it was a start-up, and then returned to India to both grow the engineering talent base and search for inexpensive ways to solve some of the world’s most troubling development challenges. With a group of volunteers he came up with a way to get the world to map its neighborhoods. The Pakistanis used the new Google Map Maker during the devastating floods last year to locate 800,000 people. They told Lalitesh that the maps helped them save an estimated 250,000 flood victims’ lives, all with a crowd sourcing tool. This is an inexpensive solution at scale. This is what is sorely needed.
Today USAID is announcing a partnership with the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI); one of the largest microfinance organizations in India, Basix; and an Indian venture operation, Infinity Innovation Fund. The focus is to source and scale development solutions being developed and tested in India that will benefit vulnerable populations across the country and the rest of the world.
The Millennium Alliance: An India-US Innovation Partnership for Global Development will raise $50 million in seed capital, grants, loans, guarantees, and technical support for base of the pyramid solutions. The Alliance will be modeled on USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures to deliver maximum development impact by focusing on cost-effective solutions, rigorous testing and evaluation, and transition to scale via public and private pathways. USAID has committed $7.5 million to help launch the partnership with the Indian businesses matching it.
We knew FICCI was the right partner when we saw on the Boardroom entry wall a picture of Mahatma Gandhi and quote from his FICCI address in 1927, which read, “The industry should regard themselves as trustees of the poor.” Dr. Rajiv Kumar, Secretary General of FICCI embodies that motto- smart business and caring about those currently left behind.
Together we are eager to create a new, transformational relationship with India that marries USAID’s continuing and sustained efforts to make American taxpayer dollars go further and India’s potential as a global innovation laboratory to lift up the world’s poor.