Saturday, April 19, 2014

Relentless, and therefore a changemaker!

How often it has been said that some of the most difficult problems have simple solutions! But what about solutions which evolve first but are tagged to problems later?  Such solutions come from ordinary people doing extraordinary things – often solving problems which they don’t directly encounter. Ten such extraordinary people, who fit into the genre of social entrepreneurs, come alive in The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator, offering enlightening account of their personal journeys into the world of amazing possibilities. 

Himself a successful innovator, having applied mobile technology for social change in the developing world, Ken Banks considers ‘reluctance’ to be the defining character for an innovator to be and invites readers to question his stand! Couldn’t ‘accidental’ or ‘serendipitous’ be a better choice? In fact, observations indicate that innovations often originate without conscious thought, presumably in the hidden layers of the mind, and emerge intuitively. If one were to rephrase the words of sculptor Eric Gill, ‘innovator is not a special kind of person; every person is a special kind of innovator’. Given the right environment, an innovative idea will take shape against prevailing odds. 

The fact that an innovator doesn’t have to adhere to any stereotypes makes him or her less vulnerable from being ‘reluctant’. No surprise therefore that most innovators are average guys off the street; it's often their simple, homespun down-to-earth thinking that saves the day. Take the case of obstetrician Laura Stachel whose innovative idea delivered a solar-based solution to enhance survival prospects in power-starved Nigeria. On the other hand, Erik Hersman created technology hub which allows users to share breaking news through text messages in Kenya. Each of the ten stories captures the twists and twirls of bringing their innovations to scale.   

Back to the usage of the term ‘reluctant’, I suspect if innovator Brij Kothari, featured in the book, portrays any reluctance in pursuing his idea of ‘same language sub-titling’ as an educational innovation. Despite slow progress on policy front, Kothari has not been reluctant to persist with his idea. I would imagine a ‘reluctant innovator’ to be one who reflects a period of doubt before foraying into the subject. Finding purpose is often toughest part of the process; once clear, right kind of passion takes care of hurdles and pitfalls. Each case in this edited volume presents relentlessness (not reluctance) as the common thread in making big the innovative idea. 

For those who are itching to do ‘something’, this book is as much a source of inspiration as a guide to change the world. Less related to the innovators featured in the book, the idea of the term ‘reluctant innovator’ may click with those discerning readers who may have doubts about taking a plunge into the world of ‘social entrepreneurs’. Though majority of cases in the book relate to the health sector, the book is a welcome addition to the growing volume of literature on social entrepreneurs. 

The Rise of the Reluctant Innovator 
by Ken Banks 
London Publishing Partnership, UK 
Extent: 212, Price: £12.99

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