Q&A with the winner of the Aid Innovation Challenge

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
News editor, SciDev.Net

Before AidEx2012 closed yesterday, I caught up with Divyesh Thakkar, an international partner with the SUNLITE project, who enthusiastically presented the solar lantern here on the first day, which won the Aid Innovation Challenge award. We spoke about the importance of local innovation,  and his advice to other innovators as well as to aid and development agencies.

Why is local innovation important?

It basically does what people need rather than what they want. It’s very important to actually target a product to be produced, which is going to make a real change to people’s lives, rather than make a product and sell it to them and say that this is going to change their lives.

It’s got to be, like I said, a natural process so people see the benefits of using it rather than actually saying ‘If you use this you will see the benefits’. You know what I mean?

[By developing these products in the countries that need them helps in this] you get feedback from the people on the ground; you are actually interacting with them.  If a large company does this and if there is not that communication, you don’t have a picture of what people on the ground really feel. You don’t understand the needs. They [the companies] go: ‘If we develop this, this will work for them’ – this is how people tend to do it. That is also important. But it’s important that you address what they [the people] really need: that is a very important concept in the field of development.

What would be your message to other potential innovators? What do they need to succeed?

You need to have continuous scanning. You have to be out on the field seeing what people are using, how they are using it, when they are using it, what they are using it for. Make it sustainable, so they can manage it, they can maintain it, they can use it, they can repair it. By interacting with these people, then you can put your ideas to the scientists or the innovators to develop something and then send it back to them, to the people, and say ‘Now guys, use this’. It must be of good quality, it must be affordable, and it must be something, basically, a streamlined process. So they don’t see a big difference, because anything new, people are quite reluctant to change.

Your solar lantern is very similar to traditional kerosene lanterns.

Yes, so, people didn’t see that much of a difference, and they can relate to it. It’s only a few things that need to be done.

What would be your message to big development agencies and aid funders with regards to local innovation?

Give us a chance of an audience and we can show you what we can do.  Because if you talk to us, we can actually bring in ideas, or projects, or products which will really suit your needs and save you a lot of money, it will also make a difference to the way you work and for the people you’re helping.

Do you think there many such innovators out there already?

There are so many people, as you can see here at AidEx, who are trying to bring their product to market. The aid agencies also are also very restricted with the money they have: there are a lot of ways that you can actually bring these things together. You need a forum, you need to get these innovators together, ideas together, because sometimes us innovators, we can actually share synergies and develop something which is very good for the betterment of mankind.

This blog post is part of our blog on AidEx2012, which takes place on 24-25 October 2012 in Brussels.

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