Creating a Self-Sustaining Society
“Be the change you want to see in this world”, said Mahatma Gandhi. This is certainly true for Lakshman Pachineela Seshadri from SAP Services Innovation, SAP India, who joined forces with SAP Services, SAP Labs and digDesign Studio volunteers with Design Thinking and local language skills to make a difference.
In rural India, millions of children drop out of education and move into cities where they are forced to accept menial jobs just to survive. Suppressed of their latent talents they are exposed to poor living conditions and are vulnerable to crime and exploitation. Their migration to urban centers also puts pressure on the already overburdened infrastructure in cities, further worsening living conditions there.
In this complex and wicked context Lakshman saw an opportunity. By applying the human-centered methodology of Design Thinking, he sought to address the challenge of raising rural children’s entrepreneurial awareness and enabling them to make better career choices, which might eventually lead to a self-sustaining society. Lakshman then established The Inclusive Growth Foundation (TIGF) comprising of SAP and non-SAP volunteers. Along with Sneha Lakshman, Partner of digDesign Studio, he designed a program with the aim of ‘understanding the concept of money and value’, identifying ‘entrepreneurial opportunities’ in daily walk of life, and creating ‘desirable, viable and feasible solutions’ for the children to become aware and become possible change agents in their home villages. With motivated children who cannot pursue higher education due to their parents’ financial constraints, they sought to adopt the Rural Children Entrepreneurship Program. Their goal is to provide children with experience in generating ideas for entrepreneurial opportunities that would improve living conditions in their communities.
Believing in Inclusive Growth
It is interesting to understand and observe students, teachers, and users in a rural environment. There are indeed many opportunities that are waiting to be explored, with the potential to become businesses,– says Lakshman.
Before embarking on the first steps in this adventure, Lakshman had to find volunteers trained in Design Thinking and committed to a social cause. At the same time, these volunteers needed the right skillset and confidence to manage the project in the local Indian language, Kannada. Once a team of volunteers had been established and trained in the Design Thinking approach to become the coaches for the program, with the help of Ramakrishna Potluri, SAP volunteer and a very active Rotarian, they identified a school in Sarjapura, near Bangalore, for the first pilot. Fascinated by the idea, the headmaster provided all the necessary support to make the project happen. Soon after, 24 grade 9 and 10 students were enrolled in the program, organized in six teams. After being introduced to the concept of making and selling a product to make revenue and profit, they played games in order to foster creativity and innovation. During an exercise to design a school bag for a friend, they became acquainted with the cycle of innovation, from problem through to solution. They also experienced how important iteration is for good results.
Later on, they were presented with their design challenges: How might we enhance personal hygiene in order to avoid health hazards? How might we improve cleanliness around the home in order to protect against pollution? How might we improve water standards for consumption at home? All of these meaningful questions reflect the living conditions of Indian people in rural areas, which the children were challenged to find solutions for. In their teams, the children met stakeholders of the program, the Panchayat (local village council) as well as teachers, people at homes, shopkeepers, hairdressers, and people from other social backgrounds. They also interviewed hospital doctors about the health system. They started to compile a list of issues and noticed that the root cause of all of them was a lack of cleanliness. This led them to look into how this issue affects daily life in their communities and to talk to local children and their parents about how they manage and pursue their daily lives, the challenges they face in their communities and how they overcome them.
Making an Impact and Transforming Lives
Based on their field research, the children collected interesting insights and learned how to approach a problem from various angles. The six teams associated closely with their topics and generated ideas and developed prototypes. They also discovered the role of money as directly related to value addition. At the end of the workshop sessions, they presented their ideas: Group “Sunflower” came up with a simple tooth brush with fine, replaceable bristles from the Indian neem tree, soaked in honey and dried. Another group developed a herbal tooth powder and chewable lollypop resembling a “chocolate polo” which, when munched, cleans the teeth and mouth. With their sweet taste and pleasant aroma, the natural ingredients encourage children to keep their teeth clean. As there is no brush involved, this solution is quick and simple to use. Group “Tiger” redesigned dustbins with attractive shapes and colors. When they are full, an automatic alert is sent to the municipal office, and employees are dispatched to empty them. The team also devised a dashboard, displaying details and the status of the streets cleaned for a certain period. This allows the municipal office to reward areas, streets, or individual residents with incentives like a couple of ‘Phenyl-disinfectant’ bottles for the continuous maintenance of their surroundings, and encourages others to do the same. The children also presented a way of reprocessing vegetable waste using lamp wick or paper, which can be converted into a paper keyboard. When finger pressure is applied, this paper keyboard can transfer signals to a computer. After extensive use, it can be folded up as a ball for children to play with.
During these workshops, the children learned that innovation is real and immediate, and has the power to improve the lives of those around them. The practical hands-on experience gave them the courage to recognize obstacles and to transform these into opportunities. The Rural Children Entrepreneurship Program has proven to be a simple inclusive business model for everyone to reap benefits. Planning, implementation, and governance support for this was provided by The Inclusive Growth Foundation. “We are now planning to develop a business model involving students, teachers, social entrepreneurs, and TIGF as stakeholders in order to take some of these solutions to the next level – developing, testing and marketing them. This again is an experiment from which we will learn”, Lakshman assures us. A Social Entrepreneurship Venture could drive this program across the state and into neighboring states. Later on, by offering regular workshops, these same children will hopefully go on to transform their villages and their own lives.