Grassroots innovation – doing better with less

Youth innovation and entrepreneurship was the focus of day 3 of the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) Young Scientist Forum (YSF) taking place in Durban.  Held under the theme "Building BRICS youth leadership through science, technology and innovation", the 3rd BRICS YSF highlights the strategic importance of science, technology and innovation as key drivers of youth entrepreneurship and leadership.


A panel discussion on the topic kicked off the debate, with experts from BRICS countries tackling various issues around youth innovation and entrepreneurship.


Patrick Krappie, Executive Directive at the Technology Innovation Agency, an entity of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), told about 200 YSF delegates that current funders of innovation and entrepreneurship are "still caught up in the corporate mode of thinking when it comes to the youth; they still expect business plans".  He said this mindset needed to change as, "millennials are less about experience and more about passion and achieving dreams".


Krappie said funders should allow young innovators and entrepreneurs to try, fail, try again and move on. He urged the forum to think about who owned the youth agenda.


Locally and within BRICS, there is consensus that investing in youth innovation is critical to reducing unemployment. Establishing an ecosystem that is conducive to growing youth innovators is especially important in countries with a large youth population like South Africa.


The relevance of frugal or grassroots innovation to the BRICS countries was raised by panel expert Vishen Pillay. The concept involves leveraging what you have and using minimal resources, while adding value. Pillay spoke about the DST's Grassroots Innovation Programme, which is implemented by the CSIR's Technology Localisation Unit.  The programme supports innovators with technology packages, access to technical, academic and incubation expertise, value addition and intellectual property protection, as well as with marketing their innovations.


Some of the successes of the programme were highlighted.  One young innovator, Nkosana Madi from KwaThema in the East Rand, developed a motorised bicycle that can be pedalled like an ordinary bike or driven using a petrol motor, with a maximum speed of 60 km per hour.  The distance it can travel before refuelling depends on the load carried.


Another interesting frugal innovation mentioned by Pillay was the Mitticool Clay Refrigerator. An innovation by Mansukhbhai Prajapatifrom Gujarat in India, the clay-based evaporation refrigerator does not require electricity. Composed of various clay chambers, water from an upper chamber drips down the sides of the unit and evaporates, removing heat from the inside out. It keeps products fresh for about a week.


Dr Nitin Maurya, an expert from India, said that the country's government had prioritised innovation and entrepreneurship, introducing policies that were implemented from school level onwards.  A wide spectrum of innovation was covered, from grassroots innovators to highly qualified researchers. He said the country was working hard to develop a thriving culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.


The YSF closes on Friday with the awarding of the Young Innovators Prize. The competition recognises talented young entrepreneurs and researchers, whose outstanding innovations (inventions, products, apps and services), will make a profound impact on the socio-economic environment and conditions of life in BRICS countries. 



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