I was standing behind the Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar of Bihar, and I was amazed as he seemed to be. This young man from a village in Bihar had actually made a functioning hearing aid using electronic waste. He even designed his own Styrofoam cutter to quicken the production process. And the cost of the hearing aid is only 75 rupees ($1.20)! The cutter costs a few dollars only.
Nitish Kumar was making a tour of the Innovation Expo at the Bihar Innovation Forum (BIF). For me, Rishikesh was clearly the most amazing talent, but there were good innovations in many, many areas. Recycling groundwater for irrigation, thus slowing the depletion of scarce groundwater resources; using rice husks to generate electricity in the village; an Internet platform that allows small investors to contribute to grassroots loans; a platform to harness traditional culture to create jobs; I could go on.
The BIF is organized by Jeevika, Bihar’s flagship livelihoods program, which has empowered over a million women already and connected them to banks. I am proud to say that the World Bank is a long term supporter of both Jeevika and BIF.
Many people associate innovation in India with big cities like Bangalore and Chennai. Bihar decided seven years ago to see what innovation can come from its villages. This year they looked again, not only within Bihar but across India and found innovative rural solutions from 16 states. And it does not stop at a forum. The Chief Minister announced the same day that Jeevika will create an Innovation Center to support the grassroots innovators with handholding and technical assistance and to make sure that what works gets scaled up in many villages. This could transform the rural landscape!