Idea File: Honey Bee Network spreads rich ideas of India's poor

A network in India that finds and supports grassroots innovators

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The Honey Bee Network and the National Innovation Foundation have helped to generate over 200 patents to date. Photo by cygnus921 (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Next month, Professor Anil Gupta will set out on foot in rural India with a team of scientists, villagers, students, and more. During the course of the week they will walk up to 11 miles daily with one goal in mind: to discover “barefoot inventors” that swarm the country but go unnoticed.

The bi-annual walk, called the shodh yatra, is what keeps the Honey Bee Network abuzz. Since Gupta started the network over 20 years ago, the informal group has been focused on finding and spreading the rich ideas of India’s economically poor. “The minds on the margin are not marginal minds,” says Gupta.

But it’s not just about going to the countryside and saying “namaste.” With the support of the National Innovation Foundation, the network helps these unsung innovators scale their inventions as well as connects them to other villagers who could benefit. That’s where the honey bee metaphor comes in – Gupta aims to cross-pollinate ideas just as honey bees share nectar from flower to flower.

So far, 150,000+ inventions have been brought to light. A few even made cameos in the blockbuster Bollywood film, 3 Idiots. No wonder, as the sheer ingenuity of some of these contraptions will leave your mouth gaping in amazement.

Here are three that make me want to hop on a plane and go to India right now:

  • Amphibious bike. Needing a way to get to safety when his village was swamped with floods three decades ago, Mohammed Saiddullah created a bike that rides through water. I’m sure there are some laws of nature being defied here.
  • Mini washing machine. The most well-publicized idea, Remya Jose’s pedal-powered clothes washer saves time and electricity – not to mention seems like it burns serious calories.
  • Tree climbing apparatus. Wanting to quickly collect coconuts, Appachan created a device that allows him to scurry up the tree safely and in no time. He’s now known as the local Spiderman.

Besides India, the Honey Bee network has sweetened its impact in China, and is emerging in Brazil and South Africa. Could your country be next?

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