Harnessing knowledge: Grassroots innovations for inclusive development

Wednesday, 7 December 2011 00:41 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Ray Wijewardene (1924-2010) was a true Renaissance Man. An alumnus of Cambridge and Harvard Universities and a former Chancellor of Moratuwa University, Ray excelled in many different areas of human endeavor: agriculture, aviation, engineering design, inventions, renewable energy technologies and water sports.

A Fellow of the Sri Lanka National Academy of Sciences and the Institution of Engineers of Sri Lanka, Ray was the recipient of honorary degrees from University of Moratuwa, the University of Sabaragamuwa and Silsoe College at the University of Cranfield in the UK.

Ray was universally recognised as an expert in many fields of science and as such, held high positions of international repute. He was the head of the Agricultural Engineering, Mechanisation and Automation Research Centre in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the head of the Agricultural Engineering and Research Division at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Ibadan, Nigeria, and the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Research Board. Furthermore, Ray sat on the boards of the Inventors Commission of Sri Lanka, Institute of Fundamental Studies, Coconut Development Authority, Coconut Research Board, Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka, the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies and the Presidential Task Force on Science and Technology of Sri Lanka.

The Government of Sri Lanka recognised his distinguished contributions to the country by bestowing upon him the ‘Vidya Jyothi’ (Luminary of Science) award in 1988 and the ‘Deshamanya’ (Pride of the Nation) award in 2002. If these academic achievements weren’t impressive enough, Ray was also an Olympian who represented Ceylon at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City and won a silver medal at the 6th Asian Games in Bangkok in 1970.

Established in 2011, The Ray Wijewardene Charitable Trust promotes the vision and ideas of the late Dr. Ray Wijewardene. The Trust encourages and supports innovation in sustainable agriculture, renewable energy, engineering and aeronautics – disciplines and pursuits that were close to Ray’s heart for over half a century.

The trust is in the process of creating an award for innovation, publishing an illustrated biography and preserving his personal archives. The inaugural Ray Wijewardene Memorial Lecture was organised by the Ray Wijewardene Charitable Trust in collaboration with the Institution of Engineers of Sri Lanka.

The theme of the inaugural Ray Wijewardene Memorial Lecture, ‘Harnessing Knowledge: Grassroots Innovations for Inclusive Development,’ was something close to Ray’s heart. Upon accepting the invitation to deliver the keynote address, Professor Anil Kumar Gupta stated, “It is a privilege for me and the Honey Bee Network to be invited for a lecture in honor of such an illustrious innovator, social change activist and thought leader of our sub-continent, and indeed the entire developing world.”  

Dr. Anil Kumar Gupta is a Professor at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmadabad and holds the Executive Vice-Chair of the National Innovation Foundation of India.  He is a Visiting Professor of the European Business School, Berlin, Fellow of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences and a Fellow of The World Academy of Art and Science.

A distinguished academic and visionary, Dr. Gupta holds an Honorary Professorship at Tianjin University of Finance and Economics and is a member of the guest faculty at University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria. He received the Bharat Asmita Acharya Shrestha National Award 2006 from MIT School of Management in Pune, India in recognition as the Best Management Teacher and won the Pew Conservation Scholar Award from the University of Michigan.  

Dr. Gupta received the ‘Padma Shri’ National Award from the President of India, for distinguished achievements in the field of management education and was the joint recipient of Science-in-Society Award instituted by The Indian Science Congress Association. The recipient of BusinessWeek’s Star of Asia Award and Far Eastern Economic Review’s Asian Innovation Gold Award, Dr. Gupta was chosen by India Today Magazine as one of 50 Pioneers of Change in the country. Despite these thoroughly impressive academic credentials and achievements, Dr. Gupta’s lasting legacy is as the Founder of the Honey Bee Network, an organisation which collects and disseminates traditional knowledge and encourages grassroots level innovation throughout India and elsewhere.

This extraordinary network promotes and facilitates grassroots entrepreneurship and ideas produced by village entrepreneurs that can assist and enhance rural communities. Similar to a honey bee that collects pollen that benefits rather than impoverishes flowers, Dr. Gupta’s brainchild has helped preserve and develop thousands of inventions, ideas and applications of folk wisdom in rural India.

The genius of Dr. Gupta was to have the vision to realise that rural India was full of ingenious folk without the education or connections to spread their ideas or to profit from them. Through the network, Dr. Gupta found ways of capturing inventions and writing about them and promoting them to a worldwide Internet audience.

He helped get the most ingenious ones manufactured so that the inventor could profit financially from an idea. Today the Honey Bee Network has teams of volunteers who scour the countryside for innovations that they hope to spread to other parts of the country. When innovations have commercial value, they pass the product on to the National Innovation Foundation, which is also spearheaded by Anil Gupta that aims to streamline the manufacturing processes and formalise the intellectual property rights so that an entrepreneur can buy the rights to bring a product to market. From its small beginnings 15 years ago, The Honey Bee Network today has over 10,000 inventions and discoveries on its website.

Harnessing knowledge through grassroots innovations is something that Sri Lanka too can greatly benefit from. In a fast changing and modernising environment, many of our island’s traditional knowledge seem to get lost with each passing generation. This priceless knowledge of our forefathers can be applied to great benefit for our future generations.

Whether it be native medicines, traditional agricultural methods, artisan and creative arts, many of our traditions are dying out. By enabling those skills to be protected and enhanced, we will indeed be preserving something of great value for all mankind.

The inaugural Ray Wijewardene Memorial Lecture will be held on Tuesday, 13 December at the Institution of Engineers of Sri Lanka, 120/15 Wijerama Mawatha, Colombo 7 at 5.15 p.m.

Contact 0774835899 or visit www.raywijewardene.net for further information. Admission is free. Dr. Gupta will be happy to meet Lankan innovators at the venue after the lecture.