Resourcefulness over Resources

One phrase that invariably comes to my mind when the term "Social Entrepreneurship" is mentioned to me is "innovation to overcome constraints". These constraints could be financial, geographical, physical - well, even cultural. Most of the times, however, it is the lack of resources that poses a problem and most of the time it is resourcefulness that helps surmount this problem. Technology comes to the rescue. Technology in this context may range from a simple mechanical device to an idea requiring a confluence of some of the best brains in their respective fields.

An article by Vijaysree Venkatraman in Hindu, "Towards low-tech, high-value solutions for disabilities", reports the efforts of Amy Smith of MIT to develop low-cost mobility solutions for people with disabilities in developing countries. Amy Smith is a renowned inventor and specialises in innovations for developing countries. The effort mentioned in this article is called Mobility Lab or M-Lab and is actually an MIT undergraduate course.

"Each semester, about 60 MIT students take a hands-on approach to a practical problem from the Third World. Over school break, some travel abroad with their prototypes. “You can only go so far with designing a product before you field-test it,” says April Watchel, an M-lab student who will bring her group’s wheelchair design to Sinaloa, Mexico, this summer."

The Indian connection! The article talks about the Jaipur Foot Organization and how the sheer volume of work has prevented it from researching ways to improve the aid as such and the process of making the aid.

"Fitting those who have had amputations with customised legs is a complex process. In the last decade, the Centre for International Rehabilitation and the JFO co-developed a rapid fitting system to make moulds of missing limbs. Instead of the traditional plaster of Paris, which shrinks as it dries, this process uses sand or polystyrene beads.

Overall, the system produces a better fit, but it runs on electricity. Last year, MIT students designed a hand-cranked pump and made other modifications to streamline the process. Now, the portable device can be used even in remote camps without a bulky generator, says Mr. Reddy."

Further research by the author leads to D Lab at MIT - maybe we can term it as the parent initiative of M Lab (Vijaysree has also written an article about D-Lab @ Christian Science Monitor). Speaking at a session at MIT Museum, Amy Smith nails it very nicely when she lists the world's top 10 inventions according to various surveys. She, then, gently reminds us that almost half the world does not have access to these inventions and lives on $2 day. Many of these inventions require electricity which close to 1.7 billion people of the world do not have access. Add to that, the population which does not have access to reliable electricity.

While you are at it, you would like to read about IT and how it is helping modernize the Indian dairy industry.


  1. Hi there -- M-lab was a sort of sequel to my D-Lab story:



  2. Hi Vijaysree,

    I went through the article mentioned by you. Thanks for the information. I did not come across this article when I was searching on the internet - I don't know why :-). Nevertheless, I will mention it in my post. Thanks.