Interview: Nikhil Inamdar talks about his book ‘7 Sutras of Innovation’

14 Feb Interview: Nikhil Inamdar talks about his book ‘7 Sutras of Innovation’

Journalist and author, Nikhil Inamdar talks about his new book ‘7 Sutras of Innovation’ that tracks the journey of eight organisations that have grown to become top players in their respective fields, drawing out seven universal sutras common to the featured success stories, Agastya International Foundation being one of them. 


  • What inspired you to write the book? How did you come to be associated with Marico Innovation Foundation?

I was approached by the publishers Jaico Books to write 7 Sutras of Innovation and they were the ones who introduced me to MIF. So in some sense the project fell into my lap. I didn’t actively seek inspiration. Having said that, once I saw the depth of the material available, I was instantly charged up. There was a great diversity of companies that they wanted to feature, and they had a very clear idea of the insights that they wanted to weave through in the narrative. Once I came on board I spent time extensively travelling across the country to interview the entrepreneurs featured here, and that was a deeply enriching experience. 

  • Do you think the way we define scaling is different in the case of social enterprises? 

Yes, certain Sutras are more central for social enterprises than they are for commercial ventures. ‘Amplification of Vision’ for instance. You start off small, but gradually spread your tentacles wider because there’s just some much to do, and so much change to effect. Many of the social innovators I spoke to said they wanted to go from NGO to NGM – or non-governmental organization to non-governmental movement. That in a sense captures what it means to amplify one’s vision. As a social enterprise, you have to have a very large ambition, because the remit of a social organization is far bigger than just profit. There are great examples in the book of how some of the social innovators have achieved this – in the case of Goonj for instance by creating a federation of network organizations and giving others a copyright to copy; in the case of Agastya through its de-centralized mobile van model. 


  • Among the 7 sutras you have listed, is there one that you think is particularly important for NGOs? 

‘Amplification of Vision’ for sure. But also ‘Hiring for Passion Not Pedigree’. This is a sphere of work where passion and dedication to the cause are paramount. When money and designations aren’t the primary motivating factors, it is passion for your work that keeps you going. 


  • Is there one of the sutras that applies to Agastya more than the others?

I think all of the 7 Sutras are critical in some context or another, and at varying degrees of significance to all innovators who want to scale up. Beyond these Sutras what’s increasingly become important for companies is to adhere what’s called a “double bottom line”. So just as for-profit enterprises need to extend the conventional bottom line  to measure their performance in terms of social impact, increasingly good social enterprises need to measure their performance in terms of commercial sustainability & ability to be self-reliant and creative as far as fundraising is concerned. That’s the only way in which your work can have longevity and impact at scale. 


  • How is grassroots innovation important for a growing economy like India?

It is fundamental to a growing economy like India where the disparities are so stark and the state capacity so hopelessly inadequate to address some very base level problems like education, health, sanitation etc. 


  • Do you think Agastya’s work is contributing to grassroot innovation?

Agastya’s contribution is tremendous. By democratizing quality education and broadening the definition what it means to learn beyond the rote, Agastya is making a long-term investment in shaping the young minds of India. Its contribution may not be instantly visible to people, but even if its interventions have acted as positive triggers for a small percentage of the millions of kids whose lives it touches, it will be an experiment worth conducting. India is passing through a massive demographic surge, but unfortunately the abysmal quality of public education in the country has left open a wide gap between the skills imparted and those needed to be gainfully employed and lead a happy life. Agastya is trying to bridge that, which is absolutely commendable. 


  • If there is one takeaway you want up and coming organisations to have from your book, what is it?

The book has an eclectic mix of organizations. But there’s one common strand running through all of their work, which is that they all have a purpose beyond profit even where they are commercially driven companies. That’s an incredible takeaway because it shows that new age businesses have evolved tremendously in their thinking and there is no longer a stark schism between social and commercial motives.