What is grassroots?

The Grassroots Innovation Programme will be aimed at identifying innovators and inventors that do not have a formal education and/or have access to formal facilities. Through this programme these individuals will be linked to subject matter experts and advanced facilities where the innovation/ invention can be further developed towards a commercial model. The assisted individuals will also be provided with skills development programmes in order to understand their subject better and also with entrepreneurship development skills that will provide them with the knowledge to commercially market their inventions.

In the West innovation is conducted within structured R&D laboratories and departments and this has strength in scale and rigour. This type of innovation is resource hungry that requires an abundant supply of financial and natural resources. However, in this globally changing environment these two resources are becoming more and more scarce and even large multi-national companies are finding it increasingly difficult to fund such types on innovation.

However Grassroots innovation is not restricted to informal sectors and individuals. Grassroots Innovation can also take place in a company where a conducive environment is created for employees are encouraged to come up with innovations in a process driven environment. Also Grassroots Innovation was earlier evident in the west. As an example Benjamin Franklin was a Grassroots Innovator during the Industrial Revolution. The Franklin stove was optimised to deliver “more with less”.

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The modern trend is to even use social media as a medium for innovating and brainstorming ideas. This is a move away from the traditional method of structured R&D departments and structured meeting rooms. These models mean that you only have a small amount of people that can participate in the process. Whereas by using social media, e.g. Facebook, you can have a much larger sample size and many more diverse minds. This method also is more cost effective and happens in real time.

However many companies are struggling with how this model and ideas can be into their business or R&D systems.

This is an exciting programme for South Africa. We may not have the scale of an India, China or Brazil, however we have a large part of the South African population that is rurally based and do not have access to formal education and facilities. However there are unique challenges that exist in these areas and the innovation that could be realised through this adversity may provide unique solutions that may have other applications. It also may be a very innovate manner to deal with the challenges that government has with service delivery and also provide basic education to the masses.

Also by supporting innovation, we will be able to improve the performance of our manufacturing sector. Many of the sectors within manufacturing are experiencing challenges due to the slowing down of the economy. However if we can foster an environment of innovation within our manufacturing sector we will improve our competitiveness. This is an ideal opportunity for South Africa as it will assist the country to capitalise on the weak currency and capture export markets.