Unsung ‘innovative’ professor

The death dance unleashed by the Covid inferno in its deadly second spell is sending shivers down the spine of one and all. Even as we are yet to see medical scientists finding appropriate medicinal arsenal, at least, to curb the spread of the virus, we have been using our own defence mechanism to manage the terror which the Covid inferno has infused in our minds. In other words, we have our own terror management theory to brush aside the threat of death looming large due to Covid-19.

If we invoke terror management theory, we find that in the first instance we try to suppress the thoughts of death. This we do by turning a blind eye to the reports of daily deaths caused by the Covid-19. Besides, we strongly think that we are not falling in the high risk category and would probably be safe. Even as we try to remain contended with our own terror management mechanism, the continuous flow of images of unstoppable death and destruction due to the virus doesn’t allow us to remain aloof to the dread of death. News about the sudden death of a close one reaches us almost daily and it’s here the dread of death dominates our minds. The situation intensifies death anxiety, making it challenging to hold nerves.

   

Last week, I faced a similar situation when the death of Kashmir University senior professor Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Bhat reached me. I knew the professor more as a messiah for youth belonging to economically poor and weaker sections of society than a university teacher. He was using his personal effects more than the meager official support to encourage the down trodden youth in acquiring and enhancing their skills. He was fully engaged in reaching the unreached section of youth who were possessing skills to tailor an innovative product, but lacked financial and moral support. The professor not only managed funding of their grassroots innovations, but extended moral support to them by highlighting their innovations at various national and international forums. The beauty of these innovations was that some of the local innovators were awarded by the President of India on different occasions.

Before listing the professor’s unsung contribution towards the upliftment of the poor and weaker section of the society, let me share that I reached to this noble soul through my official assignment. As my organization was looking to fund a project aimed at skill development of economically weaker sections of youth under our Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) banner, one of my acquaintances put me through him as Head of Entrepreneurship Development Cell (EDC) housed in Kashmir University.

While walking down the memory lane, my very first meeting with him was highly impressive as I found him concerned about the welfare of downtrodden youth. He expressed astonishment when I discussed our intention of supporting skill development and innovation of the marginalized youth financially. His statement is echoing in my ears. He said, “It’s unbelievable and unheard that someone is proactively offering us financial support in our endeavor to help the economically weaker sections of youth to acquire and enhance skill in various vocations. We have been begging for funding of grassroots innovations, but nobody shows interest. I think Allah is answering my prayers.”

Over a period of time, the professor put me through a series of local indigenous innovations done by persons belonging to economically poor and weaker sections of the society. Precisely, it’s through this professor that I gained knowledge about this section of indigenous people at grassroots across J&K, particularly in far flung areas who are often knowledge rich but economically poor.  Most of these people, known as grassroot innovators know a lot of useful things, but they fail to capitalize on their innovation to translate it to any sort of economic benefit for themselves. Innovation of a pole climber by a person having poor economic background and innovation of gas Samovar without changing the basic product by a poor labourer’s daughter in south Kashmir were among the significant innovative products. The beauty of these grassroot innovations was that the local innovators were awarded by the President of India on different occasions.

I still remember the professor’s enthusiasm while sharing the knowledge market of local grassroot innovators. But he was dismayed that the majority of these grassroot innovators succumb to financial crunch and the majority of them are forced to abandon their innovation midway. “Thus, lack of finances fails them to translate their innovation potential through a new modified product into their economic welfare. Even if the innovator is lucky to find financiers for his innovation, it remains an uphill task for him/her to commercialize the product,” he told me.

I could feel how pained he was as most of the time the knowledge, values of these grassroot innovators were either going down the drain as a waste or were taken away unscrupulously without any reciprocity by the influential. He summed up this kind of exploitation as robbery in the knowledge market.

The professor possessed a beautiful mind. As we officially joined to his noble mission of creating army of skilled youth and bring economic fortunes to the local grassroot innovators, he, in one of the meetings warned me about a breed of people, especially researchers, who work on these economically poor innovators and lay hand on their knowledge, submit thesis, write columns, deliver special lecturers. But the act becomes a source of income to these researchers and lecturers alone. He was always keen to see the benefits of the power of knowledge which the grassroot innovators possess trickled back to them, which otherwise were swindled by the unscrupulous elements.

The professor pointed out that our present system of education lacks a punch to create employment opportunities. This deficiency of the system envisages that self-employment that keeps pace with the times is necessary for socio-economic development of our state. To make things happen on this front an appropriately designed model of innovation and technopreneurship is essential that can generate self-employment to change lives.

He always used to list technopreneurship education as a necessity to impart vocational skills with traditional inputs of entrepreneurial education. He used to advocate pre-education, education/instruction (training) and post training follow-up activities as the phases that would culminate in the creation of a technopreneurial culture in society.

It’s through a series of discussions with the professor that I gained knowledge about the potential of local grassroot innovators who have been struggling for financial support to roll out their innovative products on commercial lines. I could simply sum up J&K as a poor performer in incubation of innovative technologies. Our grassroot innovators don’t have a single platform to seek support for prototype fabrication, value addition, prior art search and intellectual property rights (IPR) protection under one roof.

Based on the inputs received from the professor from time to time since our first meeting in June 2015, the current system needs to be realigned. Let me reiterate a few measures to capitalize on this kind of knowledge market available in the region and unleash the power of our local innovation potential.

First, if we have to tap the vast resource of innovation within and outside our educational and professional institutions as well as those available in the informal sector, as envisaged by the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) and National Innovation Council (NIC), there should be systematic reforms of higher education, which would act as an enabler for developing the required intellectual capital. This would also lead to the foundation of effective collaboration between the industry and educational institutions. Promotion and development of technology innovations will lead to the creation of a job market for our unemployed youth.

Second, as suggested by the professor, we should immediately work out the possibility of establishing a technology incubation centre to promote technology innovation and technopreneurship in J&K. Let this centre facilitate scouting, documenting and incubating technological innovations from formal as well as from non-formal or grassroot sectors. Besides, the centre would organize skill development programmes with focus on capacity building of our unemployed youth. This way our youth would be pushed towards entrepreneurial activities to cater to our local economic needs. Otherwise, the potential of indigenous technology innovation in triggering economic development of societies will remain unexplored.

Meanwhile, before concluding, let me share that our repeated attempts to establish a full-fledged Innovation & Technopreneurship Development Centre succumbed to the bureaucratic hurdles and bickering in the Kashmir University. Now, it would be a tribute in real sense to this noble professor if his vision is realized.

(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)

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