Problem solving, Bangalore-style
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Three stories from the city illustrate how innovation and originality can be harnessed to ease India's longstanding issues
Last week, Bangalore had three of its citizens singled out for global honour. The work that the three individuals and their institutions are doing is quite matchless. Using original thinking and technological innovation, the three are attempting to solve the city's and country's intricate, enormous problems in three diverse areas.
Bangalore, sometimes described as India's "Silicon Valley with potholes", is the country's innovation hotbed. Like many other Indian cities — maybe a few shades worse — the city has pitiable public transport systems, traffic-clogged streets, frequent power blackouts and poor connectivity. But creative solutions have come out of these very trying conditions.
Wired magazine named Ashwin Mahesh to the year's Smart List, a listing of 50 individuals who will change the world. Mahesh's life could be straight out of that Shah Rukh Khan film Swades. A climatologist-astronomer who specialised in researching Antarctic clouds and snow, Mahesh decided to return home over six years ago and use his research background to look at solutions for India's urban challenges. He brings his innovation background and his creative thinking to bear on myriad urban problems — traffic, healthcare and public administration. Mahesh, who is a public policy professor at Bangalore's IIM, is CEO of Mapunity, which develops low-cost innovations to solve developmental and governance problems — areas that private technology firms typically overlook.
Bangalore's charismatic heart surgeon, Dr Devi Shetty, and his hospital, Narayana Hrudayalaya, in the city suburbs have been named amongst the world's 50 top innovators by the American magazine Fast Company. Shetty is a compelling speaker who often calls out the alpha personalities in the audience when he is invited to talk on heart attacks. Most of his time, though, is spent at Narayana Hrudayalaya where he innovates to provide low-priced cardiac healthcare to the needy not just in India but the whole subcontinent. Foreign magazines are fond of describing Shetty as a modern day Robin Hood-meets-Mother Teresa. They make cardiac surgery a precise, process-driven task where doctors and adjunct staff execute hundreds of surgeries as modular tasks, thus weeding out time, manpower and cost inefficiencies. These competencies make Narayana Hrudayalaya one of the most prolific yet successful cardiac centres worldwide. That is particularly significant in a country where cardiac disease is widespread and the average age of a first heart attack victim is his/her mid-40s compared with mid-60s in the West. The hospital offers cut-price heart surgery with a surgical turnaround time that can outdo the best heart hospitals in the world. The hospital's top-notch specialty services are in demand and help subsidise low-priced heart surgeries for the poor. Shetty is currently innovating on "health cities" that will bring economies of scale and provide creative solutions to de-link access to healthcare from affluence. One such, in a rural health insurance scheme in Karnataka, centres around the idea of persuading the poor to set aside a small sum every month towards health insurance after spending on essentials such as rice and kerosene.
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