Lessons from Crowdsourcing

I had the opportunity to participate in the Crowdsourcing program organized by Sociobator Creatives which touched upon topics ranging from corporate governance to social innovation. The event boasted of a rather phenomenal set of speakers who highlighted the focus points around social innovation fairly well.

I have to take this moment to acknowledge fate for giving me this event following an article I read about India’s first indigenously developed Anti Dysentery vaccine. While typically an effort invested in the development of a new drug is followed up with strong Intellectual Property protection which then provokes monopoly driven opportunistic pricing, it was refreshing to note that this vaccine was not the stereotype. In essence, by pricing the vaccine at a very affordable rate, the company did not enter into the “done to death” debate around patenting. Curiously enough, not only did the company address the social need for the drug but it did so without sacrificing business interests by employing a model where the cost of research and development was shared by many stakeholders thereby making the perceptibly small profit margin more meaningful for the company. This was a case where the business was remarkably intuitive about prevailing attitudes in India around life saving drugs and that understanding resulted in better performance and growth.

As a lawyer with a brief but inspired background in humanities and commerce, I am now convinced that we are at a point where business objectives cannot be divested from the relevant social contexts and needs. Not only will businesses be required to make profit, but their profit earning ability will depend heavily on understanding the world around them, the attitudes of people in the said world, their needs and to approach profitability in a manner that does not offend the sensibilities of the said people. Social psychology, psychology, sociology, political science and economists will be more relevant than ever in the realm of management sciences. Perhaps I was limiting the significance of the realization by confining my theory only to businesses. So let me rephrase that this kind of a holistic approach is needed in meeting business, social and political objectives. Any failure to see things in this fashion will result in failed policies and frustrated business aspirations, the blame for which will lie only in our commitment to remaining blind to the larger picture.

Particularly for the sphere of social innovation, the demand will only increase in the days to come. I say this because not only does the indigenous anti dysentery vaccine represent smart business but it also represents a successful venture to balance, apparently competing interests, namely profit and equitable distribution of the vaccine. When seen as a case study, we are now faced with a world of infinite possibilities where competing interests need not conflict with each other, but find a way to co-exist peacefully while facilitating results. Necessity, fueled by apparently irreconcilable divergent interests, presupposes a certain brand of social innovation. Our world is filled with these predicaments and social innovation appears to be answer we were waiting for.

Having said that, while social innovation requires us to move away from the conventional approaches, we cannot sacrifice clarity and vision. Should we fail to convert social innovation into results, we risk not only discrediting social innovators but social innovation itself. The challenge therefore would really be to unlearn, without losing focus as to why we are unlearning and in what direction our relearning should be directed at. In this excessively abstract and theoretical statement, lies a lesson in practicality which needs to be learnt urgently. Initiatives like sociobator creatives have successfully provoked thought in these directions and the foresight as well as the vision is exemplary, for which the team deserves full credit.

These are exciting times ladies and gentleman and I think the wheels of change and innovation have just been set in motion…

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