Interviews

We need someone who will build monuments in our cities as an endeavour of their love for India

September 2014
Devika Devaiah, author of Orbit Shifting Innovation
"Innovation has really obsessed us. Why is it that every time you pick up a global or western reference point? This inspired us to start looking for Indian examples of innovation. We found that Indians are not afraid and can take on giants. For instance, Surat was a plague-ridden city in the early 90s; Municipal Commissioner SR Rao took up the challenge and transformed the city in 18 months to the second cleanest city in the world. He decided that he would have all conversations on walkie-talkies and would surround himself with journalists. This ensured that nobody could have an underhand conversation with him or pressurise him to do anything. Now, when he could transform the city in 18 months, I do not see why impossible challenges cannot be taken up. One of the things we have realised that innovation is not the domain of the elite.

Orbit shifting means where an innovator meets an area that needs transformation and he has the will and desire to create history, not follow it. That is when orbit shifting innovation is born. Innovation has become a buzzword. For people who truly try to make a transformational impact, innovation is just the means - the end is that transformational impact.

We see what we are faced with as the greatest odds. But the greatest odds and the biggest challenges create the greatest opportunities. When we look at the construction and building sector, where are the greatest odds? Where are the greatest challenges? Where are the greatest opportunities? Although innovation is blooming throughout the country, so much more is needed and so few take it up. What transforms innovators in India is the capacity to pick up the greatest challenges.

I had done an assignment with Indian Institute of Human Settlements and learnt that about 20 per cent of India´s population will be living on 0.3 per cent of land by 2030 - the second largest urbanisation in human history. This is a challenge waiting to be addressed innovatively. We cannot do this by replicating the West. When I saw the Mumbai skyline of skyscrapers, I thought this could be any city. Somehow, we are losing the soul of the city. We can create both the soul with the Indian idiom, something that makes it easy for 20 per cent to live in 0.3 per cent of our land space. You need a unique type of city, a unique space where Indians operate.

An orbit shifting story undertakes a cause. Someone who puts India´s challenges at the centre; that person is respected, that person is one whose story is told for a lifetime. I do believe that the greatest challenges lie in our cities. Today, we are looking for orbit shifters like that because if you do it, the fame, the money will come...and look at the transformation you will create! It is interesting that people still come to see the Taj Mahal today. Shah Jahan built it as an endeavour of his love for his wife. But today, we need someone who will build monuments in our cities as an endeavour of their love for India. When we talk about going across the world and getting reference points, I hope the rest of the world will come here and see those reference points here, those monuments that have been built, because you have built a monument for India. As a citizen of India, may I invite you to please come and fall in love with India!´

´What transforms innovators in India is the capacity to pick up the greatest challenges.´
To view the video of this speech, log on to
www.constructionworld.in/cwabawards2014/devikadevaiah