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Over the past decade, data science has gained significance in every domain, including grassroots innovation. The power of data analytics and machine learning is being used by tech startups, entrepreneurs, and organizations at large to inspire new ideas and drive data-driven decisions. No wonder, a data scientist’s role is deemed the ‘sexiest job of the 21st century’.

Being critically limited in their access to technological, scientific, educational, and financial resources, grassroots innovators (GI) particularly benefit from data science. The domain involves movements and networks of individuals who harness local ingenuity directed towards sustainable development. Given the adequate resources, these low-tech ordinary innovators are capable of extraordinary innovations that can be transformed into an ingenious product.

Data is not merely used for scaling businesses. It has the potential to address a plethora of social issues, thereby improving the lives of people. Read on to understand how data science can help grassroots innovators in their mission towards building a sustainable future.

1. Boosts Engagement between the Formal and Informal Sectors

Grassroots innovators come up with ground-breaking ideas that can evolve into a full-fledged solution. However, these innovations seldom scale up due to lack of formal education, infrastructure, and technology and absence of entrepreneurial culture. Consequently, these innovations are limited to the local or regional market.

Further, innovation in one field can be adopted in a different sector. For instance, Yusuf Khan, a farmer and grassroots innovator in India developed agricultural equipment that can effortlessly harvest and clean groundnuts. This idea was used by an Indian entrepreneur to build a beach cleaning equipment that digs out trash from the sand.

Data science can help scale bright ideas by spreading them across geographies. It blends modern technology and data analytics to create a centralised database of innovations that can be shared with knowledge contributors across the globe using a wide variety of social platforms. This encourages enhanced engagement between the formal and informal sectors.

For instance, several farmers, artisans, and pastoralists have benefited from the Honey Bee Network that strives to maintain a grassroots database on the cloud. The organisation facilitates the collection and dissemination of local ideas to like-minded individuals, scholars, entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and NGOs in more than 75 countries across the globe.

Similarly, the Society for Research and Initiatives for Technologies and Institutions (SRISTI) and the Movement for Socially Useful Production, UK have created web portals that store data related to grassroots innovations. Thus, data science allows folk cultural creativity to be shared, rewarded, and recognised.

2. Opens Up Finance Opportunities

Armed with data science, several microfinance institutions (MFI) are offering microloans to grassroots innovators, encouraging them to scale their creative ideas. These MFIs facilitate easy access to credit without asking for details like CIBIL score or credit history which are otherwise critical when applying for a loan.

Data science offers insightful information to MFIs, enabling them to assess the applicant’s creditworthiness and offer them the necessary financial support to transform their idea into a lucrative offering.

3. Encourages GI to Embrace Entrepreneurship

Grassroots innovators don’t come up with creative ideas with the objective of converting them into a successful business. These ideas are primarily triggered by their needs and the issues faced by them in daily life. Further, since they lack the technical knowledge and have practically no access to data, they find it tough to transform their idea into a lucrative product or service.

Data is the primary raw material for any business. Skilled data scientists help grassroots innovators with such insightful data. These insights aid in growth hacking, customer retention, personalizing the product or service, and market optimisation, thereby allowing grassroots innovators to successfully tread the entrepreneurial path.

For instance, social data and web analytics can be used to implement low-cost, yet high-impact marketing campaigns that make the most of every penny spent.

Further, embarking upon the entrepreneurial journey, grassroots innovators become job creators, spurring innovation and acting as role models for others in their community.

4. Offers Insights to Organisations Supporting GI

Several businesses, aid organisations, NGOs, and government institutions are assisting people at the grassroots by spending billions of dollars on developmental aids. These institutions use data science, big data analytics, and other technologies like cloud computing to understand the target population. Thus, data science empowers grassroots innovators to leverage and participate in the innovation process.

The rich data and insights allow them to understand and define the problem space and make important data-driven decisions in the right business context. Lastly, data science can help create physical and virtual environments that allow testing and experimentation of new ideas generated by grassroots innovators.

Final Thoughts

Innovative ideas are not confined to research laboratories and large enterprises. Grassroots innovators have always been coming up with creative and alternative approaches that solve real-life issues faced by them. More often than not, these innovators aren’t aware of the immense potential their innovations hold. The creative ideas introduced by them are often an answer to their basic needs and challenges.

Moreover, being deprived of technology and data, these innovations rarely get the right exposure to make a positive impact on the community and the environment. Data science can help grassroots communities leverage information that can be used to transform creative ideas into solutions that affect society at large.