India, the world’s biggest democracy, is rapidly becoming the key market to crack for international brands. In a new series of blog posts Anjul Sharma – fluent in Indian culture and languages Hindi, Punjabi & Urdu - looks at the approach to branding in one of the planet’s fastest growing markets.
Having started this blog series by exploring examples of India’s great customer service, it is time to look at another area where India appears just as impressively to be leading the way: innovation. Enter centre stage, the Tata Swach.
Produced by the Tata Group – who gave us the Tata Nano, the world’s cheapest car - this product has been in R&D for 10 years. The Tata Swach is a water purifier that uses ash from rice milling to filter out bacteria and tiny silver particles, thereby killing harmful germs that can lead to diseases like diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid. Given 1 billion people globally are affected by lack of clean drinking water and the nasty diseases that go with it, this is quite a ground breaking innovation: it has a genuine application to a major human problem that knows no geographic boundaries.
But its real ingeniousness is this: it does not need running water or electricity to work. It doesn’t need bromine, chlorine or iodine either. A water purifier that does the job without components that we in the West would think where essential is a pretty amazing feat I think. What’s more, at less than 1 metre high, it is pretty portable. And at £13.00 or US $21 it is pretty affordable for communities. Its performance capabilities, based on path-breaking nanotechnology, have been tested in the UK and Netherlands as well as India.
Small wonder, then, that on 11 November 2010 the Tata Swach won Gold at the Asian Innovation Awards. Out of 300 entries from 13 countries, an Indian innovation won. And that’s not all – it also won the global ICIS award for best product innovation. ICIS, a leading global provider of news and information in the chemical and energy sectors, gave the award to the Tata Swach for the best overall innovation as well as best product innovation. The judges applauded Tata for their deeply established and embedded philosophies of social and corporate social responsibility which reflect on how they approach business and innovation.
Now at a personal level, I would be really excited about the next great innovation in hair straighteners to deal with my unruly thick curly hair, in fact, even more excited than the next woman along the line. However, a little part of me thinks I shouldn’t be quite so vain and frivolous. Whilst I respect great innovations in Western markets that lead to new brands, products and services, their impact rarely stretches beyond financials. Why the Tata Swach is so impressive is because this product is both commercially feasible and can have a phenomenally positive global impact. How many innovations can truly be said to save lives from the shores of Haiti to the flooded plains of Pakistan?
For major global brands, ’Corporate Social Responsibility’ is becoming increasingly important, demanded by many consumers (especially in America and the UK in recent years) who question the morality of big business. It is great to see an Indian company not just creating a convincing CSR policy, but actually living it through the power of thoughtful innovation.