‘I almost felt the weight of India on my shoulders’
job at Annamalai University, my
grandfather moved with him.
The interesting thing about my
grandfather was that he was one of
those people who were genuinely
interested in creating value for socie-
ty... Every Saturday and Sunday, in
front of the Hindu temple, sitting
under the banyan tree, he would
teach all the untouchables (as they
were called) from that area. He was
very progressive. He never made any
distinction between me and those
kids. In fact, he would tell some of
those kids, ‘You know what, my
grandson VG is good at solving this
kind of math problem, why don’t you
ask him for help? Or, he would say to
me, ‘This character (kid) is very good
is English, why don’t you discuss this
essay with him?’
He knew each of these people and
their background. Many of them when
Vijay Govindarajan with his family, from left, daughters Pasy and Tarunya, and wife Kirthi. All sports enthu-
siasts, the family loves to travel and have visited more than 60 countries together
PHOTOGRAPHS COURTES Y: VIJAY GOVINDARAJAN
they grew up came back to our village
and became policemen, district collec-
tors, professors. They would fall at my
grandfather’s feet for giving them that
opportunity for coming up in life.
inspiration: His paternal
‘Change innovation paradigm from
value for money to value for many’
One of the arresting examples you give in the book is
about artificial legs. Can you explain the innovation?
In this country, an artificial leg costs $20,000. For
someone working in Thailand on $2 per day, the person
has to work for 10,000 days to make that money. This is
about 50 years on the basis of 200 working days in a year!
The person who has lost his/her leg may require it just to
go to work.
How about creating the leg for $30? That is what Dr
Therdchai Jivacate (known as Dr J) accomplished in
Thailand. Dr J did his medical degree from Northwestern
University and was well versed in modern medicine.
As it turns out, poor people anywhere work very hard for
their income. They don’t want cheap products. They want
high value at an affordable price. It’s not about low cost.
It’s about shifting the price-performance paradigm.
The artificial leg made for Thailand should be better
than the one made in the US. Why? Because in the US,
when you walk with an artificial leg, we walk on nicely-
paved roads. Whereas in Thailand, you are walking on
Moreover, in Thailand and countries like India, poor
people use the leg to do work. Therefore, it should be
stronger. So, how do you create an artificial leg for $30
when you pay $20,000 in this country?
There are two basic cost elements in an artificial leg.
One is the material cost. In the US, we use very expensive
material, like titanium. What Dr J did was he developed
the artificial leg with recycled plastic, yogurt containers.
He was able to convert waste into wealth.
The technological breakthrough was that the artificial
leg he created was extremely light. The titanium artificial
leg is heavy. The plastic artificial leg was light, comfortable
The second cost element is the technicians who do the
fitting and the rehabilitation for the patient. They are very
qualified and expensive. But Dr J neither had money to
pay those technicians, nor are those technicians available
in Thailand... He said why don’t I train those who got the
artificial leg to do the fitting and rehab?