I have been reading so much about Reverse Innovation and have been conducting workshops and delivering talks on the phenomenon that is getting so much of the world’s attention. A lot of the examples are from books and from information gotten second hand. CK Prahalad first brought to the attention of the world Dr. Devi Shetty’s Hridayalaya and the Jaipur Foot among other truly radical examples of Reverse Innovation or what he and Mashelkar wrote about under Gandhian Innovation.
Here in London, I came face-to-face with a remarkable and what promises to be a life changing Reverse Innovation; Mr. Muruganantham, better known in the media as “The Man Who Wore a Sanitary Napkin”, spoke at a workshop ( I was part of) about his journey from a builder of windows to one who built a machine that makes sanitary napkins. The catch is that his machine costs USD 2,500 while the ones used by MNCs such as P&G, Unilever and J&J cost USD 500,000. He helps rural women to buy one of the machines and the raw material through NGOs, government and bank loans. The napkins are available in a simple pack of eight and distributed by women through education of fellow women on health and hygiene.
The pack costs about USD 0.25 while the big brands are sold for around USD 2.0.
Mr. Muruganantham told me his dream is to have every Indian woman using sanitary napkin. He is sure once they understand the benefits of using a napkin they will move on to MNC brands, but that does not bother him. He does not want to sell the machine to MNCs who he says are pursuing him. His vision is an industry where products are made and sold by women, for women. In the process, he is building a remarkable distribution network at the rural level, which could be used for carrying several other products. MNCs should certainly be looking at Mr. Muruganantham’s model more carefully.
Given the price differential between MNC brands and the incredibly low-cost napkin, MNCs need to look at reframing the strategy around low-cost business solutions.