Yesterday (November 4, 2014) as I was going through my LinkedIn page looking for updates from my connections, I came across a post that was liked by one of my connections. It read “Remya Jose a 14 year old girl from India invented this pedal operated washing machine. It requires no electricity and using it also gives you exercise. She won a national award for this.” Without even thinking further, I too pressed the like button (The post had around 1900 likes at that time). But the update did not have any working link to take me to a website/ newspaper article featuring Remya’s story. So I went to Google to look for newspaper coverage of Remya’s innovation. I got a list of links featuring Remya’s story; the one that interested me was Google Book’s link to “India: Land of a Billion Entrepreneurs by Upendra Kachru.’ I checked the details of the book to figure out that the book has been published in 2011. On seeing this publication year I get the natural suspicion that Remya’s story is 3 years old. Or is it just three years old story?
I started reading through the page that featured Remya’s story. Almost the entire page 46 chronicles Remya’s innovation. But one sentence towards the end of the page caught my attention: “Her innovation was featured in Oulook magazine in 2005.” Oh My God! This story is nine years old. Remya, who is by now in her mid-twenties still continues to remain a 14 year old school girl in our social media. I was curious about what happened to Remya and what happened to her innovation. I was also curious to figure out why a story which is probably nine years old is currently making rounds in LinkedIn and other social media sites. As I could not remember seeing any pedal operated washing machines in stores, I decided look on the World Wide Web to figure out what had actually happened.
A little bit of background on Remya and her story: Remya’s family hails from Keezhattur Village in Malappuram district of Kerala, India. In 2002/ 2003 timeframe when Remya was a fourteen year old school student she developed the ‘pedal operated washing machine.’ The tough family circumstances under which Remya designed and developed the pedal operated washing machine (with the help of her father and other well-wishers) is truly inspiring. The benefits of the washing machine are it does not require electricity and cycling would help the person to stay fit. Remya’s innovation was found out by SRISTI (Honey Bee Network), a non-governmental organization set up to strengthen the creativity of grassroots inventors, innovators and ecopreneurs. Eventually through National Innovation Foundation (NIF), Remya’s work got coverage in Outlook magazine, Discovery channel and NDTV. In 2003, with support from NIF, she acquired the national patent for her machine. In 2005 she won the award for the best innovation among 25,000 entries at the NIF’s Third National Grassroots Technological Innovations and Traditional Knowledge competition. The 2005 article in Outlook goes on to state that, “if the washing machine patent is accepted, she hopes she will have enough funds to pursue an electronics engineering degree in a reputed college.”
So far so good. I was still not coming across articles about whether Remya was able to successfully commercialize her innovation. As I kept searching, I ran into a blog post by Rahul Brown on ‘India’s National Innovation Foundation and Honeybee Network’, dated May 23 2008. Rahul Brown states that though NIF helped Remya patent her intellectual property, the redesigned washing machine by NIF went on to cost Rs. 3,000 compared to the original Rs. 1,500 for Remya’s initial design thus making it unattractive against low end electric washing machines available in India at that time. Also NIF’s licensing agreement with Remya introduced another layer of cost into the final price of the washing machine. Rahul goes on to argue that NIF’s processes might in a way be detrimental to the wide spread commercialization of the very grass-root innovations that they are trying to promote. By Rahul’s account, looks like the ‘Pedal Operated Washing Machine’ did not have huge commercial success.
So what happened to the young innovator Remya Jose? Remya eventually went on to be an engineering graduate. An April 16, 2010 article from India Today provides a very grim picture. Quoted from India Today, ‘Though she received much acclaim for her invention, there weren’t many takers for it as it wasn’t considered commercially viable. She has gone to the UAE now with her uncle to look for a job. Showing the bundle of certificates and prizes Jose has won during her student days for various innovations, her father Joseph laments; “What’s the use of all this if she cannot find a decent job in her country?” India needs to answer this disappointed father.’ I felt very sad on reading this: Is this a story of a teenage innovator whose hopes were dashed?
I continued my search on the web to find out what Remya is currently doing. I landed on Remya Jose’s page on INKtalks where she is listed as a fellow and serial innovator (hurray!!!). The page stated that, ‘Remya works at National Innovation Foundation, Ahmedabad, and is responsible for many other innovations.’ I checked NIF’s site but could not find Remya’s profile as an employee, though I was able to see details of her innovation. I once again started searching on the internet on where Remya is currently working and landed on this LinkedIn profile of Remya Jose. Remya works in UAE as a project coordinator with Petrofac. The profile does not list her roots from Kerala, India (School or College). So, is this Remya Jose of that I was looking for? I could not figure out from the photograph. I am assuming this is our teenage innovator based on these three facts from the LinkedIn profile page: 1. Remya is working in UAE (her father said she went to UAE to look for jobs), 2. Between 2010 and 2012, a stint with National Innovation Foundation (NIF) as research engineer (INKtalks profile stated that she worked with NIF) and 3. Most important of all, a mention about her ‘Washing Cum Exercise Machine’ on the profile page.
I am not sure whether to be happy that Remya is working in a reputed company abroad or be sad about the fact that a young innovator from India who could have gone on to become a successful entrepreneur in India itself, is working in another country. So much has happened in Remya’s life and to her innovation (listen to what she wants to become and what her father wanted to do with the money from commercializing this product) since 2005 when her story stated appearing in Indian media and yet only in November 2014, a lot of Urban Indians (through social media) are feeling happy about a 14 year old girl who invented a pedal operated washing machine and won a national award for it. Incidentally the washing machine on this Facebook page is slightly different from the one featured on NIF Page. And so, the young innovator from Kerala who is currently working as Project Coordinator in UAE still continues to remain (in our social media) a 14 year old girl who invented this pedal operated washing machine.