We first became aware of the Marico Innovation Foundation in January 2023 when it held a function in New Delhi to announce its playbook for unlocking latent opportunities to address the swelling global challenge that plastic waste presents. At the lively event, a discussion moderated by Shereen Bhan took place among the three industry leaders who helped to bring about the playbook – Raghunath Mashelkar, Amit Chandra, and Harsh Mariwala, who are all part of the governing council of the Marico Innovation Foundation.
Mariwala said at the event that he started the Foundation in 2003, long before the current opprobrium for plastic and plastic packaging had reached our shores. He said the playbook and the search for innovators who made their presentations that evening, were “just a start.” The playbook and the recognition of the first batch of innovators with plausible solutions for developing a circular economy recognized the complexity of the problem and the need for facts and data, documentation, social engagement, technology, economics, policy, and investments.
The report titled ‘Innovation in Plastic: The Potential and Possibilities’ provides actionable solutions across the plastics value chain that can aid and address the challenges of plastic waste management for India in the short, medium, and long term – from collection to sorting, to recycling and also providing viable alternatives to plastics.
Marico Innovation Foundation collaborated with the Indian Institute of Science and Praxis Global Alliance as knowledge partners to develop the playbook. The partners assisted in identifying the challenges created by plastic waste at the macro and commercial level as well as outlining opportunities and recommendations in the plastic waste management space while dispelling myths, especially on bioplastics. The research methodology consisted of an in-depth assessment with corporate leaders, start-up ecosystem players, industry experts, and scientists.
Raghunath Mashelkar, Emeritus chairperson of the Governing Council of Marico Innovation Foundation and Jury chair, said, “This timely report succinctly captures not only the problem of plastic waste but also proposes very imaginative solutions that can not only stand to benefit our nation but the world. The report is a comprehensive playbook for both public and private sectors alike on how plastics can be reimagined and repurposed now and in the future.”
The playbook also features 15 innovations that address plastic waste with their solutions. The report also lists models of communities and cities that have addressed the plastic waste challenge through a host of innovative initiatives.
Plastics are ripe for intervention – and innovators are looking for investment
Speaking about the initiative, Harsh Mariwala, founder of the Marico Innovation Foundation and chairman of Marico said, “We understand the critical need to build an ecosystem that can help deliver innovative solutions for global problems. It is why the Marico Innovation Foundation (MIF) came into existence and has been at the forefront of India’s innovation story. Plastics were ripe for this intervention. The playbook is the first step to help evolve an ecosystem for innovation within this sector. MIF is committed to creating a long-lasting and meaningful change and will be actively involved in helping innovations in this endeavor thrive.”
Apart from the winners of the 9th edition of the Marico Innovations for India Awards at Delhi, the MIF held another such event in Mumbai in March 2023 where it recognized winners across two broad categories – business and social. The business category entailed India-based ‘for-profit’ organizations, including start-ups and corporate innovators, and the social category included India-based ‘not-for-profit’ individuals or organizations. Seven winners were identified across the technology, healthcare, and social impact areas.
The business category saw applications from more than 20 sectors, including healthcare/med-tech, agritech, waste management, robotics, manufacturing, and others. On the other hand, applications in the social category presented solutions for 15+ social challenges across education and training, women’s development, health and well-being, sustainability, and others. The applications saw women innovators apply in significant numbers this year, with a considerable number of organizations featuring women and at least one woman founder.
We again heard Harsh Mariwala at the Elite Conference in Mumbai on 31 August 2023 where he reiterated the MIF mission and invited the partners and participants in the audience to assist the innovators and to invest in their ideas and businesses. In a subsequent interaction with the Foundation’s leadership, including its director Suranjana Ghosh, we learned that it is persisting with the incubation of the 15 winning innovators announced in the first quarter of 2023 and continues to look for investors and industry to back them.