Rubina Kouser came across Pakistan Innovation Foundation (PIF) at a Roadshow at IBA designed to promote its National Innovation Grand Challenge (NIGC) just under a year ago, and she knew instantly this was her opportunity to make a dash at finding the innovator within her
Rubina Kouser is no ordinary woman. While she works for a public sector organisation by the day, she is a maverick and an ‘innovator at heart’ in spare time. She is also the kind of person – a true citizen innovator – that countries that progress are built of.
“I don’t let my problems persist for too long. I take a stand and solve them on my own,” she explains her philosophy in life. And she has all the will and persistence to really make it work.
Rubina’s quest as a contestant for the National Innovation Grand Challenge seeking the one million rupees Toyota Manufacturing Innovation Prize has deep roots in her experience as a working mother. The nature of her work demands frequent travels and commute over long distances often within rural areas of interior Sindh but also up country. This had made it challenging to fulfil the needs of her five-month-old daughter – Zunairah – who is often travelling with them.
“It was unsafe to stop along the way in the middle of nowhere, but even harder to see my baby growl in discomfort.” Since the couple drove a small car, there was also a significant space limitation. “We have a small car, so we usually keep our luggage in the back seat. Initially we kept fixing several stick-on holders — feeder, pacifier, diaper holders — on the front dashboard. But that created a real mess in the car,” she adds.
Unable to find a viable solution that worked for her, she thought of designing one herself. “When Rubina first approached me at our roadshow event, I wasn’t sure what to recommend. She had an idea and a real problem driving that idea but she did not seem to have the skills necessary to make it happen,” says Dr Athar Osama, the founder of Pakistan Innovation Foundation. “I asked her if she knows of other mothers with the right skills e.g. a mechanical engineer or an industrial designer whom she may be able to bring to the table. And then, honestly, I forgot about her,” he adds.
But Rubina was determined. She registered for the competition and there she was, back to our training programmes aimed at sensitising people about design and innovation, and determined to achieve what she had set herself up for.
Thus began Rubina’s journey of finding the innovator in her. Seeing her determination, various mentors and judges at the National Innovation Grand Challenge began to take her seriously. But there were still challenges – serious challenges – such as ensuring child safety as one tried to create a child friendly car. Mentors and judges have repeatedly challenged Rubina on this front and this still remains the most difficult technical problem she faces. The other is still a lack of design and fabrication expertise.
Help was on its way. NIGC brought together designers and design students to work with the various contestants in a day-long event called “[D]esign Day” where functionality met form. Many of these design students worked hard to bring about aesthetic and design improvements in the technical ideas.
A couple of design students from industrial design department of Karachi University were able to create 3D models of several possible options of how to build this child friendly car seat. Suddenly, Rubina’s eyes lit up as she acknowledged the contribution of these students. They met for another week to further improve the design.
Her task is still not done. There are many issues to take care of including finalisation of design itself and the fabrication of the first prototype. But her innovation journey is well underway and she is planning to spend the last few weeks of the challenge working with one of the mentors at NIGC to help create a working prototype.
The exercise has also given her confidence. Rubina has spoken to others about her ideas and she has received eager response from other women. “I’ve received 21 orders in the previous month!” she exclaims excitedly. “I want to provide a high quality and safe solution because nobody compromises on that front when it comes to their children. At the same time, though, I want it to be affordable for every segment of the society so that no family gets left out.”
Never constrained by the superficial bounds placed on women in our society, Rubina is not afraid of being a solver rather than a complainer. Zunairah, who is now two and a half years old, continues to be her mother’s inspiration. Rubina’s innovation journey – though far from complete – exemplifies successful citizen innovators whose originality springs out of necessities.
Innovation is not easy, but a certain segment of the society must do it and the rest must embrace it for the society to progress. Developed countries like United States did not develop overnight. They did so through the efforts of a segment of their population – the citizen innovators – that solved problems through innovation and this put the society on a slightly different trajectory every time they did.
Rubina personifies the spirit of such a citizen innovator. But Pakistan needs many thousands more if it must become a self-reliant, progressive nation that it aspires to become and creating an eco-system and community of such innovators might be the surest way to achieve that.