The Honey Bee Network

The Honey Bee Network’s central objective is ethical knowledge extraction. It maintains a grassroots knowledge database that collects and disseminates expertise from a wide range of individuals while observing ethical practices of credit, compensation, and accessibility. It strives to build a network that allows the benefits of its centralized database to be shared with knowledge contributors that may normally go ignored under the traditional practices of knowledge extraction.

The Honey Bee Network was founded by Anil Gupta in 1988 in India as a social justice initiative to fix the failures of top-down development initiatives led by the government. It aims to break down the ethical and professional dilemmas that prevent leaders from obtaining and disseminating knowledge from the country’s poorest people. Changing the mode of how that knowledge is gathered and communicated forced a wholesale change on how policies meant to alleviate poverty and its problems are formulated.

At the time, the prevailing assumption was to look to government and civil society to provide poverty alleviation solutions. Gupta instead observed through his original work that creativity and knowledge resided with the people living in the most severe conditions. People were innovative in their approach to the various problems they were facing. Local residents knew best how to deal with problems, whether they were living in flood prone areas, forests, or the dry deserts. The scarcity of resources did not stop people from figuring out solutions.

CC image courtesy of Ministerio del Ambiente on Flickr

But there was an asymmetry in how the poor’s knowledge was perceived, valued, or used, and sharing disadvantaged the poor. To address this, Gupta established the Honey Bee Network, a multimedia database of local knowledge that is collected and circulated through grassroots outreach amongst knowledge-rich grassroots communities. The organization is composed of “like-minded individuals, innovators, farmers, scholars, academicians, policy makers, entrepreneurs and non-governmental organizations” that facilitate the collection and dissemination of local knowledge. The name is an intentional nod to honey bees that cross-pollinate by enriching the flowers they touch.

The Network is run based on three main guiding principles. First, when new knowledge is collected, it must be shared back with the sources and the communities in their local languages. In the past, it was seen that academicians and researchers would obtain all the information from the grassroots level and distribute it in ways that were inaccessible to the knowledge producers. The second principle is that the source of the knowledge must be acknowledged. Finally, the knowledge holders must benefit from the success of their work and inventions in both fame and remuneration.

Since its founding, the network’s database of original inventions, presented through illustrations and with direct attribution to the original inventor, has grown to more than 100,000. The database is designed to be easy for local communities to use, secure, and in multiple local languages. The Network does grassroots outreach to local communities to share the solutions and also to encourage sharing of their ideas and knowledge, and publishes a newsletter in eight languages and distributed to 75 countries.


Moving Forward

Throughout the history of the Network, Gupta has advocated for a new model for scalability and sustainability where the innovations on the database are funded to support the inventors and their communities. The Honey Bee Network has therefore helped with the patenting of several inventions and also helped with obtaining funding to scale some of these inventions globally. In the context of two global forces — that of a turn to conservative governance structures and reduced social development programs, and the move to decolonize design, innovation science — the Network is doubling down on scaling its services, to create interactive opportunities for local innovators for collaboration with their peers, seek intellectual property rights protection, generate demand for their services or products, or receive enquiries from potential investors.

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