In a country with approximately 1.3 billion people, competition is immencely fierce and resources are oftenly limited. But difficult circumstances often breeds resourcefulness and ingenuity.
A growing middleclass, with ingenuity flowing in their veins, is experiencing a drastic transformation, in the midst of an economy which is not just speeding up, but is actually in the process of disrupting the world-economy. This development is a complax paradox and it has brought forth a completely new way of thinking innovation.
"Frugal Innovation" is built upon an Indian phenomenon called Jugaad - which roughly translates to "An improvised fix and a solution born in adversity". Jugaad-solutions are not perfect or sophisticated, but they create more value for a lower cost. Jugaad is comparable to the Lifehack, which we know so well in the western culture, and it is a symptom of a demand to do, what needs to be done, without taking into consideration what might conventionally be thought possible.
Frugal Innovation is being used as an increasingly recognized method of lowering R&D costs. Frugals value does not reside in traditional innovation or trivial cost-reduction, but in its focus on the human ability to highten the economic and social significance with fewer resources.
Looking to Silicon Valley - as we often do, when searching for the next big tech thing - you often see innovation born from a culture of surplus, and the technology that is implemented is simply not affordable to 2/3 of the world's population. But what is more interesting is, that they have no use for it either. Large parts of the world have a demand for simple, cheap and solution-focused products, that adresses far more basic needs - and this is why Frugal Innovation is so relevant.
"We start with the end consumer and create something that is not just affordable, but is adaptable, accessible and appropriate."
- Elizabeth Sweeny, Frugal Innovation Lab
It is not about developing and executing more, but simply doing it better. Frugal Innovation thrives best in a low-cost / high-aspiration environment. Now I know it might sound like Frugal is only useful when developing low-tech solutions, but the paradigm actually revolves around making high-tech more accesible and far more affordable to a larger audience. In many ways Frugal Innovation is about democratizing technology.
The process of Frugal starts with the end-user and the specific challenges these are faced with in their daily lives. The idea of creating sustainable and affordable solutions, that are relevant to the local rules and conditions.
A refrigerator made from clay
Mitti Cool is a refrigerator made exclusively from clay, which uses the natural cooling-effect produced when evaporizing water, and it can hold vegetables fresh in up to a week. Water from the upper chambers drips down along the inside of the refrigerator, removes the heat and leaves the chambers cool. The water is stored in the upper chamber and can actually be used for drinking-water through a small faucet.
Measuring blood sugar
Frugal Digital's 'Clock Sense', designed in Copenhagen and based upon reasearch from India, uses the casing from an analogue alarm clock, and can measure the levels of oxygenated hemoglobin in the blood. Thanks to LEDs and a single light-sensor, from a TV remote-controller, this unit can give a simple reading of the general state of health in a diabetes patient. Other sensors like a thermometer can be connected via USB.
'Embrace' is a low-tech inkubator, and a far more affordable alternative to the expensive ones used in hospitals traditionally. Originally designed in California and then refined in Bengaluru (f.k.a. Bangalore) in India. When babies are born prematurely, they are often placed in inkubators, until they are able to maintain their own body-temperature. Inkubators are very expensive and demand constant electricity, they require specially trained personnel and frequent maintenance. But Embrace's reusable "sleeping-bag" can keep the babies' body-temperature at a steady 37 degrees Celsius, for up to six hours, using a technology called Phase-change wax.
Internet access via SMS
'Be Bound Tech'
The higher the complexity, the higher the cost
Make it simple and stay focused adding value in a solution, have usability and accessibility as the primary goals. By thinking horizontally, in order for the process to remain agile, it is possible to create a lot more, with a lot less - The Frugal Way. But Frugal Innovation is in no way restricted to the challenges of third world countries.
The western culture has a tendency to strive after the next big high-tech thing, but more than half of the world's population is still struggling to achieve basic commodities, such as clean drinking-water or even a functional and sustainable health-system. As the world's population continues to grow, and the resources of the planet are being spent, it will become increasingly expensive to sustain the high standards of living. Globally we are running out of natural sources of water and oil, and this development will probably exacerbate the divide between the wealthy and the poor, and thereby increase the difference in our needs and demands. All of this taken into consideration, a "more is more" mindset is very unsustainable, and a "more with less" approach very much preferable.