What Western Businesses Can Learn From Frugal Innovation | Breakthrough Funding

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Frugal Innovation

Never is the human brain more stimulated to solve problems efficiently then when natural resources are lacking.

Just imagine you haven’t yet had your morning coffee and the kettle has inexplicably vanished, you’ll be surprised at how many ways you’ll work out how to get that caffeine fix.

What if you have the tools, but need to fix them? So that kettle isn’t missing now, it’s just faulty and you can’t get a new one because you already spent all of your pay packet on your travelcard.

Advancements in the developing world aren’t just about making do. They’re about making things better, and right now there are some unbelievable examples of entrepreneurs in emerging economies who have improved the lives of untold numbers of people.

Take Mansukh bhai Prajapati, the Indian potter who designed a fridge made entirely of clay. It doesn’t require electricity to run, making it more accessible for poorer populations. Genius!

Then there’s Peru and the area around the Atacama Desert. It’s one of the driest places on the planet, with less than an inch of rainfall every year. So some brainy types from the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru have developed a billboard that converts air humidity into clean drinking water. It provides around 90 litres of much needed water every day. How amazing is that?!

In India, they’ve described this type of problem solving using the hindi word ‘jugaad’. It means an improvised fix and/or clever solution born in adversity.

Harvard Business Review columnist Navi Radjou and his co-authors have borrowed this word for their book, Jugaad Innovation, which illustrates how Western businesses can learn from countries like China and Brazil.

In his October 2014 Ted Talks lecture, Radjou highlights three key principles for frugal innovating:

  • Keep it simple, easy to use and widely accessible.
  • Leverage already existing technology to your advantage.
  • Consider a horizontal company structure to spread out your company.


If companies in developed countries learnt these lessons, the possibilities for future innovations and creations could be exceptional. Just imagine what could be achieved if we applied enhanced creativity to bountiful resources.

This method of creative problem solving will also benefit the world in years to come when natural resources like crude oil are running worryingly low and we are forced to be more frugal.

For SMEs, the size of your budget or the number of people on your payroll is not always relevant. All you need is a top idea that can be developed at a low cost and with limited resources.


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