Nesta Launches
“Our Frugal Future” & Asks
What Can We Learn From India?

Nesta is an independent charity with a mission to help people and organisations bring great ideas to life. Following the launch of a report ‘Our Frugal Future: Lessons From India’s Innovation System’, in July 2012, they held a half day workshop to bring together leading thinkers on innovation in India, asking whether there are implications for other countries, including the UK.

At this meeting, Professor Jaideep Prabhu, (Director of the Centre for India & Global Business at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge and author of Jugaad Innovation), talked about the opportunities surrounding the Indian innovation system.

Jaideep Prabhu, Balram Bhargava and Geoff Mulgan

Over the past few years Jaideep has been tasked with looking at India’s role in the global economy. Innovation has increasingly become a topic of importance in India and he set out to learn from the experiences of other countries. In doing so he recognised that India is very good at cutting costs in innovation and is extremely flexible in its approach, compared to the more formal approaches of the West.

He explained the idea of Frugal Innovation, which he refers to as Jugaad, as being the art of overcoming harsh constraints by creating effective solutions using limited resources, whether financial, material, or institutional, and so turning constraints into an advantage. He elaborates further in this video.

Innovation has raced up the Indian Government’s agenda and the President has declared the next ten years the ‘Decade of Innovation’: This could lead to strategic collaboration with the UK. Jaideep believes there is a huge opportunity for Western companies to provide a new generation of highly affordable products and services that target a large, but poor, segment of the world’s population. These people have no bank accounts, are off the electric grid, have limited education and, up until now, have been left out of the formal economy.

Jaideep presented the following examples to illustrate how a new mindset of frugality, flexibility and inclusivity is essential to move forward.

Mitticool is a refrigerator that’s made of clay and doesn’t require electricity. It’s developed by a Gujarat based potter Manshuk Lal and works on the principle of evaporation. The designers aim is to provide luxurious things, countrywide, to people who couldn’t otherwise imagine being able to afford electronic goods. The upper portion of the refrigerator stores about 20 litres of water, while the bottom cabinets store fruits, vegetables and milk. The natural cooling process keeps vegetables and fruits fresh for around seven days and milk for three days.

Mitticool, Gujarat, India. Photo by Annemarie Mink http://www.annemariemink.nl

It’s a good alternative for people living in rural areas who can’t afford the initial cost of a conventional fridge, or its maintenance. Manshuk Lal has been flooded with inquiries about his invention. He’s hoping it will serve as an inspiration to other designers. You can find out more at http://www.mitticool.in/

Embrace is a low cost infant warmer for vulnerable babies. In the developing world, millions of premature babies catch hypothermia and die each year, because they lack incubators in hospitals. This innovative sleeping bag costs a fraction of the price of existing solutions and keeps babies at a constant temperature without any power. It’s saving children across the world. For more information see http://embraceglobal.org/

The Chulha Stove by Philips Design (The Netherlands), is designed to limit the dangerous health conditions caused by the traditions of indoor cooking in many rural areas of the developing world. The world health organization estimates some 1.6 million deaths per year from conditions prompted by the toxic fumes of cooking in an enclosed environment using ‘bio-mass’ fuels, such as wood, dung and peat. The video below explains in a bit more detail.

Philips do not produce the stove, but the design is being made available universally, free of charge, to social entrepreneurs, so that they can produce the stove themselves and generate local business. It has received numerous awards: Bronze IDEA Ecodesign Award 2008, Red Dot Award for Design Concept 2008 and INDEX Award 2009.

Dr. Mohan has been working in the field of diabetes for over 30 years in Southern India. With the support of the World Diabetes Foundation (WDF), the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) and the National Agro Foundation (NAF), he has established a rural service with a fully equipped mobile diabetes van and satellite connection. He and his colleagues have screened a population of over 50,000 people in 42 villages and have provided free diabetes treatment to hundreds of patients. This unique project has become a model for rural Diabetes care in developing countries.

And here’s more – Nesta’s Top 10 Examples of frugal innovation in India.

Jaideep Prabhu believes the Jugaad mindset, and the innovations that result from it, not only holds promise for the poor in emerging markets, it also has relevance to Western economies that are under the pressures of economic recession and budget constraints. Frugal and flexible solutions could also be just the thing the world needs to grow, without depleting the planet’s resources.