Created from scratch, by the world’s poorest
Do you know what ‘frugal innovation’ is? It’s about time this new field of inventing and innovating receives a bit more attention. Why? Because it’s a very promising one.
When an Indian trader in walnuts suffered from the chemicals that were released when he washed and cracked his nuts, he developed a little machine to do the work for him. Another Indian created a climbing device to help him pick coconuts in a safe way. And a rickshaw driver replaced the wood in his bicycle taxi with iron, which made transportation easier and more comfortable for both him as well as his clients.
Born out of local demand
The above are all examples of frugal innovation: useful inventions done on the work floor, by the world’s poorest and for the world’s poorest. They are born out of local demand, and sprout from the minds of common people, small companies or communities. In India, where a fifth of the population lives under the poverty threshold, there are a lot of these so-called ‘grassroots innovators’.
Something to stimulate
But this kind of grassroots innovation is not being fully appreciated, says professor Saradindu Bhaduri. ‘Often we don’t even see it because the innovations don’t leave the village.’ Bhaduri holds a Prince Claus Chair, an initiative of Utrecht University and the International Institute of Social Studies (EUR), meant to advance research and teaching in the field of development and equity. His goal is to stimulate research in the relatively new subject of frugal innovation, since it’s a very promising field.
‘Frugal innovations occur where they are actually needed. They solve a certain problem, rather than being meant to put a new product on the market. Economic gain is not necessarily part of it’, Bhaduri says in an interview with Het Financieele Dagblad. The researcher, who works in New Delhi, believes that government officials, companies and scientists are too focused on sales or technological breakthroughs. ‘Whereas innovation in health or safety can be of equal value, and just as important as income.’ Moreover, top down innovators often develop products or services without consulting the target audience. ‘These scientists wonder why their idea isn’t adopted and blame it on the receiver, calling them lazy and risk avoiding. That approach needs to be more modest.’
Bhaduri studies the people and their motivation behind innovating, but also sees the importance of scaling up and supporting frugal innovations to increase their availability. That’s what he is trying to achieve as a chair holder.