“Frugal innovation” is a trendy term for a widely known–yet often overlooked–fact: The developing world cannot afford to throw massive resources at increasingly complex technologies to solve its problems. The developed world’s “model is … too costly, elitist, and rigid and fails to address even basic socioeconomic needs,” explains innovation and leadership strategist Navi Radjou.
In his 2014 TED/Global talk, Radjou illustrated that the “more (and better) with less” strategy is indispensable in developing new technologies. In many cases, simply paring down technologies that already exist makes them more widely accessible.
Accessibility, along with sustainability, affordability, and quality, are the four cornerstones of frugal innovation. They ensure that the technologies make it to the populations that need them most and, further, that the technologies will thrive there.
Crowdsourcing is essential to frugal innovation. Some of the most effective innovations derive not from experts with infinite resources but from individuals who come from the very conditions of poverty they are trying to eradicate–“where the street is the lab,” Radjou says.
Arunachalam Muruganantham, for example, created a simple machine that has provided thousands of women with much-needed sanitary pads. He was a poor college drop-out living in rural India when he built his machine out of sheer necessity as he realized his own wife lacked access to basic feminine hygiene.
And in Kenya, two university students from rural villages came up with a system to recharge a cell phone battery using energy generated from a bicycle. “We took most of [the] items from a junk yard–using bits from spoiled radios and spoiled televisions,” one of the students told the BBC.