Sharing from his experiences of growing up in India, Navi Radjou explains that he instinctively learned “how to get more value from limited resources.”
Radjou is a Fellow at Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Design Innovation. Additionally, Radjou is a columnist for Harvard Business Review and wrote a best-selling book, Jugaad Innovation, advocating “the ability to create something of economically higher value from fewer resources.”
In this TED Talk, “Creative problem-solving in the face of extreme limits,” Radjou shares breakthrough innovations developed in India, China, Africa, and Latin America – ranging from refrigerators made of clay, bicycle-powered phone chargers, and a large billboard that generates purified water from the humid air in Lima, Peru.
Radjou surveyed hundreds of entrepreneurs in these regions and shares that many lack access to education or high quality labs. The streets are their laboratories, Radjou says, because “when external resources are scarce, you have to go within yourself to tap the most abundant resource: human ingenuity.” Radjou calls this “frugal innovation.”
Radjou further points out companies in emerging markets that use frugal innovation at larger scale to meet societal needs such as little to no access to healthcare. For example, Radjou refers to a Chinese IT company that has developed a tele-health solution to virtually connect rural villages to Chinese doctors in cities.
While frugal innovation began in other parts of the world out of necessity, companies in the West are now adopting the model to meet consumers’ needs. Grameen Danone Foods, a joint venture between Mohammed Yunus’ Grameen Bank and Danone yogurt company, is actively employing frugal innovation. One Danone yogurt factory in Bangladesh is 10% the size of traditional factories and relies heavily on employing local, manual labor rather than automated processes.
“(T)his model combines economic efficiency and social sustainability,” shares Radjou, and “they’re planning to roll this out in other parts of the world.”
Frugal innovation provides both ‘low-tech’ and ‘high-tech’ solutions that are “more affordable and more accessible to more people.” Radjou gives another example of Chinese research and development engineers who designed a medical CT scanner that is “easy enough to be used by less qualified healthcare workers like nurses and technicians.” This scanner can “scan more patients on a daily basis while consuming less energy,” reducing the cost of treatment by 30% and radiation dosage by up to 60%. These scanners were originally designed for the Chinese market, but they are now in high demand for American and European hospitals.
Radjou recommends that more companies from developed and developing countries collaborate to develop life-changing, frugal solutions that benefit humanity.
He shares three principles of frugal innovation that should inspire companies to do more with less:
- “Keep it simple.” Don’t create something fancy to impress customers. Create something easy to use and widely accessible.
- “Do not reinvent the wheel.” Focus on creating new solutions.
- “Think and act horizontally.” Typically, companies scale up vertically and centralize operations within large factories and warehouses. In order to reach a diverse customer base and remain agile, Radjou recommends scaling out “horizontally by using a distributed supply chain with smaller manufacturing distribution units.”
Radjou urges the global society to “harness the collective ingenuity of innovators from around the world to co-create frugal solutions that will improve the quality of life for everyone…while preserving our precious planet.”
About DeBoer Fellowship
The DeBoer Fellowship develops change leaders across all sectors of Myanmar society. Through a multi-year training class and additional public programs, the DeBoer Fellowship serves Myanmar by helping to grow competent, compassionate, and ethical leaders. For more information about DeBoer Fellowship or to apply for the Fellowship, please visit: www.deboerfellowship.org.