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Frugal Innovation Trend Meets Global South’s Innovation Culture

There is a trend occurring across the global South that some are calling the next great wave of innovation. It has different names but many are dubbing it ‘frugal innovation’. Frugal innovation is basically innovation done with limited resources and investment. In short, innovation on the cheap but packing a big punch.

The phenomenon has several strands. One involves innovators and companies from the developed world setting up in the developing world and beta testing their inventions and innovations there. Another strand involves innovators in companies and governments in the global South increasingly targeting the so-called ‘BOP’ – bottom of the pyramid – market of the poor.

Another strand is focused on capitalizing on innovations for tackling the problems of the poor that are coming from the poor. Many of these innovations are improvised solutions. They may not be slick but they solve a problem.

And finally, there are companies and entrepreneurs in the global South taking their innovations to the markets of the wealthy, developed countries and finding a welcome reception from price-savvy consumers.

In the global South, frugal innovation is transforming lives – and it is finding its way into developed, wealthy countries too. It has been celebrated in the new book Jugaad Innovation: A Frugal and Flexible Approach to Innovation for the 21st Century (http://jugaadinnovation.com/) by Navi Radjou, Jaideep Prabhu and Simone Ahuja. The authors are innovation experts with a wide mix of backgrounds, from an academic to a Silicon Valley “thought leader and strategic consultant” to the founder of a marketing and strategy consultancy specialising in emerging markets innovation.

The authors propose “jugaad innovation” as a solution to the urgent need to innovate quickly and efficiently in a fast-changing world where little can be taken for granted. This breed of frugal innovation comes from India. Jugaad is a Hindi word (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jugaad) and basically means a work-around, improvised solution to a problem because it is cheaper. This is commonly used to describe makeshift vehicles people construct in India (http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/25/jugaad-cheaper-than-a-nanobut-watch-for-splinters/).

As champions of the jugaad philosophy, the authors proclaim the old innovation paradigm is obsolete. The idea that throwing more capital and more resources at a problem will boost innovation, no longer works, they contend. Better results can come from being frugal and flexible. Being more creative allows for a fluid and improvised innovation culture to develop.

“In today’s interconnected world powered by social media, top-down R&D (research and development) systems struggle to open up and integrate the bottom-up input from employees and customers,” the authors say on their website.

“Jugaad on the other hand is flexible, frugal and democratic: it is often bottomup rather than top-down and involves a much larger number of people beyond those who are typically tasked with doing innovation in corporations. The strength of jugaad innovators lies in their ability to get more from less,experiment continually, and creatively engage people who are typically left out of the innovation process.”

And they have a message for the Western, developed nations. They must look to “places like India, China, and Africa for a new, bottom-up approach to frugal and flexible innovation,” if they want to experience continuing prosperity in the 21st century.

For global South inventors, entrepreneurs and manufacturers, this will prove a great opportunity. As debt-laden Western consumers deal with their lower spending power and incomes, they will be looking for products that cost less and yet tackle problems and improve their standard of living with minimal expenditure.

The Indian company Mahindra and Mahindra (http://www.mahindra.com/What-We-Do/automotive) sells its small tractors to American hobby farmers. The Chinese company Haier (http://www.haier.net/en/about_haier/haier_global/china/) has a range of frugal products that have become popular sellers. They include air conditioners, washing machines and wine coolers. Haier is so successful with these products it has been able to capture 60 per cent of the market in these categories in the United States.

Some of the hallmarks of frugal products are their efficient production, rapid development cycle, lower price point, and appeal to poorer customers.

The book argues that adopting a “jugaad” mindset will enable people and companies to innovate “faster, better and cheaper,” “generate breakthrough growth” and “outperform competition.”

“Jugaad innovation has three major benefits. First, it is frugal: it enables innovators to get more with less. Second, it is flexible: it enables innovators to keep experimenting and rapidly change course when needed. Third: it is democratic: it can therefore tap into the wisdom of otherwise marginalized customers and employees.”

“In contrast to the traditional structured approach to innovation, jugaad is inherently more customer-centric rather than technology or product centric.

Because jugaad innovators seek to solve a customer problem first and then develop a suitable solution, jugaad is more market-based than more structured approaches (that may be driven by the motivation to develop technology for technology’s sake) are.”

There are so many of these innovations and inventions happening, a culture has emerged to gather and document them and share them with others.

A good advocate of jugaad innovators in India is the Honey Bee Network (http://www.sristi.org/hbnew/). It has been building a database of grassroots innovation and knowledge (http://www.sristi.org/hbnew/augment_innovation.php).

But this dynamic innovators culture is not limited to India. Across Africa,information technology hubs and start-ups have been sprouting up. One of the more well-known is the iHub in Nairobi, Kenya (http://ihub.co.ke/pages/home.php) but there are centres of information technology innovation in Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria.

One of the more outstanding and pioneering chroniclers of this frugal innovation culture in Africa has been the Afrigadget website (afrigadget.com).

It is packed with home-grown inventions. These include a young Kenyan boy using a rigged network of light bulbs to ward of lions from the cattle herd, a mobile phone security system for cars, and a home-made remote control toy car for children. Another great way to see this movement in action is at the Maker Faire Africa (http://makerfaireafrica.com/) which has been bringing together every year “handcrafters from Africa’s tiniest villages to her most expansive urban burgs”.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: May 2012

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Follow @SouthSouth1

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=m5GYBgAAQBAJ&dq=development+challenges+may+2012&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsmay2012issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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Computer ‘Gold Farming’ Turning Virtual Reality Into Real Profits

The rapid spread of the internet around the global South is bringing with it new forms of work. One of these trends is so-called “gold farming”: making money in the virtual world of computer gaming by trading in virtual money, prizes and goods for busy gamers who don’t have time to do it themselves. This work now employs 400,000 people – mostly men and mostly in China, but also elsewhere in the South, according to a new report.

Working out of internet centres where they can get access to high-speed or broadband internet connections, “gold farmers” use the global trade in virtual goods for online computer games in the same way stockbrokers trade shares on the world’s stock exchanges. The trade operates similarly to the stock market, with prices fluctuating based on demand and changing by the minute.

And as the report discovered, this trade is acting as a gateway into the world of information technology employment, where computer-literate young men are able to earn an income they could not have done otherwise.

It is a trade that can provide gold farmers with US $145 a month in income. They are often given free food and accommodation to do it, and many have few other economic choices.

“You can probably think of two models,” said the report’s author, Professor Richard Heeks of Manchester University’s Development Informatics Group. “They could play as an individual at a local cybercafe doing their own in-game farming and then selling to one of the trading sites (that buy from farmers at one price, then sell on to player-buyers at a higher price). Or they could be organized into a small/medium enterprise by an owner, all working together in a room full of computers.”

There is a dark side to gold farming too: there have been reports of youths forced to gold farm by gangs who make them work 12 hour days. Crime gangs sometimes become involved and scams proliferate.

Heeks says the downside is the result of governmental ignorance. “The main problem is a lack of understanding about ICT and ICT enterprise generally in some governments in developing countries and in particular a relative lack of understanding about the spread and implications of computer games.”

Supporters see gold farming as a flourishing Southern economy that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and exposes participants both to information technology skills and the wide horizons of the virtual computing world. Its defenders say it shows that those who dismiss the expansion of IT infrastructure as a waste of time are missing the emerging economic opportunities it is creating.

Heeks said we still know too little about this fast-evolving sector, but that “gold farming does seem to be providing income/livelihood for young men who would otherwise be unemployed. There are claims that it has helped mop up youths who had otherwise been involved in crime, but we don’t yet know how generalized such claims are.”

The number of players engaged in online gaming has grown by 80 percent per year, and Heeks sees the rise in gold farming as linked to a bigger trend: “in both North and South, we will spend increasing amounts of work and leisure time in cyberspace. Couple that with the growing penetration of ICTs into developing countries, including into poor communities, and there will be growing opportunities for this kind of ‘virtual outsourcing.’”

Currently, more than 300 million people worldwide have access to the internet through fast broadband connections (mostly in developed countries, although this is changing quickly), and more than 1.1 billion of the world’s estimated 6.6 billion people are online.

China is working hard to capture the economic power of the internet. The country’s economic boom has helped create an affluent urban middle class clamouring for the social aspects of internet access like chat rooms, while the government has been driving the roll-out of internet access in rural areas.

The country’s largest Cyber Park is under construction in Wujin New and High-tech Development Zone of Changzhou. It will be a technology incubator, a research and development centre, and a place for small and medium-sized enterprises to innovate.

China’s most ambitious digital media industry development is the Beijing Cyber Recreation District (CRD), a collection of digital media academies and company incubators spread over 100 square kilometres, creating the world’s largest virtual world development. It is already home to more than 200 game and multimedia content producers in western Beijing.

And even in Africa, where broadband penetration rates are very poor, countries are now looking to the mobile phone companies to provide their populations with access to the internet, as they struggle to find a place at the digital table.

Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean strategically close to Africa and better known for tourism and luxury hotels, wants to become the world’s “cyber island”, and Africa’s e-gateway. Armed with the first 3G network in Africa (the third generation of mobile phone technology – offering high-speed internet access and video telephony), Mauritius is moving fast to make good on this advantage. And it is even moving to the next level of mobile-phone speed, High-speed Download Packet Access (HSDPA) – allowing even greater quantities of information to be exchanged.

Mauritius joins a select few countries, including Japan and South Korea, at the forefront of access to 3G. Wireless – or wi-fi – computer access is available in three-quarters of the island.

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: September 2008

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Follow @SouthSouth1

Archive.org: https://archive.org/details/Httpwww.slideshare.netDavidSouth1development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsseptember2008issue

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsseptember2008issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Accessing Global Markets Via Design Solutions

The power of design to improve products and the way they are manufactured is increasingly being seen as a critical component of successful economic development.

The importance of trade – both South-South and South-North – as a reducer of poverty in developing countries is now widely acknowledged. Countries that have made the biggest gains in reducing poverty, like China, India and Brazil, have done it through trade.

The power of trade in high quality goods to raise incomes has been proven for more than a decade. South-South trade grew by an average of 13 percent per year between 1995 and 2007. By 2007, South-South trade made up 20 percent of world trade. And over a third of South-South commerce is in high-skill manufacturing. Making finished goods, rather than just selling raw materials, improves workers’ skill levels and increases the return on trade.

But trying to get other people to desire and buy your products is very tricky. Design plays a major part in understanding the unique demands of countries and markets, and what people find appealing or repellent.

A product that has both a successful design (people want to buy it) and is produced efficiently (a well-designed manufacturing process), will generate a good profit.

In India, the Craft Resource Centre or CRC Exports Limited of Kolkata (http://en..wikipedia.org/wiki/Calcutta)has been successfully selling leather travel bags to the Vodafone (>http://www.vodafone.com/hub_page.html) mobile phone company in The Netherlands. It did this by teaming up with Dutch Designers in Development (http://www.ddid.nl/english/index.html), an NGO focused on matching European importers and retailers and professional designers with small and medium enterprises in the South.

Founded in 1989, CRC applies the concept of adding value to turn small-scale and poor artisans into successful and sustainable businesses. Many of these traditional handicraft artisans subsist on low incomes. CRC provides artisans across India with marketing, design, finance and exporting help. It also connects them with other artisans and helps to divide projects between them. This has the power of using networks to help in bad times while also sharing opportunities when they come up.

CRC’s director, Irani Sen, has divided the more than 15,000 artisans they work with into 15 different trading groups. CRC has also consulted to over 350 projects across Asia.

“The best thing fair trade gives (artisans) is the continuity of work … and with the continuity comes the basic security,” Sen said on the CRC website. “With that security they can develop, they can plan and then we try to motivate them for education, health (and) education for their children.”

It all began with a need: Dutch company Unseen Products (http://www.unseenproducts.com/home) needed somebody to make high-quality leather travel bags for their client, Vodafone, who in turn wanted the bags as an incentive for their employees. Unseen Products is a business connecting European retailers with small producers in the South to build long-term business relationships. They seek to make “unseen or hard to find products accessible at commercially interesting prices.”

They approached Dutch Designers in Development (DDiD), which in turn recommended CRC.

As a matchmaker, DDiD puts together European clients, Dutch designers and small and medium-sized enterprises in developing countries. The designers share their knowledge of European consumer tastes, product development, design and quality standards.

DDiD receives orders from companies, NGOs and government agencies to stimulate the production and sale of sustainable products from developing countries in Europe.

The Dutch group works with producers to develop skills and adapt producers’ products to present and future demands in Europe. By following this approach, Southern producers can reduce the risk of making products nobody wants, or that lack originality in the marketplace and thus won’t sell.

DDiD explains to producers the importance of design and how it improves the product and the business. Good design, the group believes, should reduce production costs and the time taken to get to market, and boost the reputation of the product brand and maker.

Well-known Dutch bag designer Ferry Meewisse (http://www.frrry.com/hiep/Entrance.seam?labelId=1) was brought in to work with CRC’s artisans to craft new bags and a new way of making them.

Meewisse said he was uncertain at first whether the artisans would be able to make the highly complex bags. The solution was to break down the bag into smaller parts. And that is where the knowledge of design process comes into play.

“The button bag for example is a complex bag that has been taken apart: compartments, pockets, handles,” said Meewisse. “This provided us with elements that were each really simple to manufacture. After that the pieces would only have to be clicked together with the buttons. And there it was: a complete bag with all the elements you need in a good bag.”

The bags can be seen here: http://www.frrry.com/hiep/guest/GuestSeries.seam?seriesId=9&conversationId=30930

Stella van Himbergen, a project manager at DDiD, said the concept is about introducing a new way of looking at things through the prism of design.

“Small producers in developing countries are not lacking craftsmanship,” said Himbergen. But, she added, “it is important for producers to receive support in production-led design, and not only in aesthetic design.”

Conceptually, this is the difference between designing and making something because it is aesthetically pleasing, and taking a market-driven design approach – letting market demands lead to the design solution. As a different way of looking at things, it takes in the company’s vision, brand values and positioning in the marketplace, production requirements (costs, sustainability), organization, and client’s needs.

DDiD helps producers learn how to quickly create new products based on market demands. They also raise the level of awareness of design to global standards, and show how to apply this across the production process, from graphic design, to packaging, retail and exhibition space, brand design and design management. Since 2005, the group has completed 46 international projects.

DDiD also stresses sustainability, encouraging the use of environmentally friendly materials such as biological cotton, bamboo and water hyacinth for paper and rope.

Apart from Vodafone, the CRC-made bags are sold in shops and on the web.

The extra attention to design seems to have paid off. CRC’s bags have been such a success that a second order has been placed. And CRC has picked up another project from Dutch importer Global Goodies (http://www.globalgoodies.nl/). 

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: March 2009

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

Follow @SouthSouth1

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=PBB0LYdAPx8C&dq=development+challenges+march+2009&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsmarch2009issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Southern Innovator Magazine

Estimated Reading Time: 2 mins

Southern Innovator was initially launched in 2011 with the goal of inspiring others (just as we had been so inspired by the innovators we contacted and met). The magazine seeks to profile stories, trends, ideas, innovations and innovators overlooked by other media. The magazine grew from the monthly e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions published by the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) since 2006.

Issue 6’s theme has been decided on: it will focus on Science, Technology and Innovation. For this issue, Southern Innovator is seeking invitations from cutting-edge knowledge and science innovators in the global South to view their work. Time is tight, so don’t miss this opportunity to let the whole global South know about your work. In the past, Southern Innovator has visited green pioneers in Cuba, a smart city in South Korea and an eco-city in China.

Contact me if you wish to receive a copy/copies of the magazine for distribution. Follow @SouthSouth1.

Southern Innovator Issue 1

Southern Innovator Issue 2

Southern Innovator Issue 3

Southern Innovator Issue 4

Southern Innovator Issue 5

Southern Innovator Issue 6

Innovator Stories and Profiles

Citing Southern Innovator

Finding Southern Innovator

Press Release 1

Press Release 2

Press Release 3

Southern Innovator Impact Summaries | 2012 – 2014

“The e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions proved to be a timely and prescient resource on the fast-changing global South, tracking the rise of an innovator culture driven by the rapid adoption of mobile phones and information technology …

“In 2010, work began on the development of the world’s first magazine dedicated to the 21st-century innovator culture of the global South. My goal was to create a magazine that would reach across countries and cultures, meet the UN’s standards, and inspire action. Southern Innovator was the result. Mr. [David] South played a vital role in the magazine’s development from its early conception, through its various design prototypes, to its final global launch and distribution.

“Both the e-newsletter and magazine raised the profile of South-South cooperation and have been cited by readers for inspiring innovators, academics, policy makers and development practitioners in the United Nations and beyond.

“I highly recommend Mr. [David] South as a thoughtful, insightful, analytical, creative and very amicable person who has the unique ability to not only grasp complex problems but also to formulate a vision and strategy that gets things done. … ” Cosmas Gitta, Former Assistant Director, Policy and United Nations Affairs at United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) in UNDP

“I think you [David South] and the designer [Solveig Rolfsdottir] do great work and I enjoy Southern Innovator very much!” Ines Tofalo, Programme Specialist, United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation

Team | Southern Innovator Phase 1 Development (2010 – 2015)

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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