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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As champions of the jugaad philosophy, the authors proclaim the old innovation paradigm is obsolete.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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Southern Innovator Issue 3

Launched in May 2011, the new global magazine Southern Innovator (ISSN 2222-9280) is about the people across the global South shaping our new world, eradicating poverty and working towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

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

They are the innovators.

Follow the magazine on Twitter @SouthSouth1. 

Southern Innovator Issue 1

Southern Innovator Issue 2

Southern Innovator Issue 3

Southern Innovator Issue 4

Southern Innovator Issue 5

If you would like hard copies of the magazine for distribution, then please contact the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC)(https://www.unsouthsouth.org/2014/12/25/southern-innovator-magazine/).

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

© David South Consulting 2021

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Cyber Cities: An Oasis of Prosperity in the South

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The future is arriving in the South even faster than many think: so-called “cyber cities” are being created to become this century’s new Silicon Valleys. Well-known ‘cyber cities’ like India’s Hyderabad and Bangalore have been joined by many other cities across the global South. But two places are set to make big waves with their ambition and drive in 2008: Mauritius and China.

Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean strategically close to Africa, better known for tourism and luxury hotels, wants to become the world’s “cyber island”. 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, something called 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.

Outside the capital of Port Louis, former sugar cane plantations are being turned into a “cyber city”. The centrepiece of the development is the 12-story Cyber Tower, home to young technology start-ups. The country is also investing heavily in education from primary school to university, to make sure the country’s 1.2 million people are cyber-ready.

Computer novices in remote villages are being visited by a Cyber Caravan with a classroom teaching housewives, children, the unemployed and the disabled basic computing and world processing.

Mauritius built its wealth on tourism, sugar plantations and textile manufacturing. But it is worried that trading arrangements that helped the sugar and textile industries to flourish, will be taken away. So it is focusing on the future: it sees itself as the world centre for disaster recovery computing services for the world’s companies in event of a disaster in their own country that destroys computer networks.

In China, its 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.

What is truly making people stop and think is another far-reaching project: the Beijing Cyber Recreation District (CRD) – China’s most ambitious digital media industry development: a virtual worlds’ initiative with digital media academies and company incubators. It is 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.

The CRD says its goal is “to create a virtual economy providing infrastructure and platforms through which any business – not just those based in China – can come in and sell their real-world products and services. While a concerted effort will be placed on bringing Chinese businesses and consumers in, the effort is worldwide and open to businesses and consumers from any country.”

The idea is to create a vast virtual economy for commerce where manufacturers can directly connect with billions of customers – bypassing middlemen.

It claims it will be “the world’s one-stop shop for customers and producers.” It will host billions of avatars – or virtual people – surpassing the capability of the very popular Second Life virtual world game’s 40,000.

Resources

  • The Atlas of Ideas is an 18-month study of science and innovation in China, India and Republic of Korea Korea, with a special focus on new opportunities for collaboration with Europe. It is a comprehensive account of the rising tide of Asian innovation. Special reports on China, India and Korea, introducing innovation policy and trends in these countries can be downloaded for free.
  • The Cyber Cities Reader: the first book to bring together a
    vast range of debates and examples of ICT-based city changes.
  • Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India
  • Innovation China: A website linking all stories on the fast-breaking world of Chinese innovation.

Check out award-winning cyber and digital work here: http://www.davidsouthconsulting.com/blog/2020/2/26/awards-1998-2003-february-2020.html

More stories on cyber innovation from e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions and Southern Innovator

China Sets Sights on Dominating Global Smartphone Market

China Looking to Lead on Robot Innovation

Crowdsourcing Mobile Phones To Make The Poor Money

Mobile Phones: Engineering South’s Next Generation of Entrepreneurs

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: January 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

Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=dKaXBgAAQBAJ&dq=Development+Challenges+January+2008&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsjanuary2008issue

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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Southern Innovator and the Growing Global Innovation Culture | 14 April 2016

Background Paper 2013

 

A paper prepared for the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC) in 2013. The paper marked a key milestone in both China’s innovation achievements and that of the global South as it embraced the mobile and information technology revolution. 

In 2013, the global Human Development Report took on the theme “The Rise of the South”: a theme first mooted as a potential cover story for Southern Innovator’s launch issue while in development in 2010 (http://www.davidsouthconsulting.com/blog/2015/7/27/you-heard-it-here-first-influencing-perspectives-on-the-glob.html). 

In 2013 the Cities and Urbanization issue of Southern Innovator was launched at the Global South-South Development Expo (GSSD Expo) in Nairobi, Kenya.

In September 2015 (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-34372188), China’s President Xi Jinping announced China would spend US $2 billion on South-South cooperation initiatives. This has been called “a ‘game changer’ in international relations” (http://www.ipsnews.net/2015/11/opinion-chinas-new-south-south-funds-a-global-game-changer/). President Xi also said of South-South cooperation, it is: “a great pioneering measure uniting the developing nations together for self-improvement, is featured by equality, mutual trust, mutual benefit, win-win result, solidarity and mutual assistance and can help developing nations pave a new path for development and prosperity.”

Also that year the United Nations launched its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), utilising innovation and South-South Cooperation as the tools to accelerate development goals.  

Southern Innovator was cited in UN strategic plans and the magazine’s influence can be seen across the UN as it works to achieve the SDGs. In a sense, Southern Innovator‘s design vision and data-driven and mobile-driven innovators were folded into the bigger policy agendas and funding priorities of the SDGs today. 

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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

© David South Consulting 2021