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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As champions of the jugaad philosophy, the authors proclaim the old innovation paradigm is obsolete.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.  

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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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Innovation Villages Tackling MDGs

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The global economic crisis that began to roll across the world in September 2008 is threatening gains made against poverty and hunger all over the South. As Kevin Watkins from UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report told the Financial Times, “With the slowdown in growth in 2009, we estimate that the average income of the 391 million Africans living on less than US $1.25 a day will take a 20 percent hit.”

How well millions of people survive the economic turmoil will depend on how local communities respond. And there are innovating communities across the South that show it is possible to succeed. By studying the microcosm of test villages, where quantifiable results are being tracked, lessons are being learned on how to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (http://www.undp.org/mdg/).

The challenge of matching improving living standards and quality of life with environmental sustainability has been taken up by one village in Colombia. The technologies it has developed over the past few decades have been adopted around the country.

In Las Gaviotas, Colombia a unique experiment was hatched at the end of the 1960s: to see if a village could survive – and even thrive – while eschewing fossil fuels and industrial agriculture. It found its first test in the oil crisis of the early 1970s. For Las Gaviotas’ survival, meeting energy needs became paramount.

One of the simple concepts the community applied is a take on the physical reality that energy is never created or destroyed, it just moves from one medium to another. Las Gaviotas believes in using all the sources for energy that can be found in a local area first, before seeking out others.

Founded by development specialist Paolo Lugari,Las Gaviotas(http://www.friendsofgaviotas.org) is located in a desert region of Colombia. The area covers a vast territory comprising three-fifths of the country but is home to just 10 percent of the population. To Lugari, the harsh environment is a challenge to be overcome. To begin to reverse the arid environment at Las Gaviotas, the villagers reversed the dry climate by planting trees.

This had the effect of increasing local rainfall by 10 percent, making it possible to do other economic activities.”The only deserts that exist in this world are deserts of the imagination,” Lugari told the New York Times.

The 200 people living in Las Gaviotas have been able to get by without guns, police, a mayor, cellphones, television or the Internet. Nobody uses a job title — instead the adults in the community rotate jobs.

While the villagers do not use many of the technological tools people associate with modern life and prosperity, they do have a culture of invention. The inventions they have come up with include a solar kettle for sterilizing water and a 8,012 hectare pine forest which is harvested for resin to make biofuel for trucks and motorcycles. The resin is also used to make varnishes and linseed oil.

For years Colombia’s ongoing civil war raged around the community. Violent drug traffickers and private armies destabilized the country for decades. But despite this mayhem, Las Gaviotas has attracted rural peasants seeking to double their wages (US $500 a month) and enjoy the quiet life away from the war.

“We try to live a quiet life, depending on nothing but our own labor and ingenuity,” said Teresa Valencia, a teacher who has lived in Las Gaviotas for three decades.

Other products developed by the village included a turbine powered by a small, one metre high dam that produced 10 kilowatts of electricity, a windmill that was able to spin despite light breezes, and a pump strong enough to draw water from the hard-to-reach savannah water table.

Pride of place was the village’s hospital. Despite hot temperatures and high humidity, the hospital used clever technologies like subsurface tunnels and double ventilation systems in the walls to cool its operating theatre. The roof slid off to allow ultraviolet sunlight to disinfect rooms. After healthcare reforms in Colombia, the hospital was closed. Undefeated, the village turned the hospital’s kitchen into a potable water bottling facility, and reduced the need for hospital visits by making sure everyone in the area had access to clean water.

The community’s approach inspired scientists and architects, who came to design homes, laboratories and factories for Las Gaviotas.

One significant success has been the windmill-driven water pumps developed by Las Gaviotas. Invented by Jorge Zapp, head of the mechanical engineering department of Bogota’s Universidad de Los Andes, it is a lightweight windmill unit weighing barely 45 kilograms. The blades use the airfoil found on airplane propellers to make the most of light breezes.

In the 1980s, UNDP hired the Gaviotas team to install water and windmill pumps in other places in Colombia. Thousands have now been installed in Colombia and the design has been copied throughout Latin America.

Other inventions include a solar-powered kitchen, a water pump powered by a children’s see-saw, and a zeppelin that floats above the savannah plains to detect forest fires.

While the community has been able to forge a success, it can’t avoid the ups and downs of the global economy entirely. Competition from cheap imports of pine resin have pushed down the price the community can charge.

But in a topsy-turvy world, and surrounded by a civil war, what Las Gaviotas has achieved still seems impressive. “We have survived,” said Andrea Beltran. “Maybe, at this time and place in Colombia, that is enough.”

More recently, a much-publicized experiment is also underway in the Millennium villages. The Millennium Villages (http://www.millenniumvillages.org/index.htm) is a joint project between Columbia University’s The Earth Institute and UNDP, and is a bold experiment working with villages in Africa to identify and test solutions to help in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (http://www.undp.org/mdg/).

Britain’s Guardian newspaper has also been sponsoring and tracking changes in the villages of Katine sub-county in Uganda (http://www.guardian.co.uk/katine). Comprising 25,000 people, the project began in October 2007, and is conducted in partnership with the African Medical and Research Foundation (Amref) and Farm-Africa in Katine.

What is useful to people looking for solutions is the way the project is being tracked in detail on the newspaper’s website.

In India, the Model Village India (www.modelvillageindia.org.in) concept pioneered by Rangeswamy Elango, a head of the village of Kuthampakkam near Chennai, has now expanded to 30 model villages. Its approach is about being positive, eschewing griping about problems and instead getting down to work to solve them. Its success is based on an ancient Indian self-organizing model, the Panchayat, and Elango has modernized it to become what he calls The “Network Growth Economy Model” – a direct challenge to the “special economic zones that benefit only capitalist owners,” he said.

Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World – 10th Anniversary Edition by Alan Weisman details further the achievements of the village (www.amazon.com)

Resources

1) Unleashing India’s Innovation: Toward Sustainable and Inclusive Growth, a report by the World Bank. Website: http://www.worldbank.org/

2) NextBillion.net: Hosted by the World Resources Institute, it identifies sustainable business models that address the needs of the world’s poorest citizens. Website: http://www.nextbillion.net/news

3) Model Village India: Drawing on self-organizing methods used in India since 1200 BC, the Model Village India is based around India’s democratic system of Panchayats: a village assembly of people stemming back to pre-colonial times. Website: http://www.modelvillageindia.org.in

4) Maker Faire: The African Maker Faire has tapped into Africa’s well-entrenched do-it-yourself development culture. It went looking for more inventors like those celebrated on the website AfriGadget (http://www.afrigadget.com/), with its projects that solve “everyday problems with African ingenuity.” The Faire works with the participants to share their ideas and to find ways to make money from their ideas. Website: http://makerfaireafrica.com/

5) eMachineShop: This remarkable service allows budding inventors to download free design software, design their invention, and then have it made in any quantity they wish and shipped to them: Amazing! Website: http://www.emachineshop.com/

6) The red dot logo stands for belonging to the best in design and business. The red dot is an internationally recognized quality label for excellent design that is aimed at all those who would like to improve their business activities with the help of design. Website: http://www.red-dot.de

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

© David South Consulting 2021

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African Supercomputers to Power Next Phase of Development

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Information technology developments in Africa have long lagged behind those in other parts of the world. But the transformation being brought about by the widespread adoption and use of mobile phones – each one a mini-computer – and the expansion of undersea fibre optic cable connections to Africa are creating the conditions for an exciting new phase of computing growth on the continent.

Despite the global economic crisis, Africa is on course to see annual consumer spending reach US $1.4 trillion by 2020, nearly double the US $860 billion in 2008 (McKinsey). On top of this, by 2050, a projected 63 per cent of Africa’s population will be urban dwellers. With Africa’s middle class the fastest-growing in the world – doubling in less than 20 years – matching computing power with this consuming urban population could unleash a treasure trove of opportunity for information technology entrepreneurs.

These developments are creating the conditions for game-changing computing in the next years. And this is encouraging the creation of a new supercomputer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supercomputer) for Africa in Kenya that will double the total number of supercomputers in Africa. Hugely powerful compared to personal or commercial computers, supercomputers use cutting-edge technology to carry out high-speed calculations involving vast quantities of data.

Expanded supercomputing power brings numerous advantages to both economic and human development. It will radically alter what can be accomplished in Africa – allowing mass data processing to be done, highly complex and data dense applications to be run, and very large research projects to be conducted on the continent rather than overseas.

Increasing computing power in Africa will bring in its wake, it is hoped, a surge in economic and research opportunities.

It will help African researchers and scientists to undertake globally competitive projects, rather than seeing this work done overseas. It will also open up a vast range of possibilities for African entrepreneurs and businesses to do complex data processing, modelling and research and will enable them to become more sophisticated operations.

The new supercomputer, the iHub Cluster, is being built in the Kenyan capital by one of Africa’s pioneering information technology hubs – iHub Nairobi (http://ihub.co.ke/pages/home.php) – in partnership with Internet products and services company Google and microchip maker Intel Corporation.

Africa’s first supercomputer is located in South Africa and is ranked 497 in terms of computing power on the list of 500 supercomputers in the world (http://www.top500.org/).

It is located in the “Tsessebe cluster” in Cape Town’s Centre for High Performance Computing (http://www.chpc.ac.za/).

“With mobile devices coming in multiple cores, it is important for developers to be exposed to higher performance computing; we are hoping to debut at a higher level than ‘Tsessebe cluster’,” Jimmy Gitonga, the project team leader for the iHub cluster, told Computer World.

Africa suffers from poor supercomputer capacity and this has had a knock-on affect on everything to do with economic development. The iHub supercomputer hopes to help universities and colleges to gain competitive edge and be able to undertake more complex research in the fields of media, pharmaceuticals and biomedical engineering.

“In Africa, we need to be on top of the mobile scene, its our widest used device,” Gitonga told Computer World.

Some of the practical applications for the iHub supercomputer in East Africa and the Horn of Africa include improving weather forecasting and drought prediction, increasing the ability to give advance warning of droughts and famines in the region.

“Most of the United Nations agencies and international agencies operating in the region have extensive field research on how to tackle natural disasters in the region. Imagine if they had affordable space where they can meet with developers and test resource-hungry applications,” Gitonga said.

The iHub also wants to offer the services of the supercomputer to researchers and organizations who have had to go abroad to have their data processed.
The iHub supercomputer hopes to be used by mobile phone developers, gamers, universities and research institutions.

In the last two years, China had pushed the United States out of the number one spot for supercomputers. The Tianhe-1A located at the National Supercomputing Center in Tianjin (http://www.nscc-tj.gov.cn/en/), China, was the fastest computer in the world from October 2010 to June 2011.

For those looking to see how they can make the most of the growing supercomputer capability in Africa, examples from other countries offer a good idea. Supercomputers can be used for weather forecasting, climate research, oil and gas exploration, physical simulations like when testing aircraft, complex modelling for medical research, processing complex social data necessary for delivering effective social programmes or running modern health care systems.

Resources

1) A video on how to use a supercomputer. Website:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yvbSX–LOko

2) Southern Innovator Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology. Website:http://www.scribd.com/doc/95410448/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-1-Mobile-Phones-and-Information-Technology?in_collection=3643685

3) Read more about the iHub supercomputer. Website:http://www.ihub.co.ke/blog/2012/09/the-ihub-cluster/

4) More on High Performance Computing from Intel Corporation. Website:http://www.intel.com/content/www/us/en/high-performance-computing/server-reliability.html

Published: October 2012

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Women scientists prove potency of Mongolian beverage

By David South, Blue Sky Bulletin (Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia), Issue 10, February-March 1999

Horse mare’s milk, drunk by Mongolians for centuries, has been proven by a team of women scientists to be as healthy as many Mongolians believe. In a UNDP-funded project, women scientists from Mongolia, China and South Korea are exploring new ways to generate income through science. A joint Mongolian/Korean team confirmed the national wisdom of using mare’s milk for treating stomach and intestine inflammations, as well as tuberculosis, liver diseases and cancer. They say the frothy white milk is packed with nutrients and vitamins.

The UNDP-funded Subregional Project of Northeast Asian Countries on Gender Equality through Science and Technology started last March. A team of Mongolian women scientists in the project made the discovery when they explored the bio-chemical composition and immunological activity of Mongolian mare’s milk.

Mongolians have used mare’s milk as part of the traditional diet for centuries. During holidays many urban Mongolians drop in on their rural relatives for a drink of the elixir, saying it will help them to alleviate stress and to heal some chronic diseases. There are even cases of foreign tourists believing mare’s milk is the elixir of life, and will make them younger.

The researchers confirmed that the drying process of mare’s milk does not adversely affect its nutritional value, including proteins, lipids, vitamins, lactose and fatty acids. The mare’s milk was processed using spray drying and lyophilise methods. The research is making it possible to better preserve mare’s milk in the off-season.

The main goal of the project is to find new ways to generate income for poor women. In the case of mare’s milk, rural women will be able to turn to local manufacturers who can preserve the milk. The researchers say the South Koreans expressed keen interest in producing dry diet from mare’s milk.

The Blue Sky Bulletin newsletter provided timely and valuable updates on Mongolia in the late 1990s. In particular, it was able to highlight urgent health needs for a population undergoing extreme crisis resulting from food supply disruptions, loss of income, social distress (alcoholism, family breakdown etc.), sexually transmitted diseases, and extreme weather. Stories from the newsletter have been cited in many journals and books since 2000, and the high quality of its contributers is evident in their scholarship and career success since. An example is below:

Poor Nutrition Taking its Toll on the Health of Mongolians By Jacinda Mawson

Rickets very prevalent in Mongolia – 1998

Prevalence of rickets in Mongolia

Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr (1998) 7(3/4): 325-328
U Tserendolgor1 MD pubhealth@magicnet.mn, JT Mawson2 MA, AC MacDonald3 MSc and M Oyunbileg1 MD, PhD

“The high prevalence of rickets in Mongolian children is a serious public health concern. In addition to the adverse effects on growth, development and immune function, it is probably indicative of widespread subclinical vitamin D deficiency.”

Another beverage was catching the interest of Mongolians in the late 1990s: beer. 

From The Far Eastern Economic Review, February 18, 1999

A New Brew: As Mongolia changes under the influence of economic reforms, the country’s elite are trading fermented mare’s milk and vodka for a new status symbol: beer 

Story by Jill Lawless

Photo by David South

Jill Lawless has two websites about her book, Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia.

Designed in London, the first website for Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia launched in 2003.
The new brand site for Jill Lawless is currently under construction.

More of Jill Lawless‘ journalism for The Far Eastern Economic Review here: https://www.google.co.uk/books/edition/Far_Eastern_Economic_Review/SkuvAAAAIAAJ?hl=en&gbpv=1&bsq=david%20south,%20Mongolian%20rock

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

© David South Consulting 2021

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