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Frugal innovation

for a better 21st century



Jaideep Prabhu


Professor of Marketing

Jawaharlal Nehru Professor of Indian Business & Enterprise

Director of the Centre for India & Global Business (CIGB)

Fellow of Clare College

Co-author en 2023 with Navi Radjou du livre

“L'Innovation Jugaad - Redevenons Ingénieux !”

Interview for the special edition 2023 VISIONNAIRES DU 21e SIECLE!

by Ingrid Vaileanu 

Interview Francophone: I do trust that your experience in Frugal Innovation could inspire the générations of the 21st century. Could you please resume the concept for our readers? 


Jaideep Prabhu : Frugal innovation is the practice of developing affordable and effective solutions to complex problems using limited resources. It involves the creation of products, services, or business models that are designed to be accessible and affordable to a large number of people, particularly those living in low-income communities.


Frugal innovation often involves simplifying existing technologies, processes, or products to make them more affordable and accessible. This can involve using local resources, such as low-cost materials, labor, or manufacturing techniques, to create products that are tailored to the needs of a specific population. It can also involve using creative business models, such as pay-as-you-go or leasing models to make products and services more affordable and accessible.


The approach is often associated with emerging markets and developing countries, but it is also relevant in developed countries, where cost constraints and resource scarcity are becoming increasingly important issues. It can be applied in a wide range of sectors, including healthcare, education, energy, and agriculture, among others.



Interview Francophone: What are the main messages and objectives of your new projects and books?


Jaideep Prabhu : The main message of my research papers and books is that we need innovation, and more specifically frugal innovation, in both the public and private sector, in both developing and developed countries, in order to address the main challenges of our times namely inequality and climate change. In Jugaad Innovation (published in 2012) my co-authors and I studied how frugal innovation was being done in emerging economies like India, China, African economies and Latin America. In Frugal Innovation (published in 2015), my co-author and I studied how frugal innovation was being done in the West for the West, for instance to address issues of climate change. And in How Should a Government Be? The New Levers of State Power (published in 2021), I looked at how frugal innovation in government was also need around the world to help us address issues of inequality and climate change. 



Interview Francophone: What is your most inspiring experience in the frugal innovation? 


Jaideep Prabhu : The most inspiring experience is the story of Mansukh Prajapati, a potter from a village in the Indian state of Gujarat. In 2001, his state experienced a very serious earthquake and a lot of people lost their household possessions including the clay pots in which they store water. One morning after the earthquake, Mansukh opened the local newspaper to see a picture of a clay pot that was broken and a caption that read “Poor Man’s Fridge Broken”. When he read this, he got the idea to make a poor man’s fridge made of clay. He set up a factory in his village to make these fridges and trained local women to make them for additional income. He then went on to sell these fridges, including on the internet: Mitticool – Eco Friendly Clay Products | Clay Products Exporters. Mansukh Bhai really embodies all the principles of frugal innovation that we explored in our book Jugaad Innovation (published in 2012).


Interview Francophone: What is your advice for the generations of the 21st century of innovators? 


Jaideep Pradhu: My advice is to follow the principles of jugaad or frugal innovation:


1.    Seek opportunity in adversity: be inspired by necessity; necessity is the mother of invention.

2.    Do more with less: look at the resources you have and use these as substitutes for resources you do not have.

3.    Think and act flexibly: if you cannot climb the mountain, find a way around it.

4.    Keep your solutions simple: simplicity helps you to economise on scarce resources but also ensures that your solutions will be easy to install, adopt and maintain.

5.    Include the margins: treat marginal people not only as your beneficiaries or customers but also as partners in your solution.

6.    Follow your heart: do what you are most passionate about, because what you are trying to do will be hard and you will need to persevere over a long period of time.



Interview Francophone: What is your next project and ambition for supporting the adoption of the frugal innovation in our societies facing the multim-forme crisis? 


Jaideep Prabhu : Along with my colleague Carlos Montes, I am working on a new model to drive frugal innovation in developing countries around the world. We call it the Brokering Trust to Accelerate Innovation model: How to bridge the gap between government and private sector - News & insight - Cambridge Judge Business School. This model introduces the presence of a credible and neutral institution which acts as an honest broker between Governments and the private sector and brings global experience can help to ensure better outcomes.


We have piloted the new model in two areas so far:

A programme in the Cajamarca region in Peru backed by the regional Government that will provide digital education for 150,000 school children and their parents (funded by the National Association of Banks) and support to improve the efficiency of the Cajamarca Hospital (funded by Delivery Associates of Sir Michael Barber).

A programme in Ethiopia, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, bringing together 8 innovative companies and the Prime Minister’s Digital Adviser to support the implementation of the country’s Digital Strategy 2025. One of the companies, Hello Tractor, brings the “Uberisation” of tractors to Ethiopian farmers who cannot afford to buy their own vehicles, thus increasing mechanisation and incomes of small rural farmers. Other companies include M-PESA, Precision Development, Africa 118 (implementing training programmes for Google), Amazon Web Services and Simprints. Simprints, which provides biometric identification for the world’s poorest people, was founded by Toby Norman, a PhD student of mine.


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