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More with less

23 July 2020

The article at a glance

Coronavirus pandemic has boosted frugal innovation around the world in both developed and developing countries, says Professor Jaideep Prabhu, in a webinar …

Coronavirus pandemic has boosted frugal innovation around the world in both developed and developing countries, says Professor Jaideep Prabhu, in a webinar for the What’s Next? How to Survive and Thrive in a Post COVID-19 World series.

Here’s an opportunity to see his presentation and read key findings:

Webinar: Frugal Innovation and COVID-19: How to do More (and Better) with Less

The need for quick and inventive solutions to the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has sparked a wave of “frugal innovation” initiatives around the world, says Professor Jaideep Prabhu of Cambridge Judge Business School.

“I’ve been struck during this pandemic how this kind of frugal innovation is happening in many different areas, and not just in developing countries,” Jaideep said in a 8 July webinar entitled “Frugal Innovation and COVID-19: How to do More (and Better) With Less”.

Jaideep, Professor of Marketing and Director of the Centre for India & Global Business at Cambridge Judge, is the co-author of the book Jugaad Innovation about doing more with less in India and other developing countries, as well as the follow-up book Frugal Innovation focusing on the West.

Examples of frugal innovation in recent months include pop-up hospitals such as the Nightingale Hospital in London at the ExCel Convention Centre, repurposing trains as COVID-19 isolation wards or testing centres in India, and “new drugs from old vials” in the use of the common steroid dexamethasone to treat COVID-19.

In Italy, frugal innovation was crucial to the fast production of much-needed ventilator valves through the use of 3D printers and the conversion of scuba-diving masks into CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) masks for assisted breathing; the scuba-conversion design developed by Italian company Isinnova has been downloaded 2.5 million times around the world, Jaideep said.

He said these activities underline the importance of three key principles of the frugal innovation movement: learn to better with less, be agile in changing to circumstance, and be inclusive in helping beneficiaries.

Other examples of frugal innovation in recent years have included a barge converted into a floating bank on the Amazon River in Brazil, the M-Pesa system to transfer money via mobile phones in Kenya, and battery-powered electrocardiogram (ECG) machines developed by General Electric in India for use in rural areas; these machines use bus ticket printers and paper because they are cheaper.

Frugal innovation is closely tied to the recover, reuse and recycle principles of the circular economy, and Jaideep said these ideas are being driven by “prosumers” – consumers who are active in demanding environmentally friendly approaches by companies.

He noted that sharing-economy ventures such as lodging firm Airbnb (in which people rent out their homes) have expanded rapidly because “they’re essentially frugal – they’re asset light in that they don’t need new resources but use what’s already there.” He predicted that the rise in frugal innovation during the coronavirus pandemic will prove important long after the crisis has passed. “I think frugal innovation, doing more with less, will be vital” in addressing issues related to employment, inequality and climate change, he told the webinar.