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Quicker response in a crisis

“Frugal innovation” can help governments respond better to the COVID-19 pandemic, says article co-authored by Professor Jaideep Prabhu in Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Illustration of homemade face masks.

The concept of “frugal innovation” can help governments and civil society organisations around the world respond better to the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus), says an article co-authored by Professor Jaideep Prabhu of Cambridge Judge Business School published in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

Professor Jaideep Prabhu
Professor Jaideep Prabhu

The frugal innovation responses so far have been based on four underlying principles: “reuse, repurpose, recombine, and, informing all of the others, rapidity”, the article says.

Regarding reuse, it was recently announced that the common and inexpensive steroid dexamethasone, in use since the 1960s, has been found effective in treating COVID-19. Another example: owing to the shortage of personal protective equipment, people have found creative ways to manufacture masks and shields using hole punchers and other common household devices.

On repurposing, or altering current valuable research for a new purpose, Indian and Pakistani railways have turned underused trains into intensive care wards, while around the world ski goggles have been converted to safety glasses. An example of recombining or the mixing of resources is the construction of hospitals in a very short time using pre-fabricated construction techniques originally designed for large housing developments.

As speed is of the essence in controlling the pandemic, the article notes that reuse, repurposing and recombining existing resources “offers a faster route to fixes” than starting from scratch.

While many epidemics in the past have typically spread in less developed countries, COVID-19 has affected the whole world, and wealthier countries appear to have the largest number of cases.

“As a result of this apparent failure or inability to respond to the crisis, more developed nations have turned to solutions that reflect frugal innovation principles,” the article says. “If there is something positive to be taken from this unexpected turn, it is that frugal innovation – with its highly collaborative nature and its ability to make the most of limited resources – can help to build a more inclusive, secure, and sustainable future.”

The article in Stanford Social Innovation Review – entitled “Frugal Innovation for Today’s and Tomorrow’s Crises” – is co-authored by Yasser Bhatti, Associate Professor of Innovation and Strategy at Queen Mary University of London; Jaideep Prabhu, Professor of Marketing at Cambridge Judge Business School and co-author of the books Jugaad Innovation and Frugal Innovation; and Dr Matthew Harris, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Public Health at Imperial College London.

Jaideep will present a webinar on this topic on Wednesday 8 July, 13:00-14:00 BST, entitled “Frugal Innovation and COVID-19: How to Do More (and Better) with Less” as part of the series What’s Next? How to Survive and Thrive in a Post-COVID-19 World.