Frugal Innovations For realizing The Sustainable Development Goals

By: Venkata Gandikota, Lead Organizer- InnoFrugal Conference

Join us on May 7th – 8th, 2018 for the 4thedition of InnoFrugalat Niemi Center in Helsinki.

Since all the super-heroine and super-hero movies have origin stories, I want to share with you InnoFrugal’s very own origin story.

Before there was The Nordic Frugal Innovation Society and InnoFrugal Conference, the 3 co-founders –  Venkata Gandikota, Jukka Kallioinen and Antti Öhrling – were helping Finnish businesses in India and Finland.

Over the course of helping Finnish businesses in India, we started to encounter a vexing issue. What was happening more often than not was that Finnish businesses were interested in selling in India the solutions they created for Finland and other developed markets. This was fine when these solutions were absolutely critical and needed,but most of the time the consumers both in B2B and B2C in India were fixated on price. They always said great things about this Finnish product or service but ended up buying a more affordable alternative.

And as we discussed on how to tackle this issue of affordability but without losing quality, we came across the concept of Frugal Innovationand Jaideep Prabhu and Navi Radjou’s work in this topic via their books ”Jugaad Innovation & Frugal Innovation”.

Our mission then became to change how businesses approach emerging markets and to educate businesses especially to understand to rethink their offerings and see if they want to go along the path of diversifying their portfolio.

And at the same time, this was in 2013, Finland and Europe was still going through the aftermath of the financial crisis and there were issues we thought would also push for  more affordable solutions here.

The underlying themes that have pushed us in creating The Nordic Frugal Innovation Society and our activities including InnoFrugalAnnual Conference:

  • Need for quality, accessible, affordable solutions in price-sensitive emerging markets.
  • Slow/jobless growth, deleveraging, ageing population, stagnant wages, long-term unemployed leading to rising inequalities in developed countries.

In addition, we also have environmental sustainability to take into account if we are to mitigate global warming and other environmental risks.

So in a sense Resource Constraints and Innovations to solve for these constraints are also important part of Frugal Innovations…

… and this part of innovating,using less resources and offer solutions,is also the basis for Circular Economy.  The use of re-selling, recycling, re-manufacturing, urban mining, sharing and product as a service, these are all ways one can use to create more accessible and therefore more affordable solutions. On the bio-side of circular economy, we have had speakers from this MIT based social enterprise called Saathi pads showing how they are creating sanitary pads in India using banana/plantain trees fiber. It is a cradle-to-cradle bio solution where the end product is also biodegradable. And they are making these in a very accessible and affordable manner.

From the very beginning, when we talk about Frugal Innovations, we have always been encouraging and showcasing solutions irrespective of the process the businesses used to achieve them. Be it circular economy as reference before or other types like open innovation, DIY/maker movement and the Fab labs and makerspaces that want revolutionize localized production and manufacturing, inclusive business aimed at focusing on delivering solutions for the people at the bottom of the pyramid etc.

For example, there are a lot of solutions that are using crowdsourcing and open innovation to deliver frugal solutions:

At InnoFrugal Helsinki this year we will be having a keynote by Prof Solomon Darwin who is the Executive Director for the birth place of Open innovation- Garwood Center for corporate innovation at Berkeley Haas and he will talk about the big smart villages project they are doing with the state government of Andhra pradesh in India that is extended to more than 450 villages. He describes a Smart Village as “a community empowered by digital technologies & Open Innovation platforms to access global markets”.

Tomas Diez, Founder of Fablab Barcelona and one of the leaders behind Fab cities initiative will talk about the work they are doing in how digital manufacturing could relocate food, energy and industrial production in an urban setting in a more resource efficient, accessible and affordable manner.

In the field of medtech big corporates like GE Healthcare, Siemens Healthineers and Philips are leading the way. But also startups such as peek vision from UK and hearX from South Africa and many more from emerging markets like India are showing especially in medical diagnostics the power of mobile phones and low cost sensors are drastically reducing the price of healthcare solutions. We have had long collaboration with Dr Prashant Jha from School of Biodesign at the All India Institute for medical sciences who use the stanford Biodesign process to create quality, accessible and affordable medtech solutions.

We are also for example in InnoFrugal Helsinki this year show-casing and doing how to create an affordable electric vehicle ecosystem. This means rethink design and development of the vehicles, the charging, batteries, what role can composites play in the creation of an affordable vehicle,etc.

But outside of big corporates putting their own money and state financing and development aid, access to financing is a big deal to get startups and SMEs to deliver these frugal innovations…

… and that is why we also identified “Impact Investing”- a new form ofAngel and Venture Capital funding, as an enabler of frugal innovations.

This year in InnoFrugal Helsinki we are doing a whole Day 2 focusing on these financing alternatives by bringing people from European Investment Fund that has a €250 million fund of funds for impact investments in Europe, Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra, Ashoka Scandinavia, BRAC, EBAN Impact etc.

So, what we want to put forward here is that instead of doing nothing, there are increasing number of individuals and organizations out there who by their ingenuity are creating solutions as first time entrepreneurs via social enterprises, traditional SMEs or as part of diversified portfolio for big businesses.

We applaud these efforts and want to accelerate the change towards a more inclusive society. They are an inspiration for us as organizers of InnoFrugal.

We also need to stress that frugal innovation is not a code word for cheap or outsourcing. It is about learning how to innovate under resource constraints and turn adversity into growth opportunities by delivering solutions that can be termed “affordable excellence”. Of course, this is not easy and that is where the challenge will be met by bringing out the human ingenuity.

On a side note, we are very happy to also mention that we organised the very first UK edition of InnoFrugal, called InnoFrugal UK, on March 27th, 2018 with our co-organizers Judge Business School at Cambridge Univerisity and Ingnitho Technologies. We plan to make this an annual event in UK together with those partners.

Finland and Europe must embrace Frugal Innovation for a sustainable economic growth and to reduce inequalities.

So, is your business ready to take the next step to innovate and create sustainable economic growth that leads to reduced inequalities and realize the UN sustainable development goals?

Let us do this by coming together on May 7th-8th, 2018 for the 4thedition of InnoFrugal at Niemi Center in Helsinki.

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