+ Frugal Innovation for a National Challenge - CII Blog

Human creativity is a natural, infinitely renewable resource, and it is coming up with smart, affordable solutions to people’s biggest problems, transforming adversity into opportunity, turning something of seemingly low value into something highly valuable.

Frugal innovation is about creating advantage out of constraint. Faced with scarce resources and institutional voids, frugal innovators develop radical new solutions for problem solving. It’s not just about making things economical, but better and more scalable. It involves leveraging available resources in new ways, reducing or re-using waste or even re-thinking an entire system around a product or service. 

Frugal innovation is context-specific and demands authentic, community-led and -centered engagement. It involves using minimum resources to produce efficient goods or services at low costs developed by, in partnership with, or facilitated by the Government, with the aim of improving social welfare.

Innovation in India for the World

Unprecedented disruptions caused by the pandemic presented a unique challenge for Indian ingenuity and brought scientists, technology developers, start-ups, entrepreneurs, industries, and the Government together to address the demand for rapid and efficient innovation and push the boundaries of science-based innovation. 

India, with limited resources and time, depended on “Frugal Innovation” and the use of frugal technologies to strategize and combat the pandemic. Industry and academia made available affordable and value-added customer centric products and processes, including high quality PPE kits, ventilators, etc. The digital space provided a platform through which innovation reached every corner of the country. Extensive support from the Government in identifying and bridging gaps in the ecosystem, enabling multiple funding options and empowering institutions to become self-sufficient, ensured that these innovations were accessible to those in need.

It would be appropriate to state that India excelled in crisis-driven innovation and frugal approach towards innovation changed the trajectory for our growth story. Healthcare, education and governance experienced major shifts as documented in the following points:

  • Frugal healthcare innovation – Healthcare systems in India are undergoing a rapid transformation post the pandemic. Early screening and awareness tools, wearable tracking devices, remote monitoring solutions and digital tools are critical in creating a stronger and more sustainable healthcare system in India.
  • Frugal education innovation – The post-pandemic phase saw the mainstream acceptance of frugal approach towards education that utilised available resources to develop creative, practical and sustainable education for all. The pandemic accelerated access to knowledge and education, even in the remotest corners of the country.  
  • Government Frugal Innovation – The Indian Central and State Governments, in partnership with research institutes and private sector players, implemented and used frugal technologies as platforms that helped decision making and strategy to fight the pandemic and develop solutions which are affordable and efficient. Government Frugal Innovations not only harbour the promise of low-cost innovations, but also involve more open platforms with the participation of other public sectors or governmental units.

An ecosystem designed for innovation-led growth

The innovation ecosystem in the country witnessed a steep growth during the pandemic. Now the question looms, can we sustain this peak?

We must turn our focus towards nurturing Indian knowledge ecosystem. Creating a knowledge, innovation and entrepreneurial support system through a collaborative community of national and international experts, practitioners and other partners. 

As India stabilizes after the deep ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic on the world economy, the imperative ahead for the country is to maintain a high pace of growth over the next few years. NITI Aayog is leading the setting up of sectoral targets and fostering an environment of innovation and cooperation by bringing together technology, enterprise, and efficient management at the core of policy formulation and implementation.

Developed nations with their most expensive R&D teams are baffled by our out-of-the-box solutions. Engineering and management institutes are starting courses and financing research studies to understand our mundane yet prodigious ideas. Leading companies around the world are practicing various principles of frugal Innovation and are learning from our grassroots innovators.

The future will be connecting grassroots technologists with big business, which will be key to development, not only in India but across the globe.