Frugal Innovation

Scott was recently telling the kids about when he first went overseas to Australia long ago. “There was one movie that everyone watched on several screens throughout the cabin,” he explained. “You mean, you couldn’t choose what you wanted to watch?” they puzzled. That was also the time when the smoking section was separated from the non-smoking by a flimsy curtain. Thank goodness, those days are behind us!

On our long flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg last July we all enjoyed the endless media options available to us on the screens at each seat. Video games, music videos, feature films, travel shorts, and television shows that almost, almost, had one wishing for more time on that long plane ride. I watched this Ted Talk, whose ideas have stayed with me this whole year.

Frugal Innovation is right up my alley! It refers to “doing more with less” and though it is practiced by many in developing nations as a matter of necessity, it is only now getting the attention it deserves. Frugal engineers emphasize that innovation in modern, western/northern economies is based on “doing more with more and more.” Not only are there the monetary costs associated with that sort of research and development, there is also the corresponding waste as things are constantly phased out in favor of the latest model. Frugal innovation takes what is abundant to deal with what is scarce and can result in significant economic and social growth.

I’m sure you know frugal innovators; you may be one yourself. Gardeners are classic examples- tying up tomatoes with old stockings or protecting fruit from birds with mesh onion bags.  What about the Little Free Library movement which is circulating books while simultaneously brightening up and strengthening neighborhoods? On a bigger scale, what about the people who came up with Uber, the taxi/ride-share service that has revolutionized travel in many cities?

It was in Tanzania 20 years ago that I really began to notice how people can do more with less. I remember being awed by the entrepreneur at a market who had set up his bicycle with a sharpening  wheel so he could make an income sharpening tools. Another person had a bicycle rigged up with a grinder to make peanut butter.  Children made terrific cars from scrap wood, old flip flops, and bent wire or surprisingly bouncy balls from plastic sacks tied up with banana leaf strips.  Some reduced costly construction materials by building without washers, using nails through metal bottle caps instead. And in some of the most poignant examples, people who were both poor and disabled displayed ingenuity in their handmade platform scooters (in place of wheel chairs), PVC pipes in place of artificial limbs, walkers and canes.

Frugal innovation, upcycling, recycling, reusing – they’re all in the same family. No matter the name, it’s obvious that our planet needs more of it on all levels. I’m so excited to share with you in the next post about an organization where I’ve been volunteering. The can-do spirit and creativity of the people there awe and inspire me.

Next up…frugal innovators meeting the challenge to serve South Africa’s youngest learners!



One thought on “Frugal Innovation

  1. Pingback: Waste to Toys…and a whole lot more | sevennorthdakotas

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