India showing the way for frugal innovations
Mangalyaan, India’s mission to Mars is historic in many ways. We are the first nation to succeed in the very first attempt to enter Mars. The technology is home- grown. The cost for the mission is the cheapest in the world. While mentioning the cost aspect during his first visit to the US as the Prime Minister, Shri. Narendra Modi noted: "A one-km auto rickshaw ride in Ahmedabad takes Rs 10 and India reached Mars at Rs 7 per km which is really amazing.1"
The Wall Street Journal calls Mangalyaan as “India’s frugal mission to Mars.2” Analysis of the comparative costs incurred by other countries on similar missions reveal that the cost of India's mission is about one tenth of the expenses incurred by the US.
How did the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) achieve this? It minimised expenses in all possible ways. It used relatively smaller rockets as the scientific pay load is very low. It relied on proven technologies used by it earlier. The entire mission was carried out in an extremely short period of about a year. The salaries of the engineers and specialists are less, compared to the other nations.
Working on cost effective budget is nothing new for ISRO; it remains its mantra. Acknowledging this, The Wall Street Journal notes: “Overall, India has launched more than 50 satellites since 1975 …. . The country is gaining increasing recognition worldwide as a low-cost option for sending satellites into orbit.3”
While the western countries spend huge amounts in their pursuit of innovation in different fields, India is able to do it with minimum resources. Such innovations help the ordinary people to benefit, as the prices of the end products or services are affordable.
Prahalad and Mashelkar note that innovations are taking place in different industries: “Some are established companies, and others are start-ups. They aren’t confined to a few industries; they run the gamut of manufacturing and services- automobile manufacturing, drug development, health care, leather finishing, mobile communications, oil drilling, retailing , supercomputing, water purification, wind energy- and cover a wide range of capital and labour intensities. The common link is that they’re all radically innovative 4.”
The innovative practices in the Indian health sector enable it to provide critical services to the common masses at cheaper rates. At the same time the western world finds it difficult to help large segments of their society to get the basic medical facilities even after spending billions of dollars on research and development.
Narayana Hrudayalaya hospitals with headquarters in Bangalore performs about 12 per cent of heart surgeries in the country. The success of Narayana Hrudalaya has been due its innovative practices.5 Its high volume approach, combined with maximum utilization of the available facilities is giving results. Hence its charges for open heart surgery is ten to fifty times lesser on an average compared to the US hospitals. 5
But such efforts are not new to India. They were already taking place, having been initiated by much ordinary people. For example, ‘Jaipur foot’ developed by a temple sculptor in the 1960s was a revolutionary innovation. Costs of prosthetic limbs were high (up to $ 1200) and hence ordinary people were not able to buy them. He designed and developed a prosthetic foot by using rubber, wood and tyre cord for just less than $ 45. It has helped thousands of ordinary people to use artificial foot. Later Jaipur knee was developed, which was recognised by the Time magazine as one of the best 50 innovations in 2009 6.
There are similar efforts at the community level to help the ordinary sections in the health sector. Neighbourhood Network in Palliative Care in Kerala trains volunteers from the local areas to identify the problems of the chronically ill in their vicinities and help them. With more than 4000 volunteers and less than a hundred of doctors and nurses, 5000 patients are taken care any time. As a result, palliative care is higher in Kerala. 7
The significant aspect about innovations is that they have been taking place in different fields in various parts of the country – at the industrial and business clusters and semi-urban and rural areas.
Coming from rural backgrounds with education up to third standard, Mr. Sundaram started life as a factory worker before setting up a small manufacturing unit8. Later he improvised the compacting machine used in the hosiery industry and was able to produce it at one third of the price of the US based company dominating the Indian market. As a result he captured the entire market, forcing the company to leave India. His success is helping our country to save the precious foreign exchange leaving our shores.
Jugaad is a colloquial Indian world that has become part of the modern management and technology discourse in recent years. It means creating new things with limited resources available locally or making the existing things to work better through improvisation using innovative ideas. It is now accepted as a management technique and recognized across the world as a form of frugal engineering.
Jugaads are actually the vehicles powered by diesel engines that were originally meant for pumping water for farming activities. The diesel engines are fitted with carts to make them as trucks for carrying people to remote locations in poor road conditions. It has emerged as the most cost effective transportation solutions in many rural parts. The word Juggad is now used to describe different types of creative improvised efforts.
There are agencies such as Honey bee network engaged in documenting traditional and innovative practices at the local and rural levels. National Innovation Foundation has mobilized over 2,00,000 innovations and traditional knowledge practices from over 545 districts across the country. It has also filed over 650 patents on behalf of the innovators and outstanding traditional knowledge holders 8.
Thus India remains a repository of native talents and wisdom. Hence thousands of innovative efforts are going on continuously. They are proving to be beneficial in many ways. When we use them at the larger levels, they will be helpful to solve many of our problems easily.
It is important to understand that the western countries are expecting to learn lessons from India’s frugal innovations. The report of the United Kingdom’s innovation foundation notes: “India should become an even more vocal advocate and ambassador for the methods and outcomes of frugal innovation. With Europe, the US and other developed economies facing the twin pressures of financial austerity and environmental constraints, frugal innovation can only become more important over the next decade and beyond. India can be highly influential by promoting frugal innovation around the world, and reaping the many benefits (in terms of economic growth, trade, cultural capital, and networks) that will flow from it 10”.
It is time that we take steps to recognize the frugal innovations and nurture the local talents for the larger benefits of the nation and the world.
1. “India's Mangalyaan ride cheaper than auto, cost Rs 7 a km”, Times of India, Sept. 29, 2014
2. Santanu Choudhury and Joanna Sudgen, “How India Mounted the World’s Cheapest Mission to Mars”, The Wall Street Journal, Sept 23, 2014
4. Prahalad, C.K and Mashelkar, R.A., ‘Innovation’s Holy Grail’, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2010
5. “The Henry Ford of Heart Surgery”, The Wall Street Journal, Asian Edition, Nov.25, 2009
6. Kirsten Bound and Ian Thornton, “Our Frugal Future: Lessons from India’s Innovative System”, Nesta, UK, 2012
8. P.Sundaram, Tirupur, Interview
9. www. nifindia.org
10. Kirsten Bound and Ian Thornton, op.cit.
( Yuva Bharati, Vivekananda Kendra, Dec.2014)