Enter India’s amazing world of frugal innovation

Updated 6:52 AM EDT, Tue September 16, 2014

Story highlights

Indian inventors recycle old technology to solve local problems

Inventions include amphibious bicycles, wind-powered irrigation systems and tree-climbing machines

Frugal innovators around India have patented their inventions and received awards

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CNN —  

In 2001 a huge earthquake shook the state of Gujarat in India.

2,000 people were killed, 400,000 lost their homes, and countless more lost their businesses in the devastation.

One young entrepreneur, Mansukhbhai Prajapati, lost everything, but found an innovative way to get back on his feet. Prajapati designed a low-cost clay fridge which required no electricity and continued to function in the event of major catastrophes or blackouts such as the one that devastated his village.

Prajapati’s invention is part of a growing trend in India that has become known as “frugal innovation” – below-the-radar inventors across the country devising low-cost solutions to local problems, often borne of necessity, using bespoke technologies of their own creation.

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So striking has the trend for frugal innovation become, that last year the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta), an independent charity in the UK, commissioned and published a major research paper on the phenomenon.

The paper said “frugal innovation is found throughout the Indian system: from … efforts to crowdsource drug discovery driven by government labs, to Bharti Airtel’s approach to cutting the cost of mobile phone calls, to the Keralan approach to palliative care which is providing access to support at the end of life for thousands in a void of formal healthcare.”