From solar torches to bioloos: five frugal innovation from around the world

This article was originally published by Business Call to Action and is republished with permission.


Not everyone wants to send rockets into space. For these innovators, a cheap, effective, no-frills product is the goal


Whether it’s bringing quality healthcare closer to those residing in rural villages or providing people with facilities as basic and necessary as toilets, it’s sometimes wise not to overcomplicate things. Frugal innovation, based on the Indian concept of jugaad – innovating when there are limitations in resources – can provide an answer when capital is low, resources are scarce, or infrastructure is in need of upgrading.


Here are five businesses putting frugality at the forefront of innovation.

Peek Vision

Over 80% of blindness is treatable, yet 36 million people around the world are blind. These statistics highlight the need for quality eye-test access.


Peek Vision works with partners to improve access to high-quality eye care using the Peek Acuity and Peek Acuity Pro smartphone vision-test apps, and Peek Retina, a smartphone adapter for examining inside the eye. The apps, which are designed by eye care professionals, enable anyone to examine a patient’s eyes and assess the quality of their sight. The patient is shown a letter in the app and has to identify it as it increases and decreases in size and changes direction. The patient’s answers are graded by the app, which also determines their score at the end of the test.


For people living in remote parts of the world, accessing healthcare can mean travelling a considerable distance – especially problematic when there are medical emergencies.


With ClickMedix, an app that enables health workers to screen, diagnose and refer patients on for treatment, villagers can avoid the lengthy travel times – and the associated costs. The app works by taking local health professionals through a questionnaire, guiding them to ask patients appropriate questions and then directing them to the relevant treatment or referral options. The app can be used to screen patients for a number of conditions, including HIV, malaria, tuberculosis, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.



The ClickMedix app enables health workers to screen, diagnose and refer patients on for treatment

Ting Shih, ClickMedix CEO and founder, says: “What’s important about frugal innovation is that you’re empowering the local people to see the power and to know that there are solutions and to help deliver the solutions, which then actually enables true adoption.”


From shopping to streaming, the internet has changed the way many of us conduct our everyday lives – but the same isn’t true for rural areas with poor connectivity.


Be-Bound’s technology anchors into existing mobile networks, optimising them to increase coverage to 95% of the population by compressing data, which eliminates the cost of additional telecom infrastructure investment.


Launching across the Ivory Coast this July, Dor2Dor – a delivery service powered by Be-Bound’s augmented connectivity technology – is set to transform the delivery landscape for people in remote areas. Parcels will be delivered within 48 hours, including to homes without conventional addresses. Deloitte estimates that over five years Dor2Dor will create 100,000 new jobs directly, and a further 500,000 indirectly.


Mélanie Delaroche Curtil, communications assistant at Be-Bound, says: “The beauty of frugal innovation is that it is right in front of us. It is making something new with something old.” 

Frontier Markets

Across India, 270 million people [pdf] don’t have access to enough energy to meet their basic needs. Frontier Markets’ products – a range of solar-powered torches and lights – are designed to meet the clean energy needs of rural villagers in India. Amrit Mohan, the company’s head of marketing and data insights, says others design for this market but “do not understand the rural customer”.



Frontier Markets’ solar-powered torches bring light and a potential revenue stream to remote villages

The award-winning Frontier Markets collaborates with consumers and local entrepreneurs on solutions that put the customer first. Its solar torch, designed by and for rural women, is one example. Women living in rural India are disproportionately affected by the negative effects of limited access to energy and have fewer income-generating opportunities. They can use the torches for personal use or be trained to sell them. The torch costs less than $20 and is more efficient than market alternatives that use lead-acid batteries. Currently, Frontier Markets works across 22 districts in Rajasthan with a network of 1,000 women entrepreneurs.

Banka BioLoo

In response to India’s often-limited sanitation facilities – with 626 million people practicing open defecation – Banka BioLoo was born. The brainchild of Namita Banka, the company’s chief executive and founder, bioloos tackle the lack of secure, dignified and eco-friendly places to go to the toilet in some areas of India.


The bioloos treat human waste with bacterial cultures, meaning off-site disposal and treatment of excrement is not required. As a result, transport of human waste is eliminated, reducing pollution. And, because the bioloos are found in 20 states across India, in everything from trains and schools to communities and hospitals, more people can safely use the toilet, decreasing instances of open defecation.


Sanjay Banka, a director at Banka BioLoo, says: “Women benefit more as their security, health and dignity is enhanced. [There’s a] reduction in mortality and morbidity due to water-borne diseases. School attendance has increased, and dropouts have decreased, more so for girl students.”


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