How Can Non-Profit Organisations Work Better With Less: Sustainable Development in the Post-COVID Era

A large population’s experience alters based on how a few around the world treat nature.

With an unprecedented economic dynamism, India stands at the threshold of profound choices about the path to future development. If it continues, the country’s economic growth trend, which averaged 7.4% a year in the last decade, will lead it to become the fourth-largest economy in the world in about two decades. [1]

But, with striking changes, fast-paced innovation and linear models of manufacturing, we are slowly treading towards a time in the future with lack of natural resources, multi-pollutant crises and normalcy in pandemics that will unbiasedly affect every stratum of the society just like the current global pandemic.  

We all know how the COVID-19 crisis has impacted lives, halted businesses and functioning of several entities, more so, instilled a kind of uncertainty and fear among the masses who have had to forgo their income, health and mental peace. We’re now wondering, How can we make-do with limited resources?

Here come frugal innovation and circular economy

In 2016, Ellen MacArthur Foundation published a report on Circular Economy in India – The research cited that a circular economy trajectory could bring India annual benefits of ₹40 lakh crore (USD 624 billion) in 2050, and would, in addition, reduce negative externalities. Greenhouse gas emissions, for example, would be 44% lower in 2050 compared to the current development path. It further mentioned, implementing the circular economy, one that is restorative and regenerative by design could make more effective use of materials and energy in a digitally enabled model of development.

What is frugal innovation?

Frugal innovation is about delivering more value at lower costs to more people. It is frugal because you need to adopt a mindset of simplicity and extremely low cost without sacrificing the quality of the user experience. It is about stripping away the extras and delivering simple, hardy and less resource-intensive products of good quality. [2]

Why Frugal Innovation?

With some incredible frugal innovations in India such as the no electricity refrigerator by Mitti Cool or the decentralised manufacturing of face shields for COVID-19 by Maker’s Asylum, it is safe to say that Indians have pioneered frugal innovation. 

Recently in a webinar, Navi Radjou, an innovation consultant and author of multiple books on jugaad/ frugal innovation, argued that Indians can fully leverage this frugal mindset to overcome the deep recession that India will be going through in the next two years to sustain the country’s economy amidst the pandemic. He said that this is a historic opportunity for India to build a new and better economy that is inclusive and more sustainable, a frugal economy, that promotes ‘doing better with less’.

Frugal innovation can help meet customer needs for quality, simplicity, affordability, and sustainability. Green products need to be sustainably sourced and easily recycled. Governments are also tightening regulations on carbon emissions for vehicles and factories, Rao. [3]

According to the author, the core pillars of frugal innovation are:

Pillars of frugal innovation

  1. B2B/B2C Sharing – This highlights the sharing economy. With a whopping 1.3 billion population, India is evolving to be a huge contributor in creating shared marketplaces, co-working, co-living, sharing assets, networks and resources with other organisations and companies through the internet, collaborations and partnerships
  2. Decentralised production – As mass production is leading towards depletion of resources and generating excessive waste, building smaller, eco-friendly and agile micro-factories by scaling out will help create a distributed and decentralized industrial model (manufacturing). This will better meet local needs, seeing that India has a huge cultural and economical diversity and give rise to job-makers than job-seekers.
  3. Regeneration – Organisations should partake in the inclusive, restorative and regenerative economy rather than the extractive economy. The author suggests practising cradle to cradle design for products along with the principles of Rs – reuse, recycle, reduce. Regeneration also involves upcycling products, regenerating natural systems and making supply chains sustainable.

As I learnt more about the core principles and pillars of frugal innovation, I realised that frugal innovation doesn’t stop at big for-profit companies trying to cut costs or create impact.  It hit home when I realised that a non-profit like Khamir, with whom I served as an AIF Clinton Fellow, can also fit as an ideal example that adopted frugal innovation since its inception. 

Khamir is a crafts-based organisation in Kutch that works to promote and preserve traditional crafts value chains. Khamir works to nurture local resources – indigenous raw materials, traditional skills and artisan capacities to strengthen the crafts economy.

  1. B2B/B2C Sharing
    Khamir works as a platform for artists, designers, students, crafts enthusiasts and craftspeople. They work as facilitators to promote an efficient and smooth relationship between all the stakeholders. Through this platform, Khamir has been successfully able to foster meaningful innovations in the field of crafts. Khamir not only shares assets, resources and networks with other local organisations in Kutch but also works as an offline marketplace to bridge the gap between remote craft communities and designers/ craft enthusiasts from across the globe.
    Through the strong network amongst the civil society organisations in Kachchh, they have been able to create a robust Collective called the Kutch Craft Collective where all crafts organisations in Kutch region share knowledge, resources and work on problems together.
  2. Decentralised production
    As a crafts organisation that also works as a bridge between the artisans and the markets, it would have been rather easy for Khamir to create a factory-type set-up and oversee production under one roof but this does not resonate with the values of Khamir. They believe in working with artisans as independent job-makers who in return create employment opportunities in their local communities and areas. Artisans have been working from home for centuries and Khamir believes in continuing with the tradition, for this way, they are able to impart the teachings of creating crafts to the next generation. Today many young women artisans are making a mark in the crafts sector because of the ease of working from home. Moreover, through this, Khamir has been able to propagate the use of natural and local resources in the crafts value chains. This also affects as a psychological factor – since all the local communities such as the farmers, pastoralists, dyers, spinners, weavers, embroiders, etc. stay in proximity, they are more likely to support each other by using each others’ services, raw materials and understanding their hardships to co-create solutions. This has resulted in a cohesive resilient ecosystem in Kutch where the farmers produce organic cotton and wood, pastoralists produce indigenous wool and artisans use these raw materials in the production of their crafts thus, reducing dependency on fluctuating markets and uncertain logistical issues while preserving the local ecology and environment by nurturing local ecosystems.
  3. Regeneration
    As globalisation hit India, jobs of many stakeholders in the crafts value chains started getting replaced by cheaper available materials and products such as imported wool, acrylic and synthetic yarns, machine-made clothes and goods. This severely affected and disrupted the local crafts economy. Artisans lost their most loyal customers and farmers lost their most valuable buyers.
Kala cotton weaving
Kala cotton weaving, Photo source: Khamir

That’s when Khamir realised that a change in the system is required and after their research, they began with the organic Kala cotton initiative and indigenous leather initiative to promote local raw materials and sustain indigenous livelihoods. 

Later, seeing the rising plastic pollution in Kutch, Khamir initiated the upcycling plastic initiative to reduce and reuse plastic waste accumulated in dump yards, giving new life to it by creating exquisite handwoven products such as bags, pouches, covers, etc. Khamir is one of the foremost organisations in India to start upcycled-weaving of plastic.

Upcycled Plastic Weaving
Upcycled plastic weaving, photo by Shinjini Kotia

 Recently, Khamir initiated a flagship project on indigenous wool to sustain the local sheep population and local wool economy of Kutch. As opposed to synthetic dyeing, Khamir only uses natural, vegetable dyes for all their textile crafts.

Today Khamir works with 360 artisan units and 1060 artisans on 17 textile and hard material crafts in Kutch to serve local, national and international patrons of handicrafts.

Frugal innovation is much more than designing a cheaper version of an existing product. It requires a whole new mindset, delving deep to understand the real needs of bottom-of-the-pyramid consumers, finding voids that can be turned into opportunities, and revisiting the way the company is organized and how it delivers its products or offerings on a vast scale. [4]

Frugal innovation is all about creating functional and conscious products without compromising on the quality of the product, the life of the maker, and the environment.


Citations:

[1] Foundation, Ellen MacArthur. Economic Growth In India – Transforming To A Circular Economy, sites.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/india.

[2] Mahmood, Ishtiaq Pasha, et al. “Frugal Innovation: Creating and Capturingvalue in Emerging Markets.” IMD Business School, 30 July 2018, www.imd.org/research-knowledge/articles/frugal-innovation-creating-and-capturing-value-in-emerging-markets/.

[3] Rao, Madanmohan. “The Six Principles of Frugal Innovation – and Why India Can Be a Trendsetting Practitioner and Thought-Leader in This Space.” YourStory.com, 17 May 2019, yourstory.com/2019/05/frugal-innovation-navi-radjou-jaideep-prabhu.

[4]  Mahmood, Ishtiaq Pasha, et al. “Frugal Innovation: Creating and Capturingvalue in Emerging Markets.” IMD Business School, 30 July 2018, www.imd.org/research-knowledge/articles/frugal-innovation-creating-and-capturing-value-in-emerging-markets/.

Aishwarya is serving as an American India Foundation (AIF) Clinton Fellow with Khamir in Bhuj, Gujarat. For her Fellowship project, she is designing a unique range of craft products and publicity materials to support local artisans reach new markets, increase their income, and secure their livelihoods. Born and brought up in a small town, Aishwarya always questioned the increasing dichotomies between the developed and developing world. To channelize her curiosity for social impact, she decided to pursue her graduation in mass communication. During her undergrad, she participated in the YES Foundation Media for Social Change Fellowship to learn about the impact of social media in the development sector. She did an internship with the Indian Express as a journalist and photojournalist, where she covered issues ranging from mob lynching to climate change. A stint at TEDxGateway 2018 gave her an opportunity to work with inventors from around the world, learning aobut the power of storytelling as a medium for change. Aishwarya made a documentary on the Juvenile Justice Act 2015 to study the increase in juvenile crime rate and the discrepancies between the act and implementation. In 2018, Aishwarya participated in a 15-day entrepreneurial train journey across rural India to meet social change-makers who enlightened her about the balance between social impact and profitability. This experience also made Aishwarya look at her hometown in new light: she learned about problems related to declining tourism and waste management. She founded her own nonprofit, ARTC Foundation, to solve these issues. In her free time, she enjoys reading, travel, and photography. Aishwarya is honored to be serving as an AIF Clinton Fellow to expand her horizons in the development sector.

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