Inaugural Workshop Brief

Researching Frugality: Conceptual and Practical Issues, 23rd – 24th April 2022, TERI, TERI Gram, Haryana.

In the introductory session, Dr. Saradindu Bhaduri briefly described TRCFS and its purpose. He mentioned many keywords used in the frugal innovation research literature- simplicity, good enough, low cost, etc. He acknowledged the term “Frugality” used by Adam Smith and how “thrifting” and various words from other disciplinary backgrounds have been associated with frugality at various times. Prof. Peter Knorringa spoke on the topic “Researching Frugality: Conceptual and Practical Issues in the Netherlands and Europe”. He stated that frugal relates to simple, smart, thrifty, low-cost, functional and careful use of resources while emphasizing the importance of reducing over-engineering to reduce the cost of the products. He mentioned the role of diverse stakeholders-  individuals, communities, firms, NGOs or social enterprises.

Furthermore, he asked how one measure and values to make frugal innovations fruitful. Prof Sashindra Kumar Kakoty spoke on the topic “Complexities and Challenges in making a Frugal Innovation Ecosystem: Learnings from RuTAG experiences”. He started with an introduction to his life experience with rural technologies and gave examples from the Silk industry in Assam. He described a Bottom-up Frugal Innovation Ecosystem evolving in Rural Technology Action Group projects and emphasized “no patenting” to encourage public use of the technology. Dr. Abhay Deshpande spoke on “Accelerators for Cancer Therapy” with an introduction to Society for Applied Microwave Electronics Engineering and Research (SAMEER).

Furthermore, he pointed out the growing costs of cancer treatments in India from 2000 to 2015. As a solution, he proposed the use of indigenous therapy machines and the reduction of treatment costs. Subsequently, he projected future challenges for establishing norms, developing complete Indian radiotherapy machines with Indian stakeholders, and making this technology affordable. He finally questioned the nature of Indian technology and whether it should be cheap and need-based or should it have all the features but be expensive.

Some of the questions to the panel focused on regulatory aspects, IPR, scalability of frugal technologies such as Linac, contextualizing history and gender roles in innovation processes etc.

The “Frugality and Ethics” session explored and investigated the normative boundaries of frugality as an ideal, concept and practice. Some of the fundamental questions that the session addressed are-

What is the ethics of frugality? How do we develop frugality as an ethical value? What ethical relationship can we think of between frugality and grassroots innovations? How does a just society address and execute the ideal of frugality in different spheres of sociality? And, what kind of reasonable and balanced relationship can we think of between ethics of frugality on the one hand and law, regulation, innovation, and environment on the other?

The “Frugality and Governance” session discussed how frugal innovations, or frugality, are generally linked to and affected by institutional governance systems. Mr. Jayanta Kumar Sharma spoke on the traditional longsor and dong irrigation systems of Northeast India. Elaborating that these traditional innovative practices, which also include many traditional knowledge systems, are a sort of convergence of stakes and responsibilities of the people involved, where intimate relationship amongst the place, people, and processes is worth exploring. He emphasized local ownership, synergy with the physical environment, and mutual accountability. Dr. Abhijit Datey gave a detailed presentation about the urban housing policies and how it presents ‘frugality’ as a fundamental idea, especially in redevelopment /urban housing projects, where people turn to frugal ways to make up for the inadequacy of development projects in the first place. He explained how people express their craving for owning the space by using it in multiple ways in their day-to-day, incremental interventions. Dr. Shahana Chatteraj talked about the governance of informal economy or “Jugaad Governance” and the issue of how states govern cities where informal economy and jugaad solutions play a huge role. The informal economy is not a separate, non- accumulative ‘needs’ sector; the informal economy is part of the dynamic within the economy. She discussed the interaction between Design, Regulation, and Peoples’ daily lives. Session moderator, Dr. Manish, concluded that frugality has the potential to offer critiques to conventional governance structures and a potential to provide reforms that could be needed in the current structures as a means of much-needed social and political transformations.

Innovation requires substantial funds. However, frugal innovation financing in India has several challenges. The “Financing Frugal Innovation” session discussed those challenges and explored how to overcome the financial constraints.

The session “Regulating for Frugality” was moderated by Dr. Nupur Chowdhury, Center for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU, who opened the session with remarks on the regulation void for the frugal innovation. She floated several questions before the house, one being how the regulation void is never there in actual and existing regulations are implemented on the innovation. The first speaker Abhayraj Naik, Azim Premji University, talked about the 5 Ws for frugal innovation, i.e. who, what, when, where, and why we can place the frugal innovation. One of the keys of his presentation was the elements such as justice, equality etc. which are part of the various articles of the Indian constitution. In the following presentation, Ms. Gowree Gokhale, Nishith Desai Associates, discussed the different aspects of frugal innovation. The presentation included financing frugal innovations, the incentive mechanism and the platform where the general people could contribute to the frugal innovation ecosystem. She also raised several questions, one of them being whether there is a requirement of IPR for frugal innovation and what shape it could take. Prof. Javier Singh, Center for the Study of Law and Governance, JNU, talked about frugal innovation in general and, thereon, discussed several of the cases and described the case of the ICT platform to frugal innovation in detail. He later also juxtaposed the social aspect with the resource constraint aspects for frugal innovation. The final speaker of the day was Dr. Abhishek Shrivastava, Max Hospitals, New Delhi, who talked about frugal innovation in the context of spinal surgery in India. He first placed his understanding of frugality, which largely emanated from the book ‘Jugaad Innovation. Later he talked about how doctors can contribute to frugal innovation, the ecosystem of innovation in his area etc.