Frugal Innovation Forum

April 2, 2015

Frugal innovation – the secret to scaling sustainably

In the changing landscape of development, long standing boundaries between non-profit and for profit models are merging while social enterprises are emerging. Even the most generous aid models are not enough to provide basic services to the 1.2 billion poor people living in middle income countries. In this context, the third Frugal Innovation Forum hosted by the BRAC Social Innovation Lab explored how we can serve millions in a sustainable manner. Under the theme ‘pushing the boundaries of development’, several speakers from the development sector, multinational corporations and social enterprises expressed that we need frugal innovations that can create more impact with less resources and institutions that can scale sustainably.
February 8, 2015

Can old development models serve the new bottom billion?

The sprawling and growing skyline of Ho Chi Minh City, the biggest city in Vietnam, is quite breath-taking. But do you notice anything else in the picture? Look across the river to the left and you will see a dark area, which is a slum. Welcome to the reality of middle-income countries- where a small percentage of the population enjoy the luxury that comes with economic growth but the rest are left behind. In this changing context, BRAC’s Frugal Innovation Forum 2015 poses the pressing question- Is the development sector up to date to tackle the emerging needs of the new bottom billion?
April 8, 2014

Scaling Digitally: Does scaling technology have to mean losing the human touch?

BRAC wrapped up the second Frugal Innovation Forum amid much excitement about the possibility for new ideas and partnerships. Over 150 people representing 16 countries spent their weekend at BRAC’s scenic conference centre in Savar, learning from each other, sharing traffic jam-induced epiphanies, and bonding over tea, cricket and karaoke.
March 19, 2014

Explore scaling digitally with us!

There is a lot of optimism and speculation about how mobile money can improve the lives of the poor. For BRAC, the success of an intervention is judged not only by its impact, but whether it can be scaled nationally. In order to do that, initiatives have to be frugal—which is why frugal innovation is at the heart of BRAC’s culture. If we didn’t keep our costs low, we wouldn’t be able to impact 120 million people. With the importance of this in mind, the social innovation lab has made hosting Frugal Innovation Forums an annual event.
January 28, 2014

The decidedly not flat world of data

Last week I wrote about mobile phones and the potential for unbanked and poor households to benefit from digital financial services, as an introduction to topics that we’ll explore on Day 1 in the upcoming Frugal Innovation Forum: Scaling Digitally.  Day 2 will bring yet another exciting and urgent topic—data.  
January 22, 2014

2014: time to scale digitally

As if that’s not enough, there will be substantial growth in the number of people online. Google is hoping to create access for 50 million women in India alone. Most of this won’t be through computers. The “one laptop per child” mantra has given way to a “one affordable, probably made-in-china smart phone per child” approach.
July 30, 2013

Innovation ecosystem in South Asia: A new interactive map

We live in an innovation obsessed world. Organisations across sectors have made innovating an explicit priority. Many are devising deliberate strategies to foster innovation. In 2012, BRAC, the world’s largest NGO, developed the Social Innovation Lab for this purpose. We step out from the researcher’s cubicle and explore innovations happening on the frontlines.
April 2, 2013

Frugal Innovation Forum Day 2: Ambition without borders

A week before the Frugal Innovation Forum, I came across the Ted Talk by Dan Palotta that criticized development for rewarding frugality (i.e. low rates of overhead) instead of ambition and big ideas. This is one reason why, in his opinion, progress has been slow to find solutions to address social issues.
March 31, 2013

Frugal Innovation Forum—DAY 1

Day 1 of our Frugal Innovation Forum sought out best practices from diverse organizations—from Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan to Myanmar and Sri Lanka—grounded in developing human capital, organizing communities, and engaging civic action. While common rhetoric around innovation tends to stress technology advances, Asif Saleh, BRAC’s Senior Director, Strategy, Communications, and Capacity, stressed that "this innovation is not about products, but is a constant process in the organization focused on impact.”
March 24, 2013

Questioning the unquestionable: are innovation and scale good things? On twitter this week

It may surprise you to learn that BRAC’s Social Innovation Lab team is actually incredibly sceptical about the importance of innovation.  More than once, my colleagues have asked if we could change our name to something that didn’t put innovation up on a pedestal.  “Social Innovation, Improvisation, and Improvement Lab” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, unfortunately.   From my perspective, this questioning is important—it keeps us grounded in terms of the limitations of the tools we can offer to the problems posed to us.
February 5, 2013

Let’s make stone soup: Introducing BRAC’s Frugal Innovation Forum

As a child, I was fed a healthy supply of fairy tales and fables. One of my favorites was that of “stone soup.” In the version I know, it’s about a community facing extremely harsh times during a war. Food was in short supply, and hope even shorter. A hungry traveller came to town and in the village center, put a big pot with water and a stone on a fire. Curious villagers came and asked what he was doing. “Making a tasty stone soup!” he would explain.