Many perceive South Asia as home to poverty, population explosion and disasters.However, this is only one side of the coin. The other side shows indomitable spirit of resilience that can be seen in grassroots communities across South Asia.
What are some of the most effective innovations taking place in South Asia, the region most vulnerable to climate change? What do we know about strengthening livelihoods, financial and social protections to increase resilience for the poorest? This post is the fourth in a series of blogs that will share BRAC’s lessons on building and scaling resilience to climate change.
The yearly Frugal Innovation Forum at BRAC brings together leading practitioners from the NGO, corporate and entrepreneurial sectors along with academics and policy makers. It has proven a great platform for debate and the sharing of best practice.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
The BRAC birthing kit is a small packet wrapped in plastic, about the size of a Pop-Tart, and it’s saving lives. This packet is an excellent example of jugaad, one of the buzzwords making the rounds in the business world.
Jugaad is a colloquial term in Hindi for an innovative fix or improvised solution – a frugal innovation.
Innovate frugally, scale up, and remain a learning organization: Those are the three lessons BRAC founder Sir Fazle Hasan Abed delivered to an audience at the World Affairs Council of Northern California last night, as part of a speaking tour sponsored by the Asia Foundation.
An interesting fact; more than half the world’s population – over three billion people – live on less than $2.50 a day. What this means is that three billion people are currently left out of the formal economy! Despite public and private efforts, many fundamental needs are unmet.