Frugal Innovation

Charles Leadbeater on Frugal Innovation: (H/T: Martin SW) Leadbeater looks at the developing world and thinks about how innovation happened in that context. Using that as an inspiration he looks into how we can import those ideas into the developed world. I have yet to read the book but I am keen to understand whether this is actually possible and if so, what is the mechanism for that. This is similar to the idea of Reverse Innovation suggested by Govindarajan and Trimble for the private sector.

If you look at these models and others including what BRAC is doing in Bangladesh with maternal health, what Jacaranda Health is doing in communities in Kenya, or Medicall Home in Mexico or the Family Health Programme in Brazil, they all have similar elements, including:

They change the place where health takes place. — Health does not take place primarily in hospitals, doctors clinics, GP surgeries, medical centres, but in homes, communities and workplaces.

They change the kind of technologies that are used. — There is an entirely new wave of frugal, low-cost, simple, robust, portable and possibly reusable technologies which are being developed often in collaboration between the developed and developing worlds to help people on location treat conditions or symptoms. A very simple one, Monash University in Australia is developing a nasal inhaler for oxytocin, which is crucial for mothers who are bleeding just after giving birth. Traditionally it’s an injection, but for that you need a needle, a syringe and you need a fridge, none of which a mother will have in rural Kenya. But an inhaler would work.

They change who does the work. — They’re doing as little with high-cost doctors as they can and doing as much as possible with peers, nurses, community nurses and through self-help.

They change the nature of health. — What they’re doing in these types of schemes is creating health together, not delivering it. They’re enabling people to create it and make it, rather than thinking that it’s something that comes from professionals.

Finally, they change how health is paid for. — Financial innovation is a crucial part of it. Either through cooperative models or through vouchers or through per capita spending, these innovators are changing how and by who health is paid for. They’re delivering help to the home, through those in the home. They are creating the best mix of truly modern systems, which are networked and distributed, and very old systems, which focus on families.

Motivation and mutual support are the most powerful kinds of medicine. That is the DNA of these schemes. If we want to meet the challenges we face we will need to import these models.


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