Funding Frugal Innovation in Global Health: Philanthropy, Aid, and Industry

  • Rebekah NealEmail author


Fail early, fail often, and fail forward. Reduce complexity. Do more with less. Frugal innovation. Frugal engineering. These phrases, and the ideas they encapsulate, are hot topics that may have begun life as mantras in Silicon Valley but now span multiple arenas, including engineering, biomedicine, and global health and development. The term frugal innovation was coined by Carlos Ghosn, chairman and CEO of Renault and Nissan, in 2006, 10 years prior to the publication of this edited book. It seems he intended the term to mean how to do more with less: produce products that are good enough at a fraction of the cost, presumably through less expensive components and less costly research and development (R&D) infrastructure. The cost saving in R&D then allows for the products to sell to end consumers for less, expanding potential markets. This concept plays particularly well in the developing world. For example, in India, where the concept of frugal innovation is called jugaad, we have illustrations of the concept from Ghosn’s Renault-Nissan in the newly released Renault Kwid [1], a base-model sedan developed and made in India that sells for less than $5000, as well as General Electrics (GE) portable electrocardiogram (ECG) [2] and Manu Prakash’s origami microscope, the foldscope [3], all cheaper, more portable versions of the original products. These examples of doing more with less in the auto, medtech, and instrumentation industries are just a few; many companies have embraced the idea of frugal engineering to try to attract consumers and provide products and services in markets not previously considered profitable. But to save and improve lives in the Global South, doing more with less does not just mean making simpler, cheaper versions of existing solutions. It must mean doing what Renault-Nissan is attempting with the Kwid and Prakash with the foldscope: developing solutions with direct relevance to consumers in a particular country with mostly local materials as well as providing the ability to maintain and repair the technology with local expertise and parts. The jury is still out on how the Renault Kwid will do in India, but many of the right ingredients went into the design, development, and manufacture to give hope for success.


Frugal innovation Impact assessment Philanthropy Global Health 



This book chapter was prepared by Rebekah A. Neal in her personal capacity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Notes and References

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  3. 3.
    For a description of the foldscope, please see: Cybulski, J.S., Clements, J., Prakash, M.: Foldscope: origami-based paper microscope. PLoS One 9(6), e98781 (2014). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0098781. For additional information, visit the foldscope website at or join the foldscope community at
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Bill & Melinda Gates FoundationSeattleUSA

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