FORE International Conference on “Frugal approach to Innovation” 2019 is the eighth conference of the annual international conference series hosted by FORE School of Management at New Delhi, India. This conference, a first of its kind in India, has the vision to present India’s competence around the frugal approach to innovation. Situated in New Delhi, this conference is well poised to symbolically represent India’s soft power. The conference acknowledges the fact that frugal innovation may not be discussed unless we bring together the practitioners (who are presently doing it, as well as, those who may be inspired to do it), policymakers (who can provide impetus for developing the required ecosystem) and academicians (who will study and disseminate the knowledge around this approach). Thus we have two parallel academic and practitioner tracks so that practice can inform theory as well as vice versa. We also provide a platform where the policymakers, practitioners, and academicians would have a meaningful and systematic dialogue through a panel discussion. Thus, this conference is an effort to look for answers and push forward the research in the field of frugal innovation.
Taxonomical interpretations of “frugal innovation” are being discussed (Bhatti, 2012; Brem & Wolfram, 2014; Hossain, 2018; Weyrauch & Herstatt, 2017) in order to distinguish it from and also relate it to “reverse innovation” (Lee & McNamee, 2014), “jugaad innovation” (Radjou, Prabhu, & Ahuja, 2012), “constraint-based innovation” (Agarwal, Grottke, Mishra, & Brem, 2016) etc. Particularly, in the resource-constrained environment (Liu & Wei, 2018), the term is often related to doing more and better with less (Radjou & Euchner, 2016) for many (Bhatti, 2014). Thus researchers note the cultural roots of frugal approach to innovation in emerging economies, especially in India (Grover, Caulfield, & Roehrich, 2014). Particularly in the case of frugal innovation, researchers have emphasized the inclusiveness dimension (Prabhu & Jain, 2015). Thus this term is often used in the context of people at “Bottom of Pyramid” (BoP) (Chliova & Ringov, 2017).
However, over time the usage of this approach is cutting across boundaries of geographies (Zeschky, Widenmayer, & Gassmann, 2011), or industries (Prabhu, 2017). It also transcends the dichotomies of developed-developing nations (Tiwari, Fischer, & Kalogerakis, 2017), top-down or bottom-up approach (Leliveld & Knorringa, 2018), or intentional-unintentional application (van Beers, Knorringa, & Leliveld, 2012). The reason for this could be evident in the economic conditions of the markets. As price increasingly becomes a differentiator for firms, the suppliers end up being under pressure to be more frugal (Fishman, 2006). Similarly, in emerging markets, affordability is an important new product requirement by customers (Agarwal, Brem, & Grottke, 2018). Such conditions may create a cycle of miserliness. As a result, the firms may try to cut down the cost on some employee amenities (Cascio, 2006). These quick-fix approaches, however, may not be sustainable in the long run. Thus firms are realizing the need for alternatives by embedding the frugal approach in employee mindset, organizational processes, outcomes, or business models (Soni & T. Krishnan, 2014).
As the natural resources are depleting at a fast pace, organisations (like Unilever, TATA, GE, Nokia, etc) are already taking up “frugal innovation” as a challenge and employing “cutting edge technologies” (George, Schillebeeckx, & Liak, 2015; Rao, 2013) in order to contribute towards these SDGs. Thus, the frugal approach to innovation can act as an impetus for developing novel dynamic capabilities for organizations (Grover et al., 2014). Another reason for increased attention towards frugal innovation may be because of its perceived relevance towards the United Nation’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) 2030. However, a systematic review of research on these two fields points to the need for better “understanding of challenges, barriers and strategies” for embedding a frugal approach to innovation to contribute to SDGs (Rosca, Reedy, & Bendul, 2018).
Although India is supposed to be a key benefactor of the frugal approach to innovation, not much has been done to study it systematically. For instance, promotion and consumption of innovation in India have contextual challenges that need to be studied through a cultural lens (Nair, Guldiken, Fainshmidt, & Pezeshkan, 2015). However, the route to systematization would involve bridging the formal and informal dichotomy (Kumar & Bhaduri, 2014). As pointed out by Kaur (2016), frugal innovation needs to be studied as socio-economic mobility of aam aadmi (common man) through the use of technology. This way researchers may study the diffusion of changing trends in population with the rapid developments in digital technologies (Leliveld & Knorringa, 2018).
In a country that is full of challenges, frugal innovation may hold the key to issues like rapid urbanization, slow industrial growth, the pressure on healthcare and educational infrastructure, as well as poor access to basic amenities like drinking water, clean air, and sanitation. However, there are polarizing views on use of frugal innovation to achieve development (Knorringa, Peša, Leliveld, & Van Beers, 2016). There are open questions that need to be explored, like, how can India harvest its “native knowledge and ingenuity” (Soni & T. Krishnan, 2014) to create frugal solutions? Can we attempt to unravel the process of frugal innovation (as by Rao, 2013) further by taking novel cases? Can frugal innovations propel the economic growth (“Frugal innovations seminar | DWIH.IN,” n.d.)? How can we set the pace for a frugal economy with cohesive application across sectors (Prabhu, 2017) and identify its drivers and consequences (Liu & Wei, 2018)? Can the digital platform based frugal solutions (Ahuja & Chan, 2016) provide emerging economies with an opportunity to play on its strengths? How can frugal innovations strengthen the “circular economy” movement (Agarwal & Brem, 2017)? How can frugality be embedded into policymaking (Bhaduri, Sinha, & Knorringa, 2018) for social inclusion (Tiwari & De Waal, 2018) and larger good? As an outcome, can frugal approach to innovation help us find solutions to the vexing problems and set a tone for a sustainable future of this planet?
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