What are frugal innovations?

Turning constraints into advantages: Frugal innovations essential in environments of necessity

Office of Innovation
Man and child using tippy tap
21 October 2020

Frugal innovations essential in environments of necessity

Saving preterm lives through skin-to skin contact and cloth wrapping in resource-constrained parts of Tanzania to address the lack of incubators. Preventing diseases and promoting hand-washing in Darfur through simple, hands-free hand washing devices made with low-cost salvaged materials. Improving water quality and curbing the spreading of water-borne disease through clay water filters in Cambodia.

As diverse as these ideas are, they all have one prominent feature in common: they are all frugal innovations.

The environments in which UNICEF works demand that constraints be turned into advantages, making frugal innovations not only necessary, but also invaluable. Frugal innovations are simple products or services often born out of necessity and lack of resources, built by the people who need them the most with locally sourced materials.

Frugal innovations also tend to use fewer resources than alternative products or services, and do so in a sustainable manner. Their cost is also minimal – for both production, as well as final cost to consumers – their impact is better than alternatives’ and they can be easily adopted, adapted and scaled up by people without the need of special expertise, equipment or additional support.

A baby in Uganda in a kangaroo mother care wrap provided by UNICEF

UNICEF well-placed to convene and collaborate

Along with partner agencies such as UNDP and UNCHR – each of which is contributing to the field of frugal innovations from their unique angle in areas such as climate change or refugee-led social enterprises - UNICEF is well-placed to convene and collaborate to source, validate and support the scale of frugal innovations in meaningful ways.