Frugal Innovations for Global Health – Perspectives for Students

By Subhamoy Mandal

NOTE: This is an overview of the entire article, which appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of Pulse magazine.
Click here to read the entire article.

In this article, Dr. Mandal explains the term Frugal Innovations and encourages students worldwide to embrace global health challenges through innovative projects aimed at solving real-world problems.

Many biomedical innovations have materialized from emerging economies rather than from richly funded laboratories of developed nations. Mandal has been involved for several years in developing technologies for the base of the pyramid (BOP), a concept that describes individuals living below a given income or spending threshold. He believes that one of the primary factors fueling the innovative spirit has been the percolation of education and information to the lowest strata of the society. The student community, especially young people in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs, university students, and young professionals are crucial in bringing about change.

Another important factor has been the continual efforts by universities and several corporations to become involved in reshaping neighborhoods (often technically termed the field practice area). The Manipol BOP program in the southern India state of Karnataka, along with corporations such as Phillip and Texas Instruments, the Dell Social Innovation Challenge, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, are all having a significant impact in reshaping global health in niche ecosystems.

One example of a frugal innovation involves two anesthesiologists from the United Kingdom who, in their garage, developed the Shakerscope, a light source for clinical examination of the eye, ear, and throat. It uses the basic principles of electromagnetic induction and generates power in a coil by moving a magnet across it. Shaking the device for 30 seconds can generate enough electricity to power the light up to 3 minutes. The device helped alleviate a problem that is prevalent throughout most of the developing world: lack of a constant power source.

The article explains that the emergence of frugal innovation reduces the need for sophisticated labs and instead relies on clever brainstorming and a better grasp of basic engineering skills. With the help of several IEEE initiatives, students are given a platform on which they can showcase their ideas and solutions with the hope of gaining suitable funding opportunities.

Mandal believes that students “have an open world of opportunities lying ahead.”

For more information about Frugal Innovation, check out this CNN slideshow. The Engineering for Change website offers opportunities for students and all interested persons to collaborate in solving challenges to improve the quality of life around the world.


Subhamoy Mandal is a DAAD Ph.D. scholar at the Institute of Biological and Medical Imaging at Helmholtz Zentrüm München and Technische Universitüt München