When entrepreneurs and experts talk about startup ecosystems in the region, they tend to paint a grim picture of the situation. You’ll often hear complaints about poor banking systems, a lack of startup capital in the region, outdated infrastructure etc. For many young Arabs, starting a business in the MENA region is a daunting idea, because it can be a complex process fraught with endless hardship. So, they dream of moving to the West or the GCC to find a better life. In 2010, the Silatech Index: Voices of Young Arabs stated that 26% of young people surveyed across the Arab world expressed a desire to permanently migrate to another country, if they had the opportunity. The report also indicated that the “most dynamic young people are also the ones most likely to express a desire to migrate” a reality that could profoundly impact Arab “countries’ ability to innovate and compete in the global marketplace.”

So, how can we promote entrepreneurship in underdeveloped economies with “lethargic” growth rates? It’s simple: creativity. Navi Radjou, an innovation and leadership advisor based in Silicon Valley, discussed the importance of learning how to do more with less. A concept he defined as frugal innovation or “frugalation.” So maybe the “developing economies” of the Arab world aren’t at a disadvantage after all, because we have countless opportunities to establish “street-labs” to produce frugalations, which are often more relevant and cost-effective. Not only are frugalations more affordable, they are also environmentally-friendly, which means that developing Arab nations can create new markets that are both sustainable and relevant. In this day and age, Arab entrepreneurs have a unique opportunity to take their “nascent” markets and industries and turn them into ventures that preserve the environment and natural resources, while promoting economic prosperity. So what is a frugalation? Here are 3 examples of frugal innovations from India, Peru and Bangladesh:

1) Mitti Cool Refridgerators (India)


A devastating earthquake that destroyed thousands of homes in Gujarat, India in 2001, led
Mansukhbhai Prajapati, a local craftsman, to come up with an innovative idea to help his community. In 2005, after 4 years of testing, Prajapati invented a refrigerator made out of clay that could keep food cool without needing electricity. Prajapati’s unique MittiCool Refrigerators are made of special terracotta clay and use a water cooling system that can keep food cool for up to five days. Not only is Prajapati’s invention environmentally-friendly, it is also affordable to the masses, who can buy it for 3,400 rupees or 50USD. In addition to his refrigerator, Prajapti has been able to develop several other products, as a result of his growing entrepreneurial success. Click here to learn more about Prajapti’s inspiring journey from local craftsmen to region-wide business success.


2) Potable Water-Producing Advertising Billboard (Peru)Picture_14

In an effort to inspire more young people to pursue a career in engineering, the University of Engineering and Technology Peru and their ad agency the Mayo DraftFCB teamed up to solve a problem that many inhabitants in Lima, the capital, suffer from: lack of running water. With extremely dry climates and an annual precipitation of less than 1 inch, many people in Lima are forced to get water from wells that are often polluted. Interestingly, although Lima receives very little rain, it has an atmospheric humidity of approximately 98%. With this all of this in mind, the University of Engineering and Technology in Peru and the Mayo DrafctFCB combined their talents and came up with the first billboard in the world that produces drinking water out of air! Through a process of reverse osmosis, the billboard captures air humidity, condenses and purifies the water, which is then channeled into 20 liters tanks. In only 3 months, the billboard has produced 9,450 liters of water. Thus providing hundreds of Peruvian families with clean water. Click here to learn more about how this unique invention is transforming the lives of Lima’s inhabitants.

3) Grameen-Danone Factory (Bangladesh)

This unique factory in Bogra, Bangladesh was the brainchild of Franck Riboud, CEO of Danone Groupe and Mohammad Yunus, Nobel prize winning economist and founder of Bangladesh’s Grameen bank. The objective of this partnership was to fight malnutrition and provide more job opportunities to Bangladesh, one of the poorest countries in the world. The factory followed 4 simple principles:

  • Produce a culturally relevant product: the factory produced Shokti Doi, a vitamin-rich yoghurt, which would provide various nutrients that are missing in the Bangladeshi diet.
  • Minimize overhead costs: a minimal number of automatic devices were purchased to limit the initial overhead costs and the long-term maintenance fees.
  • Maximize job opportunities: the lack of automation in the factory increased the number of job opportunities available for local laborers.
  • Reduce environmental impact: by reducing the amount of machines and electricity required, the factory was also able to limit its carbon foot print and overall environmental impact.

By following these simple principles and combining their wealth, skills and expertise, the Grameen-Danone factory has been able to do amazing things for the people of Bangladesh. Click here to learn more about Grameen-Danone efforts.

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