Should we change our relationship with developing countries?

Jordi Granés Puig - Nowadays the occidental societies look at developing countries thinking that they don't know what is good for them. As a consequence, developed countries are trying to impose their technologies and solutions to the developing countries. But are these the best solutions?


The 4th chapter is about frugal innovations which would be convenient to define: “Frugal innovation is the process of reducing the complexity and cost of a good and its production, usually this refers to removing nonessential features from a durable good in order to sell it in developing countries”. Therefore, because frugal innovations don’t use to generate enough benefits to be worthy for the companies, the main stakeholders of frugal innovations are NGOs and developing countries governments. Despite being applied in developing countries, most frugal innovations use to be designed in rich countries. But should it be that way?

Developed countries, or at least their population, are prone to watch the developing countries in some kind of paternalistic approach. As an example, if an occidental person sees the image above, he would probably say “Oh! That bike should not wear that much weigh. That man needs a car or a van to carry these ducks”. That reaction is natural but completely wrong and is very useful to illustrate the way we think about the developing countries. Of course the first part of the statement is correct, that bike should not wear that much weigh, but the problem is the second one, concretely in one word need. As a highly developed society we think that we know which the solution for the problems on developing countries is, and this is a mistake that even companies commit. The success of a product depends on the culture and the environment. What can be a great solution to a problem in the Netherlands, can prove useless in solving the same problem in India.

Some NGOs and companies that do frugal innovations have failed in their projects because of that. As an example, the Tata Nano was designed to be the cheapest car on earth, which would allow the Indian medium class to have a car instead of a motorcycle. The occidental collaborators of Tata motors thought that it would be interesting for a medium class Indian to have a car instead of a bike because it would be safer and would allow him to carry more baggage. Actually, the project had a tepid reception because anyone wanted to be seen driving the cheapest car in the world which, in addition, had little advantages compared to the motorcycle in a country where the traffic jams are constant. The product failed because they didn’t considered both factors, the environment and the culture.

Tata Nano is not the first frugal innovation project that fails for the same reason, so as a conclusion I think that the only way to succeed in frugal innovations is to change the approach to the problem, giving more importance to the consumers and their environment. An iphone is not a good way to communicate two tribes in Togo in the same way that a washing machine will not be useful in Afganistan. Going one step further we could extrapolate that solution, to abandon the paternalist approach, to the relation between developed and developing countries. If we stop watching these countries like if they were kids that don’t know what is good for them and allow them to find their own way, they will start developing their own solutions which will be way useful than ours. Developing countries are different societies that may have completely different needs and solutions to their problems. Let’s assume it, we don’t know everything.