More with Less

I just watched an interesting TED talk by Navi Radjou. It’s a great talk and he covers a lot of interesting topics, mostly focusing on how the global south is innovating in ways that the north doesn’t yet understand. He calls this ‘frugal innovation’. For example, in many parts of Africa, people are bypassing telephony infrastructure and focusing on cheap mobile coverage. People are using micro-credits to purchase solar panels and not waiting for a state grid to materialise. People in France are using a mobile phone money transfer system in order to avoid exorbitant bank fees.

One thing he said that really struck me, and which I think about a lot, is that we in the west/north are always trying to get more with more, rather than more with less. We queue and pay for the latest gadget that does everything we need and a whole bunch of shit we don’t. We have become so focused on all that shit we don’t need, that we’ve forgotten what it is we do need.

This is especially true with real estate. Whenever I’m in Sydney and I see all these new luxury apartments going up I always think – but what about me? What about people who earn under $50k a year? I don’t want marble benchtops, Italian fittings, stunning city views and stainless steel appliances. I want 2 bedrooms, a kitchen, a loungeroom and a balcony at an affordable price. Job done.

Meanwhile, in America, tens of thousands of people don’t have a bank account, because there isn’t one that meets their needs. We’re so busy catering to the middle and upper echelons of society, that no one is supplying the needs of the poor majority*. Seems like we (by ‘we’ I mean the capitalists and innovators of the world) are missing out on a massive and potentially lucrative market.

*Actually, I realise that Radjou’s point is that these needs are being met, by the people themselves. They’re not sitting around waiting for Silicon Valley to find the next great thing. They’re working hard to find the next elegant solution.

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Nat Newman

Nat Newman is an award-winning writer of short stories, content, podcasts, feature articles, drunk text messages and, soon, a novella.


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