Conference Agenda

Overview and details of the sessions of this conference. Please select a date or location to show only sessions at that day or location. Please select a single session for detailed view (with abstracts and downloads if available).

Please note that all times are shown in the time zone of the conference. The current conference time is: 18th Jan 2022, 04:50:55am CET

External resources will be made available 60 min before a session starts. You may have to reload the page to access the resources.

Session Overview
5-SP065: Critically Examining Frugal Innovation
Wednesday, 07/July/2021:
11:00am - 12:15pm

Session Chair: Prof. Peter Knorringa, International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Netherlands, The
Session Chair: Elsie Onsongo, International Institute of Social Studies, Netherlands, The

Session Abstract

This seed panel seeks to provide a platform to present new (ideas for) research to critically examine the developmental impacts of frugal innovation. We invite scholars and practitioners to submit for example work in progress on assessing the quantity and quality of employment generated through frugal innovations, on the environmental impacts, on the role of solidarity in grass-root innovations and on the legitimacy of frugal innovations developed by local and international companies. Moreover, we also invite meso- and macro-level conceptual and empirical contributions that critically reflect upon accumulation trajectories, economic transformation, and the governance and political economy of frugal innovations.

EADI Working Group: Frugal Innovation and Development

Show help for 'Increase or decrease the abstract text size'

Frugal Innovation Should Be Convivial, or it won’t be… Towards a post-growth reframing of Innovation

Mario Pansera1, Andrea Jimenez2

1University of Bristol Dept of Economics, Finance and Management, United Kingdom; 2University of Sheffield

The feasibility and desirability of endless economic growth is being increasingly questioned by scholars and activists. While envisioning alternative economic models is key to assure the sustainability and wellbeing of present and future generations, few studies have analysed what might be the role of ‘innovation’ in a post-growth era. Innovating has become the imperative for the survival and expansion of any form of organisation. But this ‘innovate or die mania’ underpins assumptions – such as technological determinism and productivism - that neglect the socially constructed character of technological development, its politics and its capacity to enable just and equitable societies but also dystopian technocratic futures. Frugal Innovation, although often implicitly, embeds some of these assumptions. The frugal innovation literature rarely challenges the well-established belief for unlimited economic growth in a world with limited planetary boundaries. In this contribution, we begin by arguing that frugal innovation literature should be historically situated within the evolution of the ‘discourse of development’ from an approach based on state-driven interventions to a market-oriented logic that emphasises the role of innovation predominantly for economic development. As a result, a great deal of frugal innovation literature focuses on addressing the problem of poverty in the Global South and has thus been framed around neoliberal values, which has led to an uncritical embrace of the ideology of growth. To illustrate this issue, we then move to analyse three manifestations - three ‘tales’ - of this ideology in frugal innovation literature: the notion of scarcity, its politics and its causes; the actors, usually framed as single male heroic inventors; the ideology of technological fix, hence a de-politicised way of framing technology. Although complex and increasingly interdisciplinary, frugal innovation literature, it is argued, is still dominated in various ways by different conceptualisations of these three ‘tales’. The contribution’s aim is to discuss why these tales are problematic and to propose a research agenda to promote new directions in frugal innovation literature.

In this paper, we also posit that untangling frugal innovation from growth is key to imagining a post-growth era, both in the North and in the Global South. We introduce the notion of Convivial Technology and show how alternative bottom up initiatives, promoted by a variety of different organisational forms, have challenged mainstream ideas about innovation and growth. These experiments provide a glimpse about what ‘innovation without growth’ could mean in terms of technology and social organisation. We conclude by proposing new paths in research aimed at exploring under which conditions post-growth-oriented frugal innovation can flourish and diffuse.

To What Extent Can The Development And Delivery Of Frugal Innovation Reconcile Inclusive Development With Long Term Economic Growth?

Sanghamitra Chakravarty

International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands, The

Literature suggests that innovation in its current mainstream form creates further inequality. This paper explores under what conditions, frugal innovation, with its particular characteristics of inclusivity, reconciles with economic growth measured by performance of local firms. The paper argues, using empirical evidence from medical device manufacturing firms in South Africa, that a substantial role of local firms in the design and delivery of frugal innovations is important for inclusive growth. The initial discourse around frugal innovation and its impact on development has been dominated by the business management literature advocating a “win-win situation” where “poverty can be eradicated through profits” by multinational corporations serving unmet needs of the poorest consumers in developing countries. This approach has been questioned by an emerging body of critical thinking and development studies literature; and there are two assumptions which can be easily be challenged. First, that it ignores the innovation mismatch between the global north and south which is now well recognized, and the very basis of what we understand as frugal innovation. Countries in the north remain the dominant source of innovation. Given the wide difference in all aspects with the global south; be it GDP per capita, commonly occurring diseases, institutional context; and in general, overall development needs, products from high income countries need to be severely modified, may not be relevant or may be altogether absent. Even though multinational corporations from the global north differentiate their products to meet culturally specific markets (including through setting up R&D centers in developing countries), as a general rule these differentiations are minor variations of their core technologies tailored for their home markets. Traditionally, in the appropriate technology literature, the market for low income consumers was associated with small and medium locally owned firms. The second is the simplistic assumption that economic interest of multinational corporations coincides with the social interests of developing countries. One area of innovation mismatch, where the importance of frugal innovations is increasingly being recognized is in medical devises. Using case studies of five medical device firms in South Africa, the paper analyzes to what extent and under what conditions these firms show a convergence of social, technological and economic dimensions through the successful design and delivery of frugal innovations. South Africa provides a very interesting setting for exploration. In addition to inequality along racial lines, much of the country’s development challenge is linked to the entrenchment of poverty and diseases. More than eighty percent of its population is serviced by public healthcare delivery. As with other developing countries with scarce resources, governments find it difficult to balance the primary objectives of creating basic living conditions with the long-term economic development goals. The study refocuses on the importance of local firms as important actors in the frugal innovation paradigm and draws recognition to the fact that the relationship between frugal innovation and inclusive development is as much a factor of the innovation process as of the product.

Do Frugal Innovations Lead To Sustainability Outcomes? Initial Findings From A Systematic Literature Review

Valentina De Marchi2, Peter Knorringa1, Rachel Howell1, Michelle Verheij1

1EUR, Netherlands, The; 2Padua University, Italy

Literature addressing frugal innovation skyrocketed in the last decade, yet knowledge on the actual sustainability outcomes of these innovations is limited. This paper reports the initial findings from a systematic literature review (SLR) that focuses on trying to pin down the economic, social and environmental outcomes of these innovations. To start with, the descriptive overview of cases highlights that the share of FI developed in low income countries is very low – even much lower than the share of high-income countries. The largest share of cases involved either lower-middle income or upper-middle income countries’ actors, while FI was theorized mostly in the context of resource-constraints environments. Moreover, around one fourth of the FIs specifically address the needs of the emerging middle class, instead of focusing on the poor(est), as is often assumed in the literature. Innovations developed by socially-oriented actors are more likely to target the poor, while innovators addressing emerging middle-class markets more often have a profit-orientation.

Of the 68% of papers that explicitly report on sustainability outcomes, most FI case studies report on economic (75%), or social (68%) outcomes, and only 32% report on environmental outcomes. Non-commercial innovators (e.g., NGOs, universities,…) are more likely to report on social and environmental outcomes. Interestingly, having relevant collaboration with external actors during the development stage seems to be particularly relevant in order to introduce FIs which are likely to have not just economic but also social and or environmental outcomes; this is particularly the case when it comes to engaging with different types of partners when developing the innovations : cross-partners collaborations are recurrent in 62.7% of the cases addressing two or more impacts vs. 43.9% of the other cases. These results seem to indicate that more complex innovations require also a more diverse set of competences to be developed, so that the collaboration with external partners (firms, universities, knowledge intensive business services) are more likely to take place. This is however not happening in the adoption/diffusion stage of the innovation process. During the panel we will elaborate these and other initial findings, and we look forward to a critical discussion.

Searching Frugality in Crisis: Conceptualizing Social Learning and Knowledge Appropriation in and around Individual Driven Decentralized Irrigation System in Bundelkhand

Birendra Singh

International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) the Hague, Netherlands, The

Water is the most essential element to perform agricultural activities but, ironically, farmers in Bundelkhand has everything except water. Their struggle to arrange water for agricultural activities is made difficult by the geological adversities, climate change, and erratic rainfall. This study is about knowledge and learning part of the farmer’s struggle to arrange and manage water in the time of the agrarian crisis. Individual farmers led irrigation system largely depends on rainwater harvesting practices where small and decentralized wells (Kuan), ponds (Talab) and stop or check dams (Bandhan) are seen as most “frugal” and “natural” sites of water storage. The second part of the system is appropriating ‘standardized’ tools and machinery in local context to lift water from the storage sites. And, the third part is precise distribution of stored water in the field via various techniques. Local farmers are the core of this formal-informal (hybrid) irrigation system where local technicians, NGOs, scientific community, environmental activists and local government agencies are other important actors involved.

To collect empirical evidences of ‘how social learning and knowledge appropriation takes place in and around this system’ this study selects two districts of Bundelkhand region namely Mahoba and Chhatarpur. Study uses “economic anthropology” as an approach and specific version of ethnography popularly known as “deep hanging out” as a methodological tool. As an alternative to conventional ethnography techniques we used “self-immersion” in the field as a methodology to capture how social learning and knowledge appropriation takes place in a socio-cultural context. Visiting and having conversations with more than hundreds of farmers in approximately thirty villages, participating in daily chores of farmers specifically irrigation and water related, working with them in the field, teaching their children, attending meeting and training sessions facilitated by local NGOs for farmers and traveling locals are used as an opportunity to underline “localized way of doing” to conceptualize local knowledge, creativity and heuristics situated in local socio-economic context.

This study suggests that social learning(s) and frugality are indispensable to each other. In fact, learning is the prerequisite condition to harness frugality. However, differentiated “social positions” forced farmers to choose different modes of learnings. Second, extreme resource constrained and uncertain environment destroy the chances of the emergence of frugality. There must be some resources available in the hands of farmers to arrange them in different combinations and settings. Third, property rights are crucial for the emergence of frugality. There is no legal agreement between tenant farmers and the so called upper caste land owners. It is purely a social contract based on social obligations. Preparing ponds and wells is a capital intensive task without having any possibilities of moving these physical structures from one place to other. A sense of belongingness and ownership must be there to take initiatives in uncertain environment. Fourth, study suggests that people involved in generational occupations, technicians and farmers, are relatively more “efficient” in using their irrigation related tools and machinery. Family based enterprise and living with elders gave them more chances of social learning where an oral transfer of knowledge and “learning by doing” became part of their day to day life. Fifth, division of knowledge within family has negative impacts of learning(s) and frugality. The division of labour limits the mixing of ides at the work site between family and community members coming from different generations, caste and genders. Because of patriarchal and masculine construction of irrigation practices women are kept away from irrigation activities. They only perform crop plantation and harvesting activities. It creates a “sense of distance” which have killed their interest to participate in other activities except their traditional roles.

The long-term trajectory: Frugal Innovation in resource-constrained education

Georgina Gomez

Erasmus University Rotterdam, Netherlands, The

The conceptualization of frugal innovations generates a new set of questions about legitimacy, poverty alleviation potential, feed-back on solidarity and their general contribution to social transformation at the local level. As it is the case with all innovations, including the non-frugal ones, there are also questions about how these characteristics and effects change along an evolutionary trajectory, when innovations disseminate and mature. In stylized narratives of social innovation, which is a partially overlapping concept, Murray et al. (2010) describe several phases by which a designed solution goes from prototype (first implementation) to scaling (see fig 1). This implies “expanding, adapting and sustaining successful policies, programs or projects in different places and over time to reach a greater number of people” (Hartmann and Linn 2008 as cited in Agapitova and Linn 2016).

Most research on frugal innovation focuses on cases which are still too young to disclose longer-term evolutionary trajectories. Questions on the legitimacy, solidarity and poverty effects along a long-term scaling trajectory of frugal innovations require studies of cases that have persisted for several decades, travelled to several locations, and scaled up significantly.

The proposed paper aims at understanding the changes in legitimacy, solidarity and poverty effects in a long-term evolutionary perspective. It is grounded on the case of a frugal innovation in primary and secondary schooling by a group of missionaries in Venezuela in the late 1950s. Their innovative educational methodology was conceived under extreme resource constraints, so it addresses the dimension of frugality. It was co-produced with marginalized local households, so it refers directly to poverty and solidarity. It was a new way of providing quality schooling with minimal resources, and since then it was disseminated to another 20 countries in the global South with significant adaptations to local contexts and institutions. The actors involved refer to their educational model as a “pedagogical proposal”, intentionally avoiding any references to a unique model or technology that resists adaptation to context. This speaks directly to an important characteristic of frugal innovations, described as dependent on reinterpreting, reconfiguring and recombining existing practices (Beers, et al., 2012).

The study will first substantiate the claims in the previous paragraph about the innovative and frugal nature of this educational methodology. It will subsequently analyze the three dimensions of legitimacy, poverty effects and solidarity feedbacks in the original (prototype) version and in its adaptations in six Latin American countries. The research will finally discuss the specific conditions that allowed the educational proposal to disseminate and adapt to local conditions while retaining its original characteristics of legitimacy, poverty alleviation effects and solidarity feedbacks.


Agapitova, N. and Linn J. (2016) ‘Scaling-Up Social Enterprise Innovation: approaches and lessons’ Global Economy and Development. Brookings. Working Paper 95, June 2016.

Beers, C. v., Knorringa, P. & Leliveld, A. (2012). Frugal Innovation in Africa: Tracking Unilever's washing powder sachet. In: J B Gewald, A Leliveld & I Pesa ed., Transforming Innovations in Africa: Explorative studies on appropriation in African Societies. pp. 59-77.

Murray, R., J. Caulier-Grice, G. Mulgan (2010) The Open Book of Social Innovation, London: National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Art: Young Foundation. Accessed on 29 April 2019 <

Seelos, C. and J. Mair (2017) ‘Innovation and Scaling Impact: how effective enterprises do it.’ Stanford University Press. Standford, California.

Frugal Innovation and livelihoods at the BoP: Systematic Literature Review

Sarah Kyejjusa1, Henny Romijn2

1Makerere University Business School; 2Eindhoven University of Technology

Frugal innovation has drawn the attention of many scholars and policy makers. Frugal innovation is the making of a product and/or offering a service in a new or different way but with the intention of reaching the poor. Gupta (2011) observed that frugal innovation is a new management philosophy, which integrates specific needs of the bottom of the pyramid markets as a starting point and works backward to develop appropriate solutions which may be significantly different from existing solutions designed to address needs of up-market segments. Although evidence about frugal innovation in different sectors such as health, energy and telecommunications is accumulating, it has remained much less clear to what extent, or how frugal innovations actually improve the livelihoods of poor communities. While Webb, Kistruck, Ireland & Ketchen (2009) urge that innovations are to be seen as frugal if they are able to reach the markets of the poor, the main emphasis of frugal innovation research to date has been on the frugal-innovation processes and performance of the innovation-implementing organisations and the characteristics of the products/services in question.

In view of this situation, this paper aims at reviewing the existing literature on frugal innovation and associated research to distil lessons and research gaps related to its impacts on livelihoods of different actors at the base of the pyramid (BoP). A systematic literature review will be carried out, covering the key literature contributions from the frugal innovation domain supplemented by selected works from livelihood studies, informal sector innovation and rural/agricultural innovation in poor regions. Although not conducted under the banner of frugal innovation as such, these related literature strands are also likely to yield relevant evidence and insights. By bringing these variegated sources together, a coherent picture will be created of what is known about the nature of the relationship between fugal innovation and livelihood, and what concepts and methodological approaches have been used by the scholars to arrive at the presented evidence. Further, we will carve out areas for further research.

The study will apply a literature review analysis using a matrix. Articles on frugal innovations and associated literature strands with emphasis on livelihood impact will be selected. These articles will be coded in a matrix and analysed on the basis of the innovation, players in value chain, emphasis on the poor and local community involvement. The results of the literature review analysis will give an overview of the impact of frugal innovation on livelihoods and the factors that drive and constrain such impacts. The gaps highlighted by the different scholars will be identified and discussed for theory building and new empirical work.

The gaps identified in frugal innovation literature will be basis for future studies and to identify practical solutions that would transform and improve the income levels of actors at the base of the pyramid. The study will further guide pro-poor policy development.

Literature references

Gupta, V.P., (2011). “Frugal Innovation”. The new masters of management, in: ‘Jugaad’ To Frugal Innovation. IndianMBA. Retrieved from: FC1283/fc1283.html, accessed: 09.01.2011.

Webb, J. W., Kistruck, G. M., Ireland, R. D., & Ketchen, D. J. (2009). The entrepreneurship process in base of the pyramid markets: the case of multinational enterprise/nongovernment alliances. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 34(3), 555–581.

Contact and Legal Notice · Contact Address:
Privacy Statement · Conference: EADI ISS 2021
Conference Software - ConfTool Pro 2.6.142+TC
© 2001 - 2021 by Dr. H. Weinreich, Hamburg, Germany