Frugal innovations in Africa

TAHMOThis research revolves around the central question whether and to what extent the development and production of so called ‘frugal innovations’ contributes to economic growth and development in Africa. Which international or domestic actors initiate innovation networks in Africa with regard to frugal innovations? How do these networks develop and how are they organized? To what extent do African entrepreneurs participate and what does explain their (non)participation? What are the developmental implications of frugal innovations for Africa?

Consumer products affordable for the poor

Frugal innovation concerns value-sensitive design and marketing strategies that bring sophisticated products within the reach of relatively poorer consumers. Through re-engineering, re-inventing or stripping down high-value consumer products and dramatically lowering their unit consumer price, a significantly extended range of products is made affordable for the roughly four billion consumers at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP), of whom about 500 million live in Africa.

Low cost solar lighting

Examples include Tata’s simplified water purifier that provides poor people with safe drinking water; Unilever’s OMO sachets that contain small amounts of detergent specifically for hand washing in cold water; Tata’s economical Nano car that was produced for the emerging Indian middle class and is sold for about US$ 2000; and low-cost solar lighting (Philips) that can be used in places with no electricity.

Interaction with local entrepreneurs

While these examples show their developmental potential, frugal innovations can also lead to increased environmental damage and more exploitative labour conditions if the ‘stripping down’ means undercutting existing environmental and labour standards. Moreover, when frugal innovation and the technologies and strategies it involves are fully developed in the headquarters of Western or Chinese, Indian or Brazilian companies without any interaction with local entrepreneurs, these strategies are less likely to be beneficial or successful in Africa.

International Centre for Frugal Innovation (ICFI)

ASCL researcher André Leliveld is one of the three main researchers of the International Centre for Frugal Innovation (ICFI), a joint multidisciplinary centre of Leiden University, Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam. The other main researchers are Prof. Dr Cees van Beers (Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management, Delft University) and Prof. Dr Peter Knorringa (International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University).

Visit the website of the International Centre for Frugal Innovation.
Read more about the strategic alliance between the Leiden, Delft and Erasmus universities.

Research project

Senior researchers


frugal innovation ; economic growth ; development ; bottom of the pyramid ; private sector ; multinationals ; technology

Funding and cooperation


Seed money from Leiden University, Delft University of Technology and Erasmus University Rotterdam.


Cees van Beers (TU Delft); Peter Knorringa (ISS/EUR)