Convention 2018



By Dr Winfred I. Onyas

, Lecturer in Marketing School of Business, University of Leicester

Exploring the nature and prospects of frugal innovation in Uganda and what are the opportunities that exist to foster frugal innovations in Uganda.


Dr Winfred Onyas, Lecturer in Marketing School of Business, University of Leicester


Dr Onyas began by introducing a project she is working on in Uganda: “Exploring the nature and prospects of frugal innovation in Uganda” (2016-2019), funded by the British Academy international Partnership & Mobility Scheme.


The project is a collaboration between the University of Leicester (UOL) & Makerere University Business School (MUBS). It entails capacity building at MUBS and the project team has conducted two qualitative research workshops at MUBS. A final workshop academic writing is in plan for next year.

The project team identified a need at MUBS, that staff mostly conduct quantitative research and there is a need to develop capacity in qualitative research and academic writing. The team is also mentoring 8 early career academic staff at MUBS who have, from the start of the project, participated in the data collection and in co-authoring conference papers, which they are working towards publishing in reputable academic journals.


Dr Onyas then introduced the notion of frugal innovation, as a process that creates solutions, products and services that are: appropriate, adaptable, affordable, accessible (Basu, Banerjee & Sweeny, 2013)

It doesn’t require too much investment to create frugal innovations (products/ services). Dr Onyas appreciated earlier presentations on the day which highlighted efforts to provide frugal solutions to Ugandans i.e. affordable housing and eco-stoves, which both are affordable products.


She highlighted that, what drives frugal innovation is what people need as opposed to what is nice to have. Frugal innovations mainly focus on the functionality of something.


She cited 3 examples of frugal innovation. 1) India has been the pioneer of research into frugal innovation. The Embrace Incubator used in warming premature babies cost $25 compared to $25,000 normal incubators. This product can be recharged easily in boiling water and is cheap to transport, as the product is portable. 2) The affordable and accessible bloodless malaria test invented by Ugandan graduates is helping to fight against the epidemic. 3) The Sparky Dryer, an affordable and cost effective food dehydrator runs on biofuel and helps farmers avoid food waste.


Dr Onyas further highlighted that frugal solutions meet the needs of populations at the Base of the Pyramid (BOP) who survive on less than $2 a day. Proponents of the BOP research identified the 4 billion people at the BOP as a target market for MNCs to tap into. She cited statistics showing that in 2002 Africa had the highest number of people surviving on less than less than $1.9 a day.

The BOP, Dr. Onyas added, provides a backdrop to her research on frugal innovation, positing that this tier of population should not simply be considered as consumers, but as also constituting Small and Micro Enterprises capable of creating frugal innovations.


She then went on to explain that their project team has researched on 12 case studies in five categories: community-related, efficiency-driven, health-related, renewable energy, and value addition in agri-business.


She focused on a particular HIV Community Based Organisation (CBO) that produces and sells ARV artefacts and publicises the message in an effort to intensify HIV prevention and treatment. The CBO encourages the youth to accept their HIV status and urges them to be responsible and take their daily ARVs. This is an example of frugal innovation where a community is addressing a social health problem by using innovative means to address it with innovative products.


She further stated that the constraints and challenges of frugal innovation include:

  • Access to finance
  • Capabilities/ skills-set
  • Information and Knowledge
  • Institutional voids
  • Market demand


She outlined some gains from Frugal Innovation as follows:

  • Local solutions to local challenges local and international environments are translated to local solutions
  • Appropriate, affordable and accessible products/ services/ solutions
  • Economic growth – employment, innovations
  • Gains to society, communities, environment


She cited a quote by Jeffrey Preston Bezos, CEO Amazon “I think frugality drives innovation, just like other constraints do. One of the only ways to get out of a tight box is to invent your way out.”


As a way forward for Uganda, Dr Onyas recommended the following:

  • Mechanisms to support the scalability of frugal innovations
  • Develop frugal innovation ecosystems
  • Supportive infrastructure
  • Government policy geared towards supporting innovation
  • Institutional support
  • Protecting property rights
  • Institutional partnerships; academia, government, donors, associations




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