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The Role of the Marginalized and Unusual Suspects in the Production of Digital Innovations: Models of Innovation in an African Context



The rapid proliferation of innovation concepts addressing experiences in the Global South raises crucial questions about the relevance of this phenomenon for development. In an effort to bring conceptual clarity, this paper reviews several related understandings of innovation and related approaches to, firstly, map overlaps and differences, and secondly, understand how they are situated within the development discourse. This study uses a literature review and applies thematic analysis in identifying the various innovation concepts, and the extent to which they include the marginalized in their framing and operationalization. In particular, this study evaluates whether these innovation concepts are framing innovation as something developed outside of poor communities but on behalf of them, whether innovation is designed alongside poor communities, or whether it is designed by and within poor communities. The findings of this study revealed that in most cases, these concepts are pro-poor, with very few exceptions of innovations done in collaboration with the poor, in a per-poor process.
The Role of the Marginalized and Unusual
Suspects in the Production of Digital
Innovations: Models of Innovation
in an African Context
Paul Mungai
, Andrea Jimenez
, Dorothea Kleine
and Jean-Paul Van Belle
University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
University of Shefeld, Shefeld, UK
Abstract. The rapid proliferation of innovation concepts addressing experi-
ences in the Global South raises crucial questions about the relevance of this
phenomenon for development. In an effort to bring conceptual clarity, this paper
reviews several related understandings of innovation and related approaches to,
rstly, map overlaps and differences, and secondly, understand how they are
situated within the development discourse. This study uses a literature review
and applies thematic analysis in identifying the various innovation concepts, and
the extent to which they include the marginalized in their framing and opera-
tionalization. In particular, this study evaluates whether these innovation con-
cepts are framing innovation as something developed outside of poor
communities but on behalf of them, whether innovation is designed alongside
poor communities, or whether it is designed by and within poor communities.
The ndings of this study revealed that in most cases, these concepts are pro-
poor, with very few exceptions of innovations done in collaboration with the
poor, in a per-poor process.
Keywords: Innovation models Digital innovation Development
Marginalized Africa
1 Introduction
For the past 10 years, international organizations have been promoting an innovation
for development agenda in Africa. Bold claims include, for instance, that there is a
[] need for bold leadership by developing country leaders [] to move subsistence
agriculture to a knowledge intensive sector[1] or, viewing innovation as a tool for
achieving a prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable develop-
ment[2] as in the formulation of the African Unions Commission Agenda 2063.
Further, Sustainable Development Goal nine focuses on building resilient infrastruc-
ture, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and fostering innovation
©Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019
K. Krauss et al. (Eds.): IDIA 2018, CCIS 933, pp. 261278, 2019.
[3]. In all these, innovation is regarded as a key driver of new income and employment
opportunities, aimed at the socioeconomic and political development of society [4,5].
Some recognize that an excessive focus on innovation for economic growth has
enhanced the already existing inequalities in the world [6], and thus new concepts have
emerged in the literature to describe the experiences of the Global South
and more
specically, the marginalized [7]. Although innovation is widely studied across dif-
ferent disciplines and contexts, we are mainly interested in concepts which position
innovation in relation to development [8]. We came together as a multi-disciplinary,
multi-country working group, with colleagues from both the Global South and Global
North, under the umbrella of the Global Challenges Research Fund Strategic Network
on Digital Development
, and sought to develop a research agenda on innovation
which cut through the modish rhetoric and examined what value concepts and practices
of innovation might hold for development.
In this respect, terms like frugal innovation, pro-poor innovation,Bottom of the
Pyramid (BOP) innovation,grassroots innovationand inclusive innovationare
most popular in the literature [914]. Although these concepts, which we will review,
have expanded our understanding of innovation by focusing on the marginalized in
society, they have also added complexity and confusion. In the rst instance, they share
a similar (philosophical) view: enhancing innovation capacity is an important element
of development [14]; however, they differ in their approach and how they conceptu-
alize the marginalized. For instance, the context of frugal innovation [15] frames the
concept as an umbrella term for inclusive innovation,disruptive innovation,pro-
poor innovationand grassroots innovation; furthermore, they differ in how they
include the marginalized into their framing.
In an effort to bring conceptual clarity, this paper reviews several of these concepts
to map overlaps and differences and understand how they are situated within the
development discourse. Our framework is informed by the extent to which these
concepts include the marginalized in their framing and operationalization. More
specically, using a classication proposed by Heeks, we will evaluate whether these
innovation concepts are framing innovation as something developed outside of poor
communities but on behalf of them (pro-poor), whether innovation is designed
alongside poor communities (para-poor), or whether it is designed by and within poor
communities (per-poor) [16].
Our argument is that these distinctions matter in a conversation around develop-
ment. If innovation includes the marginalized only, in the end-goal as beneciaries,
how much are we enhancing sustainability and empowerment? To what extent are we
really co-constructing a more equal future in partnership with those at the sharp end of
inter-country and intra-country inequality? We do not intend to provide answers to
these questions, as they go beyond the scope of this paper. However, they motivate us
to evaluate these concepts on how they conceptualize the marginalized.
The Global South is a term used to denote the interconnected histories of colonialism, neo-
imperialism, and differential economic and social change through which large inequalities in living
standards, life expectancy, and access to resources are maintained(Dados and Connell 2012).
Funding was provided by the UK Economic and Social Sciences Research Council, Grant Number
262 P. Mungai et al.
This paper is organized as follows: the rst section will attempt a working de-
nition of who the marginalized are, to situate the literature in reference to how this
group is framed. This is followed by the methodology of this paper, which focuses on
the selection of key articles. The next section will introduce the innovation concepts,
providing insights and examples stemming from the African context. We then provide
an analysis of such concepts, illustrating the similarities and overlaps, and evaluate
them for the extent in which they include the marginalized. We conclude this paper
with proposed directions for future research.
2 Who Are the Marginalized?
Different ways to conceptualize the marginalized exist in the literature. For instance, we
might argue that resources (for instance, in Kleines list, material, nancial, natural,
geographical, social, educational, psychological, cultural, health, time, information) are
unevenly distributed, and structural factors such as laws, social norms and policies may
reinforce or address inequalities [17]. Easier access to formal education, material
equipment, nancial resources, relevant social resources (social capital with investors),
self-controlled time and better access to information all make the relatively more
privileged groups more likely innovators if a conventional view of innovation is taken.
This picture is refracted differently in the formal and the informal sector. For instance,
in the African context, signicant work has demonstrated that innovation activity is
very active in the informal sector [18], yet mainstream innovation literature fails to
grasp these realities. Furthermore, innovation policy aims are often framed as an
imperative to catch-up with or keep-up with an apparently universal techno-economic
frontier[19]. This view does not recognize other activities or modes of thinking, of
which there are many in the Global South. Long years of eldwork experience have
demonstrated to us that less privileged, more marginalized individuals and groups are
often highly inventive, despite and particularly in the face of, challenges and resource
constraints. Yet, the innovation literature tends to focus on mainstream innovations by
mainstream or privileged innovators. By contrast, we suggest that the marginalized
are also the unsung, and, in that sense, unusual suspectsof innovation. For this, we
examine the literature for the traces of the marginalized as unusual suspects in the
production of innovations, especially regarding digital innovation.
Similar to the more holistic conceptualization presented above, the literature sug-
gests that marginalization takes many forms [20]. For the purposes of this paper, we
focus on the economically marginalized and socially marginalized, although we rec-
ognize that individuals could be subject to both forms of marginalization and indeed
many more.
Economically Marginalized: Economic challenges are indicated by static, highly
variable or declining real incomes, often simplistically expressed as, for instance, less
than $1.90 per person per day.
As an effect of low income, there may also be uneven
The Role of the Marginalized and Unusual Suspects in the Production 263
access to state resources and weak redistributive policies [21]. Economically
marginalized groups lack access to supporting infrastructure [22]. An almost negligible
counter-trend is that established private companies often allocate some limited budgets
to support the poor in entrepreneurship as part of their CSR programmes [21]. Some of
the much needed infrastructure includes electricity and telephone-line or cable con-
nections, which are frequently also a challenge to maintain in low-income communities
or regions, due to lack of indigenous/local technicians [22]. Some of the common
issues affecting economic inequality include mobility, intra-household decision-
making and responsibilities, intra-household time use, laws on inheritance and land
ownership, and access to education and training [23,24].
Socially Marginalized: When we refer to social inequality and marginalization, we
include also values, attitudes and gender roles [25]. In this respect, the socially
marginalized are those who are socially disadvantaged. This frequently includes
women, youth, the disabled, the unemployed, people with low education levels, the
elderly, migrants and ethnic minorities/indigenous people [23,26].
With the possible exception of youth, representatives of the above groups have
been less likely to be the poster-children of digital innovations, whether for Silicon
Valley or for digital innovation milieu in Africa. A clear example of social
marginalization around gender is the under-representation of women in science,
technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs and university qualications, and
differential pay compared to their male counterparts with the same credentials [24].
Innovation can also be framed as a gendered experience; for instance, the example of
some women, who were also mothers, applying unorthodox management strategies
modelled around their experiences as mothers, to successfully run their enterprises [27].
However, despite their reported success in women-owned or -managed businesses,
these strategies are not considered to be management oriented, which is another form of
marginalization [28]. This example illustrates both the power of breaking with domi-
nant narratives of the usually male hero innovatorand the risk of essentialist notions
of women (here: womens deeper insights deriving from their role as mothers) being
positioned as a counter-discourse.
3 Research Methodology
A systematic literature review approach was applied for this study. This approach is
systematic and reproducible, and assisted in identifying, evaluating and synthesizing
the existing body of research [29]. A description of the planning, selection, extraction
and execution process is provided below.
Planning: The main aim of this study is to trace the recognition, role and framing of
the marginalized in innovation by reviewing the extent to which innovation concepts
focus on the marginalized. The previous section provided a detailed description of who
the marginalized are, and a literature review on innovation concepts, with a focus on
the marginalized, will be provided in the following section.
264 P. Mungai et al.
Selection: This study focused on research journals and key conference proceedings.
The following search terms were used: digital innovation by communities in Africa,
inclusive innovation in Africa, indigenous digital innovation in Africa, below-the-radar
technological innovation in Africa, pro-poor innovation in Africa, grassroots innova-
tion in Africa.The rst author undertook the search, selecting the most pertinent 100
articles from Google Scholar using these search terms. Relevant articles were included
in an annotated bibliography comprising a reference and a short description of each
article and grouped based on the themes emerging from the data.
The exclusion criteria were based on one of the following considerations: (1) du-
plicate studies where content was published in a research journal or conference pro-
ceeding and grey literature without additional ndings; (2) sources with unclear
research design or methodology; or (3) sources that were not written in English. The
decision to focus on English-speaking literature was taken for pragmatic reasons, but
immediately raises the need for further research reviewing literature in other languages.
Extraction and Execution: Thematic analysis was applied [30]. The search terms
were used as codes, and additional codes arose during the reading of the literature. This
resulted in several themes emerging from the data [29]. These themes were identied
through a systematic analysis guided by the following questions focused on each
literature item: (1) What is the authorsdenition of innovation? (2) In their
methodology, have they created action research initiatives to support marginalized
groups? (3) If so, what are the methodologies used to allow the marginalized to
participate? We applied Heekss[16] classication of pro-poor, para-poor and per-poor
innovation, recognizing both the strength and the weaknesses of this classication. One
of the weaknesses is that it seems to apply a universal preference for more in-depth
involvement when there are important exceptions, and when this approach is less
appropriate for instance, when a more light-tough engagement would lower the time
costs to engagement and make it more inclusive. Where possible, we also asked
(4) how sustainable any reported project was, with regard to peoples willingness to
continue engaging in the project, and (5) if the literature item included mention of the
projects limitations.
The data extracts from literature were sorted according to these themes. The
researcher conducted a deeper review of the identied themes. to determine whether
there was need for further renement, after which the analysis was transformed into an
academic summary.
4 Innovation Concepts Focused on the Marginalized
Innovation has been given different names, depending on the emphasis of the strategy
[7]. In this paper, we review the concepts of frugal innovation, Bottom of the Pyramid
(BoP) innovation, grassroots innovation and inclusive innovation.
The Role of the Marginalized and Unusual Suspects in the Production 265
4.1 Frugal/Jugaad Innovation
Frugal innovation has been dened by the ability to do better with less resources for
more people[31]. The origin of this term frugal/jugaadinnovation has been traced to
India, where systematic attempts have been made to strip off some of the features of
products requiring high-intensity technological investment [11]. From this perspective,
innovation is also a matter of redesigning products and processes to cut costs [31]. In
this respect, authors establish connections between Jugaad and frugal innovation [31].
Jugaad is a common term in India, and is used to symbolise the quick xesoften
observed in the activities of the informal sector, ranging from solving an emergent
problem to resource constraint. Jugaad innovation is characterised by lower prices,
capital, skills and use of local material. Jugaad targets communities or individuals who
are not served by the mainstream formal sector market; thus, initiatives by multina-
tionals such as the Nano car by Tata, do not qualify as Jugaad innovation [32], but are a
good t for frugal innovation.
The concept of frugal innovation operates within the notion of shared value and
efciency [31]. Scholars using this concept are concerned with quantity, cost and the
resources needed to produce a particular innovation. As a result, some consider that
given the low cost involved, it may have low quality and limited functionality [32].
This is also driven by the need to modify some of the implicit components, which
include designer assumptions about the values or knowledge of local users [33]. A very
small group of scholars have suggested that frugal innovation is an empowerment
mechanism for low-income populations [33].
Frugal innovation therefore refers to the process of reducing the resources, costs
and complexity of a product, with the aim of addressing the specic needs and welfare
of a marginalized community [5]. The end products are still good enough, since they
are able to meet the basic needs of the economically more marginalized resource-
constrained consumers. A good example in this case is the Tata Nano, the worlds
cheapest car [32,34].
Firms in the Global North have started to engage in frugal innovation, mainly
through their Research and Development (R&D) subsidiaries in the Global South. This
is motivated by the difculty to penetrate the emerging markets due to the unaffordable
pricing. The strategy then is to only include must-have features to make the product
affordable, while remaining protable [32].
This innovation is mainly pro-poor, as it is mainly undertaken to meet the (mon-
etizable) needs outside the poor community, without involvement during the design of
the product/service [16]. Thus, they are described mainly as potential consumers and
beneciaries of innovation.
4.2 Bottom of the Pyramid Innovation (BoP)
Innovation at the BoP gathers a number of studies that focus on below-the-radar
innovations, with particular attention to innovations that seek to alleviate poverty [13].
BoP innovation is prot-centred, and is carried out by existing for-prot business
enterprises, which seek to tap opportunities at the BoP.
266 P. Mungai et al.
This innovation faces four main challenges, including management of large num-
bers of low-margin products, working with informal markets, legacy and overhead
costs that may undercut prot, longer time to generate sustainable returns, and an
organizational culture that may stie innovation [34]. Innovations are conceived as
products and processes that could be done with very little cost, resembling the afore-
mentioned frugal discourse. Accordingly, the poor are targeted as a new and unsatu-
rated markets, while BoP products seek to create prot and deliver social value
simultaneously [13].
BoP is evolving, moving from seeing the role of the economically marginalized as
merely consumers, and products designed outside marginalized communities, to
products being designed alongside poor communities, using a participative and user-
centred design approach [16]. Pansera refers to this new perspective of BoP as BoP2,
distinguishing it from the original BoP1, which did not engage the community during
design, and did not consider the role of institutions in the process [13].
We present three examples of BoP innovations to illustrate how the concept frames
the marginalized. The rst is BRCK a rugged, self-powered, cloud enabled Wi-Fi
hotspot router with built in fail-overs. This innovation, developed by a company in
Nairobi, can be used by intermediaries or entrepreneurs to provide Wi-Fi access to the
marginalized at a much-subsidized fee, especially in remote areas where no other
affordable alternative is available [35,36].
Another BoP innovation is M-Kilimo, a farmer help-line service company that
started operations in 2009 [37]. It was developed by Kenyas largest business process
outsourcing company, KenCall, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation. It had
reached an average of over 20,000 users one year after its launch. Farmers 43% of
whom were women, were able to speak to a consultant for agricultural expertise and
advice [37]. This was a new process and mobile-enabled network, which was said to be
increasing the efciency and scalability of the agriculture value chain. Its success
suggests that M-Kilimo had made the right partnerships and earned the trust of its
customers, investors, and top management at KenCall, which are necessary factors in
achieving success in innovation. By 2011, due to high operational costs and lack of
renewed funding, M-Kilimo had to wind down operations [38,39]. This is an example
of an innovation targeted at the BoP, which was reported as being successful initially,
but failed to break even, leading to its closure. Furthermore, it is an example of a pro-
poor innovation, and thus a BoP1 innovation, since the farmers were not engaged
during the design and implementation process [16].
The nal example of BoP innovation is mFarm, an SMS-based application that
helps farmers in eliminating the middlemen, by connecting them directly with
buyers/markets [40]. It was founded in 2010 by a female entrepreneur who was
motivated after reading that farmers often had to rely on middlemen to nd markets for
their products [41]. As a result, a mobile application was designed, with up-to-date
market information for farmers [42]. This resulted in price transparency [41]. mFarm is
funded by the World Bank under the infoDev project [40,43], and Tech for Trade, a
UK charity that provided the rst seed funding of $100,000 in 2010 [41]. The mobile
app is based on the Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) technology,
since not all farmers have access to smartphones.
The Role of the Marginalized and Unusual Suspects in the Production 267
mFarm provides daily updates of more than forty-two crops sold in ve major
markets; however, after the mobile solution was rolled out and interacting with farmers,
it was noted that information was only part of the problem. Given that farmers pro-
duced in low volumes, it was not protable for them to seek potential buyers, due to
transport costs [41]. As a result, mFarm introduced communal storage facilities or
designated collection facilities where farmers would bring their produce often in low
quantities, and invite buyers once they had sizeable stock. This called for an extension
of the mFarm app to allow farmers to track their farm product deliveries to the des-
ignated collection points. In addition, mFarm extended the mobile application with the
group buying feature, to farmers, to pool resources and negotiate better prices for farm
requirements like fertilizer. mFarm reported more than 7,000 users of their platform in
2012. One of the ways that mFarm has adapted to ensure sustainability is the intro-
duction of a transaction fee for SMS transactions, and sale of its data to research
organizations focusing on consumer behavior or food scarcity. The interaction with
farmers is characteristic of a user-centred design approach that seeks to understand user
needs within their community, which then qualies mFarm as a BoP innovation [16]
with a para-poor approach.
The examples provided here suggest that both BOP1 and BOP2 overlap in several
ways with frugal innovation, in terms of the resources and cost. However, the dis-
tinction is that in BOP1, innovations are designed by poor people but without their
participation (pro-poor); in BOP2, they are engaged in the process.
4.3 Grassroots Innovation
Grassroots innovation has been dened as bottom-up solutions for sustainable
development; solutions that respond to the local situation and the interests and values
of the communities involved[44]. More specically, grassroots innovation is mainly
associated with innovation that emerges from poor communities [45]. It takes a long-
term approach to solving local problems, with the use of locally available or even
recycled resources [46]. In this respect, the marginalized are brought to the fore of the
product design and development process [45]. This is characteristic of per-poor
innovation, which involves undertaking innovation within and by the marginalized in
their communities [16]. As such, it is identied as a way of addressing inequality, since
it is driven by the lower-income group themselves [21]. It aims at exploiting and further
enhancing their capabilities to innovate [45].
It is often also frugal in nature not just in terms of the cost of the output, but also
with regard to its skills and infrastructure resource requirements [40]. For instance,
farmers involved in the Honey Bee Network (HNB) in India, which proles farmers
with their own innovations, were inspired when they saw people like them innovating
their processes, especially because they could identify with them. This also brought
pride to the communities where proled farmers come from. The proled farmers
would go along with the HNB team, to allow for further conversations with the target
community where the content was displayed. The strategy of proling farmers created
the demand for being scouted, catalogued, and recognized, which is necessary in
extending the goals of HBN and peoples willingness to continue engaging [47].
268 P. Mungai et al.
However, [48] warns that in cases where participation is through community
representatives, there are chances that they will not legitimately represent the interests
and concerns of the community, especially when that role is taken up by elites or
competing interest groups. The socially marginalized are frequently ill-served by local
community representatives[49]. The HBN proling approach does skew represen-
tation to the socially more self-condent. Further, [50] notes that grassroots innovations
seldom scale up, which results in very limited dissemination and use. This is mainly
attributed to difculty in obtaining nance to scale up, limited knowledge and skills,
and lack of information on the needs of the poor. One way of overcoming knowledge
and skills challenges is to localize content. For instance, the Honey Bee Network
(HNB) adopted multimedia and multi-language technology in an effort to overcome
language, literacy and preference challenges in the rural communities [51]. The same
approach was later applied by the Africa Rice Center (ARC), which facilitated the
development and translation of eleven videos on rice quality and integrated rice
management into more than thirty African languages between 2005 and 2009. The
videos dealt with issues like seed sorting, otation, drying, storage, soil fertility
management, and more. It has been reported that the videos improved the capacities of
hundreds of thousands of farmers and more than ve hundred organizations, which, if
substantiated, is very large scale. There were also instances where these videos were
used for national agricultural programmes, as was the case in Gambia, Uganda and
Nigeria [49]. This HNB approach to innovation helps in demonstrating that some
grassroots innovations can indeed scale up, depending on the nature of the innovation.
Grassroots innovation can help in resolving agricultural sustainability challenges,
by forming alliances between crop breeders and farmers, and combining scientic and
indigenous farmersknowledge in selecting and developing more appropriate crops and
seed varieties [52]. This approach was put to the test in Kenya, and some of the benets
from the observations include sustainability of smallholder livelihoods [52]. Another
approach is the integrated rural learning approach, detailed above, which was pioneered
by the Honey Bee Network (HBN) and adopted by other organizations such as the
Africa Rice Center (ARC) [47,49].
Grassroots innovation at times informs mainstream Science and Technology
Innovation (STI) institutions in pursuit of their goals. [51] for instance, consider that
engineers and designers may engage with grassroots innovation as long as they include
the grassroots in innovation processes from the outset, and put local knowledge and
communities in the lead in the framing of a collaborative innovation activity.
This creates the need to negotiate on joint policy models for inclusive innovation,
noting that there is diversity in the interpretations and framings in relation to what and
who gets included or excluded [19]. In addition, policy-makers need to ensure
coherence among the various development policies within a country or region [53]. The
major challenge with this recommendation is the level of diversity among rural places,
which makes it difcult to design national policies that factor in specic needs of the
rural communities [54], so a balance needs to be struck between national support and
locally diverse implementation. There is also a need to ensure that these policies
involve all stakeholders, with the aim of ensuring that the interests of the more
marginalized, such as women, youth and budding entrepreneurs, are adequately con-
sidered [53]. Lead stakeholders such as government policy-makers at national, regional
The Role of the Marginalized and Unusual Suspects in the Production 269
and local level, need to ensure that inclusive innovation is factored in within gov-
ernment strategies and policies, making it easier to innovate [55].
4.4 Inclusive Innovation
Inclusive innovation has been dened in many ways, e.g. [..] the inclusion within
some aspect of innovation, of groups who are currently marginalized[7]. For [6],
inclusive innovation refers to the development and implementation of new ideas which
aspire to create opportunities that enhance social and economic wellbeing for disen-
franchised members of society. The aforementioned denitions share a focus on
particular groups which are marginalized. This suggests that instead of focusing nec-
essarily on the products or processes, inclusive innovation focuses on people; however,
when it comes to proponents of inclusive innovation explaining who they mean by the
marginalized, we found limited information.
For [9], innovation needs to be inclusivein at least two ways: inclusive in terms
of the process by which it is achieved and inclusive in terms of the problems and the
solutions it is related to.[56] suggest that inclusive innovation should include those
new ways of doing things including technologies, institutions, and other things that
may improve lives of the most needy. The most needyin this denition is left
deliberately vague because who this represents is supposed to be answered on a study-
by-study basis.
Perhaps one of the most explicit works on how to dene the marginalized in
relation to innovation could come from Heeks et al.s[44] work on inclusive inno-
vation. These authors propose a multi-level approach coined as the ladder of inclusive
innovationwhich proposes different aspects of inclusivity. This mirrors to some
degree Arnsteins ladder of citizen participation, though it omits the perceptive critique
of non-participation and tokenism in Arnsteins model [57]. The rst steps are the
means by which new goods and services are developed with some aspect of inclusion
of the marginalized, either to address a specic problem of the poor on their behalf
(pro-poor innovation), involve the poor in the development process (para-poor or
grassroots innovation), or aim at beneting the livelihoods of the poor (pro-poor) [7].
Inclusive innovation usually results from tensions within the socio-technical systems,
which can either be caused by social or economic factors. This ladder, based on
Arnsteins model [57], can to a degree assist in studying the level of inclusivity in the
relationships between stakeholder involvement, institutional structures, and the
resulting outcomes as suggested by [56]. The ladder comprises six levels, which are
illustrated in Fig. 1.
Inclusion of Intention refers to innovations that seeks to integrate the intentions and
needs of the marginalized. Inclusion of Consumption refers to innovations that are
adopted and used by the marginalized. Inclusion of Impact refers to innovations that
have a positive impact on the livelihoods of the marginalized (there is some overlap
with the previous rung). Inclusion of Process refers to innovation that involves the
marginalized during design and development [44], which calls for dialogue, conict-
solving procedures, trust, and a strong motivation to interact [9]. Inclusion of Structure
refers to innovation that is created within an inclusive structure. Post-structural
inclusion refers to innovation that is created within an inclusive frame of knowledge
270 P. Mungai et al.
and discourse [44]. The model offers a useful classication in many ways, while
insufciently distinguishing between meaningful and tokenistic inclusion, and also
suggesting a linear set of steps when these are parallel and systemic processes:
Inclusivity therefore entails active consultation, participation and engagement with
the marginalized at various stages of the innovation process. For instance, living labs
are founded on a common methodology that endeavours to create innovation envi-
ronments within real-life user communities, frequently through the formation of so-
called public-private-people-partnerships [58], but they are likely to vary in the level of
inclusivity. This is mainly because of contextual variations and normative implications
with regard to the dynamics between actors [56,59], based on demand and embedded
in the context [60].
This could be illustrated through the example of Siyakhula Living Lab (SLL),
which was established by the Meraka Institute, following a directive by the South
African Department of Science and Technology (DST). SSL is located in Dweca-
Cwebe, a so-called deep ruralarea in the Wild Coast area of the Eastern Cape
province of South Africa. Until 2009, a majority of the households in Dweca-Cwebe
did not have direct access to electricity and running water, and the road infrastructure
within the region was limited. SSL began operations in 2005, guided by the user-driven
approach in understanding local requirements and constraints in ICT. The multi-
disciplinary nature of the team or researchers working with the community, which
consisted of researchers from anthropology and computer science departments, col-
laborated with community members to identify the social-technical challenges and
opportunities for innovation [61]. SLL focused on ICT training at the initial phase of
the project. This followed the train-the-trainer/champion model, where volunteer
teachers and community members were trained by university-based researchers. The
champions then used the acquired knowledge and skills to teach, using their own
language, which resulted in increased uptake from the community. SSL helped in
providing access to Internet and computer hardware by setting up a facility within the
community. This enabled members of the community, who now had more access to the
Internet, to not only make use of information available on the Internet, but to also
produce content. This platform also assists government in testing ICT infrastructure
within a rural context, such as Dweca-Cwebe [61]. Inclusive innovation requires
consultation with the necessary stakeholders, prior to tackling a problem that may be of
mutual concern and interest [61].
Fig. 1. Levels of inclusive innovation [33]
The Role of the Marginalized and Unusual Suspects in the Production 271
In the case of SLL, trust and social resources (social capital) were cornerstones for
success in engaging with community members [4]. Normative implications as descri-
bed by [56] are also at play, since the project relies on funding from a particular
sponsor (the major xed-line telecommunications provider) and thus the project can
only maneuver within the boundaries of the objectives set by this sponsor. In the case
of SLL, the South African government came in as a regulator, claiming to defend the
interests of the community, and facilitator in terms of approvals and goodwill. Social
capital and trust between the researchers and community members was already
established at the beginning, since the anthropology department researchers had pre-
viously engaged with the community on other research initiatives [61]. The train-the-
trainer model helped in building condence and buy-in, as the community members
could relate more with one of their own. Local community members were also trained
on how to maintain the infrastructure [61] which was necessary in securing ownership
and sustainability of the initiative. This description places SSL, at least in its aspiration,
at level 4 - inclusion of processof [44]s ladder of inclusive innovation, since
community members are involved in developing and maintaining the initiative.
Inclusive innovation can also be pro-poor for example, with the case of Lumkani,
an early re detection warning system that seeks to reduce the destruction caused by
res in urban informal settlements. The system creates a 60-m radius network of the
detectors, which would become activated simultaneously in case of a re, and thus
enables the community to respond before the re becomes uncontrollable [62]. It was
designed by an engineering honours student from the University of Cape Town, taking
input from the community during the design and testing phases of the proposed
solution. They took a frugal approach in building the re detector, by using affordable
components and local manufacturers, for the most part. This is an example of a pro-
poor inclusive innovation with aspects of frugal, and which was inclusive in the process
of getting input from the community.
5 Similarities and Differences Between the Innovation
Describing the various innovation concepts reveals an overlap in meanings or objec-
tives, some of which are still evolving. For instance, BoP innovation has since
rebranded and updated from the poor-as-consumersperspective, following criticisms
and experience, to the perspective of the poor as co-innovators[13]. In an attempt to
illustrate the overlaps further, Table 1highlights the key differences, and illustrates the
similarities, between the innovation models which were highlighted.
BoP1 and frugal innovation are both pro-poor, since they are undertaken outside
the poor communities, but on their behalf. Inclusive innovation and BoP2 are para-
poor, since they are undertaken alongside poor communities, and involves them in the
design and/or development of the product/service [44]. BoP1, BoP2 and frugal inno-
vation are similar, since they are all frugal in nature.
272 P. Mungai et al.
6 Discussion
In this paper, we suggested that mainstream innovation literature failed to grasp some
of the innovation activity taken by the marginalized in the Global South. As such, we
notice that the marginalized are frequently the unsungand unusual suspectsof
innovation. A rst observation is that all the innovation concepts discussed here are
relevant to the papers focus on these in the production of innovation in an African
context, albeit to varying degrees.
Frugal innovation focuses again more on the quality of the product and the potential
for those marginalized to benet from it. BOP1 and BOP2 frame the marginalized
based on their economic capacity, and focus on innovation that will be successful in the
market. Grassroots innovation is the only one that focuses on innovation made by
marginalized and for the marginalized. Inclusive innovation attempts to focus on the
inclusion of those marginalized, yet it suggests that if they are lightlyincluded then
that is still good. Not all will need to be involved to the level of level 4 inclusion in
process, and there are good reasons to, in some cases, trade off time savings and lower
barriers to participation in exchange for more in-depth inclusion. These trade-offs are
hard to visualise within the metaphor of the ladder. This was illustrated by the
example of M-Kilimo, which was described under BoP innovation. Despite being
developed outside the marginalized farmerscommunities, it still gained signicant
traction based on the number of callers, which implies that it had a positive impact on
the agriculture value chain. Whether designing in closer collaboration with the farmers
would have made it more likely that a sustainable business model could have been
found when funding ended, is an open question.
Table 1. Key differences and overlaps between various innovation models
Definition Pri-
Role of
the ‘poor’
(as per
Overlap with other innovation models?
Frugal /
Innovator = mar-
ginalized people
Target = the poor
(often services)
Target = the poor
(often services)
Community en-
Frugal /
Affordability of
design or final
d are included in
problem defini-
tion and/or design
The Role of the Marginalized and Unusual Suspects in the Production 273
The second observation is that most of the innovations discussed here are either
funded by development donors, large corporations, NGOs, or venture capitalists, which
are mainly from the Global North. This suggests that most of the concepts are framed
as pro-poor innovation. This implies that digital inclusive innovation requires access to
these nancial networks. This, in turn, requires innovators to pitch their proposal or
product in a particular format. This requires skills, access to resources, including the
right habitus (as part of cultural resources in the Kleine sense) resources that allow one
to engage with these networks. Lack of access and exposure to these networks can
result in a new form of marginalization.
The third observation is that most literature focuses more on products, less on
processes, and even less on people. It is more about the innovation, and less about who
is innovating. For instance, it was difcult to determine whether there was engagement
with the marginalized/farming communities in Kenya, and what role they played in the
design of the farmer help-line service. The literature describes the features of the
service, the reaction of the learners after using it, and the frugality of the product, but
nothing about the design process, or who was involved in this process. We therefore are
invited to assume that this innovation was carried out outside the marginalized com-
munity, and only introduced as a complete product for them to use as is. This would
then be typical of off-the-shelf products which cannot be customized. More generally,
we will only progress in our understanding of innovation processes with marginalized
community members, if we start documenting and discussing these processes.
A fourth observation is that just like in early participation literature, the com-
munitybecomes discursively constructed in the literature as some form of homoge-
nous and conict-free group of co-creators, when in reality members of the community
operate with very varied resource portfolios, are positioned differently in the social
structures and experience different forms and degrees of marginalization [63,64]. It is
rarely the most marginalized who are asked to represent the community.
Anal observation is that most of the digital innovations documented in the
literature, including some of those that were highlighted here, are frequently founded
by tech-savvy men, and those who are either from the Global North or have personal
experience visiting or living in the Global North. This raises the question of whether
women are innovating in the digital space, and whether they have had the same
opportunities as their male counterparts. Further, it raises the question whether links to
the Global North are conducive to, or even a precondition for, such innovation, and
further research should be undertaken into the nature and function of such links.
We have provided an explanation of these concepts with the objective of showing
to what extent and in what ways they include the marginalized. The reasoning behind
this is to provide conceptual clarity. Our review leads us to see that even though these
concepts have expanded our understanding of what impact innovation may have on
development, they frequently fall short in exploring the agency of the marginalized
By evaluating these concepts from a perspective of the marginalized, we are
arguing that innovation in development should focus on people [8]. For this to happen,
it will be necessary to move away from seeing communities as homogenous, towards
further distinguishing between the positionality of individuals and groups and their
relative marginalization.
274 P. Mungai et al.
7 Conclusion
There has been much discussion in the literature around the role of innovation for
socioeconomic development. This has resulted in the proliferation of concepts which
aim to describe and understand innovation in the Global South, often either targeting or
benetting the marginalized.
This paper has attempted to analyse what is meant by the marginalizedin inno-
vation concepts. Drawing on both theoretical literature and concrete examples, it has
reviewed the extent to which innovation concepts that address development impact
focus on the marginalized. It has evaluated how existing innovation concepts are
responding to the question of including the marginalized, through an analysis of
whether innovations are designed on behalf of the poor, with the poor, or by the poor.
This paper has contributed to the literature around innovation concepts by illus-
trating how little it includes people in the analysis, let alone a more sophisticated
examination of which of the actors is economically and socially marginalized. Moving
forward, we thus aim to broaden the innovation for development agenda to include the
marginalized in the conceptualization and practice, widening our understanding of
innovation from products and processes to one that includes people, and specically
people experiencing different kinds of marginalization.
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