Updates from the CFIA: Q&A with Prof. Peter Knorringa

Group Photo - CFIA - Frugal Innovation

Meet the CFIA team, we stand for cutting edge research and knowledge exchange through and with our multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary international network. Together with our partners we work on local projects with local partners. In this Q&A article with Prof. Peter Knorringa - Professor of Private Sector & Development at the ISS and director of the CFIA - you can read more about the research, impact and projects at the CFIA. 

What do you mainly do, and how does this have an impact?
“My research is mostly about the diverse roles and impact of business on development. Within the CFIA, of which I am the director, we focus on interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral research and education. We aim to involve many different actors in projects to learn lessons and to look for the effects of frugal services and products as widely as possible. We do this by focusing on the research domains Health, Energy, Water and Agro-Food. Within the four domains we also focus on various issues related to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including the promotion of inclusive and sustainable industrialization and the stimulation of innovation.

HEWA - Health, Energy, Water and Agro-food - CFIA - Frugal Innovation
An example of one of our current projects is an extensive literature study into the actual impact or types of impact of frugal innovations.  The meta-analysis project wants to answer the questions how and in which context frugal innovations work best.
In another research project, together with the Dutch companies Philips and Hatenboer-Water, we investigated how companies can make products, services and system innovations accessible to large groups of consumers with a minimal income.


Knorringa says: “Companies are important partners for us. The initiative for innovation or entering a new market usually comes from companies. You need companies to actually develop a product. So if we want to move from theoretical research to more applied research or even prototyping, companies in the region are good partners. ”


In December, this major research project - co-funded by NWO - was completed by CFIA, aimed at developing business models that combine profitability with the creation of social value for the local population. One of the cases from the research is the Dutch family business Hatenboer-Water, specialized in drinking water treatment, which, with Dutch Water Limited (DWL), produce clean drinking water for the population in the large cities of Kenya in the cheapest possible way. The company from Schiedam set up a small drinking water facility near Mombasa, where 140 local people fill 10,000 jerry cans per day during heyday. 

CFIA - Frugal Innovation - NWOMVI - Philips - Hatenboer - Water Dutch Limited

The other case is about how Philips set up the first Community Life Center (CLC) of Africa in 2014 in a formerly dilapidated village house, in close collaboration with the province and local community of Kiambu County, an area near Nairobi. 

In an interview in the Erasmus Alumni Magazine (spring 2018) you said: "There is an unprecedented potential among the local population. Many people are working on innovations that are not seen or taken seriously. If I can give those people a helping hand, I have done my job as a scientist well." Can you explain that?

“For example, we did a project in Lebanon, about Syrian refugees there and how they start new businesses to provide themselves with work. The project investigated the use of ICTs by refugees in vulnerable environments and assessed how frugal innovations can positively influence their livelihood.  Many new entrepreneurs and small businesses are started, partly in the informal sector. Starting something yourself is one of the ways to get a job. When someone tries to set up a local Airbnb or Uber, it is actually also a form of frugal innovation. Creating jobs with new technologies is becoming increasingly important. It is interesting to see how technologies are applicable and are being used, also in poorer areas, and offer opportunities in areas such as employment. You also see good entrepreneurs in the poorest areas in Africa where we do research and where people have had very little education. You have people like that everywhere - but they have to get a chance. That is also what we are trying to find out: where and when can you best help people in the right direction? Which steps can we come up with? We are looking for the patterns and want to help with setting up policies to stimulate entrepreneurship. ”


The Center for Frugal Innovation in Africa is currently active in the Netherlands within the Leiden-Delft-Erasmus partnership and also locally represented in India and Kenya. The CFIA Kenya Hub was launched last year, and research and education opportunities are being explored in South Africa.   
Read more about the CFIA

Frugal innovation is the development of smart design solutions that can bring relatively advanced products, services or systems within the reach of millions of people with a minimal income. It is about (re) designing products, services and systems at substantially lower costs and with a longer lifespan while there is no loss of functionality. Examples are: affordable water treatment equipment, mobile money transfer services (M-PESA) or portable medical instruments with basic diagnostic functions.  
Read more about Frugal Innovation