Grassroots innovations in developing knowledge societies in Africa.


Grassroots innovation is the bottom-up innovation approach starting from the grassroots. It is usually started from the general public; people without economical influence who are not from the decision making class initiate activities that changes the way they do things innovatively.

Elimu Living Lab in Sengerema

Elimu Living Lab in Sengerema

A paper on grassroots innovation from School of Economic and Management, Wuhan University, China defines grassroots innovation as the innovative activities of improving products, techniques and crafts in a random and extensive way by the grassroots people who have grasped the corresponding techniques and skills. It is a flash in the common people and embodiment of their wisdom.


Working with the small available resources for the larger impact.

One of the most important aspects of grassroots innovations to the developing societies is the fact that it is sustainable and implementable since people themselves (grassroots people) within the societies take the initiative to establish projects that can help to revolutionize and change the way they do things for positive impacts. Since grassroots innovation uses bottom-up approach is easy to be adopted and localized to meet the environmental needs. Societies can bootstrap and work with the minimum resources possible to implement solutions for problems facing them in real time through collaboration and innovation.

For African countries facing poverty challenges and budgetary constraints, its difficult for governments to implement big cash demanding projects to foster knowledge communities alternatively they could use what already people posses to create low cost collaborative initiatives to build sustainable knowledge communities through grassroots innovations.

Most of the time the solutions coming from the top are facing challenges to be implemented and made to be sustainable since societies fail to adopt with the system and the anticipation challenges” are so high. The decision makers and donor funded initiatives or projects usually tends to anticipate and plan to implement projects that looks adaptable and sustainable and ended up to be white elephant projects. Using bottom-up approach this risk can be reduced to the maximum. When people are incentivised to kick-start their own initiative and receive a minimal support it encourages them to work hard and  be innovative on possible ways of making their projects sustainable.

Tuija Hirvikoski from Laurea University of Applied Sciences on the book “The Knowledge Triangle” emphasizes on this by referring to EU Horizon 2020 challenge-based third pillar, that is, better societies, emphasizes the need to take societal problems themselves as a starting point for corporate and university RDI work. As the old Tanzanian saying “You don’t know the troubles of the house you don’t sleep in”.

Living Labs is one of the concepts that support bottom-up approach of creating knowledge societies. According to the European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL), the Living Labs are citizen driven open innovation ecosystems in real-life settings in which innovation is fully integrated into the co-creative, co-design processes for new technologies, products, services, and societal infrastructures.

Learning from Elimu Lab, a living lab in northern Tanzania in a small township of Sengerema, after the discussion with the founder Karol Novat, the first half of the definition of the Living Lab explain the way Living Labs should be be runned and the second part of the definitions emphasises on the output that is to be expected from the process. The impact of these social spaces is startlingly impressive due to the fact the people of the surrounding communities themselves took the initiative to carry out the projects and finding the solutions for their day to day problems.


Samsung supporting KINU hub with a testing table for developers at the hub.

The public (government) involvement  is essential in helping to build these societal initiatives and make them work. The role of the government is to ensure other stakeholders are being involved in the process. The public-private-people partnership (4Ps) is essential in building knowledge societies using grassroots innovation. Although, the government should be vigilant in the process not to control how things are moving instead to let the people themselves took part in making important decisions affecting their societies through creativity and innovations, this is vital. This will encourage the building of knowledge societies, according to wikipedia, knowledge societies, transform information into resources that allow society to take effective action. The best way to do that is to get the communities themselves involved in the all process stage by stage through bottom-up approach. In the process you will help them to learn and be exposed hence creating knowledge communities.


University of Dar es Salaam students at Buni Hub.

The involvement of users, universities, public agencies, private entities and other stakeholders in a structure that, there is a value created for each player in the process will help to foster grassroots innovation in developing country hence creating knowledge economies. By working together they will be able to create supportive ecosystem and measure the collective impact of the process which will make easier to realize the challenges and overcome them easily collectively. All stakeholders should know the importance of community involvement in delivering these positive impacts.

The Living Labs, Tech hubs, Incubators, Accelerators and Co-working spaces are the important grassroots innovation initiatives that are helping to build knowledge societies in Africa and building culture of entrepreneurship and innovation. If all the players realized their roles and deliver, and the ecosystem is supportive this will be the most valid path towards knowledge societies in Africa, of course its my personal opinion.


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