Frugal or Fair? The Unfulfilled Promises of Frugal Innovation

Mario Pansera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Frugal innovation has become a popular buzzword among management and business scholars. However, despite its popularity, I argue that the frugal innovation literature, in its present form, is problematic for at least two reasons. First, the frugal innovation literature assumes that scarcity is a normal condition of the “Global South”. In this article, I show that this assumption neglects the fact that scarcity can be socially constructed to deny certain social sectors the access to resources essential for their flourishing. Second, despite all the good intentions underpinning the idea of “alleviating poverty”, frugal innovation studies rarely challenge, or even discuss, the causes of destitution and social exclusion. Innovation, as well as technology, is overwhelmingly framed in an agnostic and neutral way that sidelines the socio-economic complexity of the exclusion mechanisms that cause poverty and underdevelopment. By ignoring this, the frugal innovation literature risks limiting the understanding of the problems it seeks to solve and, most importantly, it risks limiting its impact. Most frugal innovation literature, in other words, seems to elude the fact that, rather than being a mere lack of resources or technology, poverty is a matter of social justice. In order to be empowering, technology has to be value-based, normative framed, socially controlled, and democratically debated. In this article, I propose that we should use these principles to develop a new wave of frugal innovation literature and practice
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6-13
Number of pages8
JournalTechnology Innovation Management Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 24 Apr 2018


  • frugal innovation

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