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The Emerging Patterns of Grassroot Innovation

Concept, Roots and Scope of Commercialization

[Background] [Research Focus] [Objectives] [Proposed Methodology] [References]

A project of:

Project Team: Rajnish Tiwari, Dr. Stephan Buse and Anup Karath Nair

Start: March 2011

Duration: Six months

Project Status: Completed

Keywords: Grassroot Innovations; Bottom of the Pyramid; Bottom of the Economic Pyramid; Base of the Pyramid; Frugal Innovations; Gandhian Innovations; Honey Bee Network, National Innovation Foundation, SRISTI, Anil Gupta

Schlüsselwörter: wurzelnahe Innovationen; Frugale Innovationen

An edited and updated version of this study was published as:

Nair, A. K., Tiwari, R. and Buse, S. (2017): Emerging Patterns of Grassroots Innovations: Results of a Conceptual Study Based on Selected Cases from India. In: Herstatt, C. and Tiwari, R., eds. Lead Market India: Key Elements and Corporate Perspectives for Frugal Innovations. Heidelberg: Springer, 65-95.



Despite the penetrative reach of "globalization", the global poor are yet to be sufficiently integrated with vibrant, market driven economies. This disconnect often results in their exclusion from the benefits of globalization. Several multinational corporations, until recent years, have concentrated their resources (capital, creativity and labour) on products and services which cater to the needs of the consumers who very obviously can afford these solutions. The challenge of creating new markets by reaching out to those consumers who prima facie do not belong to the target group have been left largely unconsidered till not long back. At the same time, large corporations which strive to fulfil the needs of the "non-consumer" have little or no access to the wealth of information which is required to satisfy their needs and solve their daily problems.

As, a result, for several years the knowledge-rich but economically-poor people have been relying on their creativity and local knowledge to devise solutions which can solve their day-to-day problems. These solutions generally tend to be ‘better fit’ solutions as an intangible amount of ‘contextual knowledge’ is articulated while developing the product or service. The point now is that if a low-cost solution is found addressing a problem at one place, can that be applied to solve a similar problem elsewhere? If yes, then can that solution/ business model be converted into a product/service and be used as a tool for revenue generation for the solution provider?

Research Focus

The paradigm of grassroot innovations might offer a unique model to promote development in which the poor not only play a part, but also assume a leadership role in the creation of ‘shared value’. Policies which encourage grassroot innovations and promote the integration of these products and services into business eco systems can act as a driver for economic growth at the bottom of the pyramid. The increased opportunities for wealth and job creations at the grassroots level would increase social mobility which in turn would foster inclusive growth. One might argue that these innovations should be encouraged and adequate support should be provided to scale up these innovations because these innovations “goes with the grain of people’s life and so are able to engage people with issues and embed behaviour changes more effectively” (Roberts, 2005) .

However, little academic research has been carried out to promote a better understanding of these phenomena and the resulting implications. Grassroot innovations have often been clubbed along with ‘bottom of the pyramid innovations’ and ‘frugal engineering/innovations’ despite ‘grass root innovations’ having their own unique flavours which distinguishes them from the other genres of innovation. Further, replicating these stand alone innovations into sustainable business models requires the establishment of conditions which impact the internationalisation of such products. Having established these conditions, traditional management theories and practises would have to to be examined and extended to capture and unleash the business potential of these innovations. The key questions which this thesis would attempt to outline include:

"Grassroot innovations" have often been a response to the local deficiencies but can it be turned into business models which are universally replicable?

Q1) What are grassroot innovation ?

  1. Characteristics of grassroot innovation.

  2. How are they similar and how are they different from BOP innovations and frugal innovations?

  3. Advantages and disadvantages of grassroot innovations.

  4. Conditions which encourage grassroot innovations: Source of the idea, Characteristics of the innovator, support received from government and NGO’s.

Q2) Can they be internationalised or are they strongly rooted in the regional innovation system?

  • Examining the factors which affect the internationalisation of an innovation.

  • Writing and analysing case studies which track the progress of a successful and unsuccessful instance of internationalisation of a grassroot innovation.

  • Conducting the relevant interviews with the appropriate stakeholders in each stage of the innovation process.

  • Critique of the process.

  • Implications of internationalisation and recommendations


The objective of this research is to bring to light, the emerging field of grassroots innovation and the patterns which it adopts. This would allow us to explore the business possibilities it offers. The insights for this research can be used by businesses, policymakers and the academia to understand:

  1. Characteristics of Grassroot innovation and the various dimension which impact it;

  2. The possibilities of internationalising this genre of innovations;

  3. Steps that are important to scale the innovation into a business model, how SME’s and large corporations can collaborate;

  4. Implications, shortcomings and competitive advantages of promoting this model.

A better understanding of grassroot innovation would not only ensure a freer world where skills and intellect are rewarded, in some cases handsomely but would also tackle the most unfair sorts of income disparity, and allow more people to move socially upwards by ensuring their participation in wealth creation.

Proposed Methodology

To meet the above objectives the following procedure will be followed:

  1. Extensive Literature Review: A detailed review and critique of journals and papers which concern, Grassroot Innovation, Bottom of the Pyramid literature and Frugal Innovations;
  2. Case Studies and Primary Research: Examine the cases which were collected during the field trip to India. We would also attempt write a new case study which tracks the progress of a grassroot innovation from identification to successful and unsuccessful internationalisation;
  3. Secondary research: Drawing on the observations and articles which concern the area being researched.


  1. Roberts, S. (2005): "Grassroots Initiatives In Energy", paper presented at the Grassroots Innovations for Sustainable Development conference, UCL London, 10th June, 2005.

[ For further enquiries, please contact Rajnish Tiwari or Dr. Stephan Buse ]