One million informal innovators uncovered in South Africa

Potential of informal household innovation on the African continent revealed

July 18, 2023
Siphiwe Zuma, South African informal innovator and founder of Anathoth Solutions, created an umbrella which can fold into a backpack for people, like him, who live with a disability

Siphiwe Zuma, South African informal innovator and founder of Anathoth Solutions, created an umbrella which can fold into a backpack for people, like him, who live with a disability

Siphiwe Zuma


New York/Johannesburg – The first ever survey on informal innovation on the African continent using the von Hippel & de Jong model of household innovation reveals one million informal innovators exist in South Africa whose activity was invisible before this research was conducted.

In joint research called “Making the Invisible Visible: Informal Innovation in South Africa”, the UNDP Accelerator Labs, Utrecht University, the University of Johannesburg and the MIT Sloan School of Management show the extent to which grassroots innovators are solving local problems in South Africa and addressing their household needs. It is the first research using internationally comparable methods into household innovation conducted on the African continent, allowing benchmarking across countries, and helping to fill a major research gap in understanding informal innovation in Africa. 

The research found that the rate of informal innovation in South Africa (2.5%) is not as high as the Netherlands (6.2%) and the United Kingdom (6.1%), but higher than South Korea (1.5%) and China (2.1%), indicating the immense untapped potential of on-the-ground innovation on the continent.

When it comes to sharing and growing these innovations, South African innovators spread their inventions and ideas twice as much compared to peers in the Global North. The study shows that over 50% of the informal innovations in South Africa are directly shared with peers, and over 10% are commercialized (in other countries this is usually 25% and 5%).

The research draws from nearly 1,100 surveys and 26 in-depth interviews to describe informal innovation and how it spreads, characterize informal business ownership and how it can help disseminate informal innovations, outline key components of an informal innovation and business ecosystem, and suggest context-appropriate policy prescriptions. 

Innovation can play a critical role in tackling difficult development challenges in Africa—from finding cleaner and cheaper cooking methods to extending credit to informal traders. The potential for informal innovation and entrepreneurship to deliver novel solutions affordably and accessibly has been underexplored until now.


Attend the launch event Wednesday July 19, 2023 at 9:00AM - 10:15AM ET, 3:00pm - 4:14PM SAST: 

Access the report


About the UNDP Accelerator Labs
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is the leading United Nations organization fighting to end the injustice of poverty, inequality, and climate change. Working with our broad network of experts and partners in 170 countries, we help nations to build integrated, lasting solutions for people and the planet. In 2019, UNDP set out to build the world’s largest and fastest learning network on wicked sustainable development challenges. Co-built as a joint venture with the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development of Germany and the Qatar Fund for Development, the UNDP Accelerator Labs Network is covering 115 countries, and tapping into local innovations to create actionable insights and reimagine sustainable development for the 21st century. 

To learn more about the UNDP Accelerator Labs Network, check out



Erika Antoine, UNDP Accelerator Labs Communications Lead, +1 929 406 5348