Nothing to Lose: The Rationales of Grassroots Financial Innovations in Contexts of Extreme Scarcity

Maria Jose Zapata Campos*, Ester Barinaga, Richard Dimba Kiaka, Juan Ocampo

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

28 Downloads (Pure)


Highly deprived urban contexts, such as informal settlements in the global south, can turn into niches of extreme innovation and sparkle ingenuity out of necessity. But what are the rationales behind the participation of disadvantaged communities in social innovations? Why do they engage in grassroots innovations? What is it that makes these grassroots try novelties and continue experimenting with them, even when the perceived benefits are not clear yet? This paper aims to examine and conceptualize the rationales for engaging in grassroots financial innovations in the context of extremely deprived urban settings.

This paper is based on the case of grassroots organizations which have started experimenting with the development of a community currency in Kisumu, Kenya. This paper is informed by in-depth interviews with members of three grassroots organizations involved in the community currency, together with observations and meeting participation since 2019.

The rationales argued by the participants for engaging in this grassroots innovation are framed in various ways: as a means for seeking poverty alleviation (the development framing); as a challenge to conventional imaginaries of innovations (the digital framing); and as an innovation embedded in community and trust relations (the community framing). These framings have a mobilizing effect that initially draws participants into the innovation. Yet, what explains persistent participation despite the decreasing influence of these framings over time is the organizational space and strategies of incompleteness accommodating these experiments.

This paper contributes to the emerging body of grassroots innovations movements literature. While research has progressed in its understandings of the challenges of scaling up innovative practices, the examination of the grassroots initiatives stemming from extremely deprived settings, and the rationales and framings behind, have been under examined. This paper comes to bridge this gap.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Enterprise Journal
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)193-212
Number of pages20
Publication statusPublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Published online: 15 March 2023.


  • Community currencies
  • Grassroots financial innovations
  • Resource-scare environments

Cite this