What does the Independent Evaluation of the Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition tell us?

25 Nov 2019

The Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition was launched in September 2016 and concluded in October 2018. The competition sought to stimulate the off-grid refrigeration market in developing countries across sub-Saharan Africa. Refrigeration is seen as a way to to unlock social and economic progress for billions of un- and under-electrified people, as it can prolong the nutritional value of food, reduce spoilage and waste, diversify diets enable income generating-activities and reduce time spent shopping and/or gathering food. 

This competition was seen to be the first step in generating new technologies that outperformed market standards in efficiency, value and user appeal; and recognising the best in-class off-grid refrigeration technologies.

In December 2018, Nesta Challenges (then Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre) finalised an independent evaluation for the Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition. The evaluation combined a mixed methods approach in investigating quantitative and qualitative outcomes allowing us to engage with all the relevant stakeholders involved in the competition including innovators, partners, judges, other market players and end-users (local business owners). Given there was a high degree of technicality involved in the production of these off-grid refrigerators, this allowed us to measure the solutions effectiveness and efficiency. While understanding innovators and end-users experiences provided us with rich and meaningful narratives on the power of open innovation competitions and off-grid refrigerators.

Tabula Ibrahim in his shop in Masaka, Uganda

Tabula Ibrahim in his shop in Masaka, Uganda. Credit: Efficiency for Access/CLASP

Competition Impact

The competition sought to incentivise technical innovation, support innovators and influence the broader ecosystem about the value of off-grid appropriate refrigeration devices and solar home systems. In order to measure, Nesta Challenges’s approach was categorised into three impact categories:

  • Innovation – assesses whether the competition attracted new innovators and inspired the development of new solutions in response to a defined problem or need
  • Capabilities – assesses whether the competition fostered the development of new collaborations and/or partnerships, new innovator capabilities and mobilised new and existing talents to come work in the space
  • Ecosystem – assesses whether the competition contributed to developing new markets, attracting new investors and raising awareness of off-grid refrigeration and appliances and solar home systems. 


The main outcomes from the competition were centred around technical innovation, user feedback and value of off-grid appliances and solar home systems:

  • 17 independently verified, high quality off-grid refrigerators became available on the market
  • Over 70% of the off-grid refrigerators produced through the competition outperformed those products available in the market
  • 100% of end-users found the off-grid refrigerators easy to use
  • 96% of end-users were happy with the off-grid refrigerators
  • 95% of end-users found that they had increased sales by using the off-grid refrigerators
  • 74% of end-users were willing to pay between $200 and $700 for a solar home system compatible off-grid refrigerator
  • Over 1,000 Global LEAP finalists’ off-grid refrigerators were sold in East Africa as part of the Global LEAP Off-Grid Appliance Procurement Incentives Programme

Though the competition was able to incentivise technical and market innovation in off-grid refrigerators, there was still an issue on ensuring they were affordable and accessible to local businesses, communities and households. The cost of developing these off-grid refrigerators were still quite high and as a result the price point at which they were available to sell in East African markets were high.

Nesta and E4I facilitating a focus group with end-users in Masaka, Uganda

Nesta and E4I facilitating a focus group with end-users in Masaka, Uganda. Credit: Efficiency for Access/CLASP

Competition Learnings

There were significant learnings from the competition on how to create an open innovation challenge that yields innovation, develops capacity of innovators and build 

  • Cash prizes attract existing innovators, as well as new ones to enter the off-grid refrigeration space
  • Independent testing was an essential incentive for finalists, as the costs of conducting laboratory and field testing is expensive and being verified by Global LEAP brings significant reputational and brand exposure
  • Dynamic partnerships and expertise allowed for a holistic approach to various parts of the competition from the technical expertise conducted by CLASP to the context-specific expertise provided by E4I
  • The Global LEAP Off-Grid Appliance Procurement Incentives Programme not only acted as an incentive for innovators to participate guaranteeing sales into new markets, but it also supported the development of a new and emerging market in off-grid refrigeration across East Africa
  • Conducting mixed methods in research and design produces a multifaceted approach to understanding existing off-grid technologies, customers, distributors, solar home system demands and constraints, and the off-grid refrigeration market.

The competition cannot yet claim to have created a robust off-grid refrigerator market across East Africa, but it has shaped the market by creating formally established tests and benchmarks to guide future activities in the sector.

As a result of this competition pushing technical innovation in off-grid refrigerators, Global LEAP launched the second version of this competition in November 2018 to further push the boundaries of producing innovative solutions that are cost-effective, accessible and affordable to end-users. The competition announced its winners and finalists in September 2019.

For access to the full evaluation report, click here


Written by Bhavik Doshi, Research and Impact Officer, Nesta Challenges

The Global LEAP Off-Grid Refrigerator Competition was funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through Scaling Off-Grid Energy: A Challenge for Development (SOGE) and Power Africa,  U.S. Department of Energy(DoE) and UKAID/DFID (Department for International Development); implemented by CLASP, 

Energy 4 Impact (E4I), DAI and IMC/Ideas2Impact (I2I); and evaluated by Nesta Challenges.