About the Nova Instition

Focus Areas

We follow the principle that it is important to understand both the household as a whole, as well as its constituent parts. Therefore the integration of our focus areas forms an important part of our endeavour to understand the household as a whole. Currently, Nova has four focus areas:

  • Energy
  • Living Environment
  • Care
  • Knowledge Management, Integration and Publications


In this focus area Nova is concerned with the energy usage patterns of, primarily, low-income households. We believe that it is important for households to have access to clean and efficient energy solutions. Nova therefore endeavours to develop and promote energy efficient solutions (methods, technologies and products) with households. In our experience it is sometimes necessary to adapt solutions that work in other societies to make it functional in a low-income African context. Our Basa Magogo project is one of our flag ship projects illustrating the merit of our research and development approach for cleaner energy solutions.


A vast number of people in South Africa are excluded from the main or formal economy. The household is often the last refuge to those who are marginalised by the larger institutional networks dictating the economical mechanisms of society. This makes the household environment a potential space for economic activity to those discarded from the formal economy.

Traditionally the African household has been the centre of production.

The first challenge is to develop ways (technology, practices, skills and knowledge) that will enable illiterate and semi-literate people to sustain their families through household-based production, in a sustainable, profitable, socially beneficial and desirable way. Such practices require the functional integration of technical, economical, socio-cultural and ecological factors into something new.

Living Environment

In the focus area "living environment", attention is given to the relation of the living space inside the house to the space outside. The living environment includes the architecture of the house, in the sense that the architect designs the boundary between the inside and outside of the house. It also includes the spaces between the houses: the plants, birds, soil, water and sunshine, as well as the human activities that take place there. These activities include the utilisation of spaces for work, care and recreational activities - as well as for activities such as crime and polluting and damaging the environment.

We have found that crime increases if people - out of fear for crime - withdraw from the outside to the inside of the house. The high levels of crime can be reduced dramatically by increasing mutual involvement by residents in the activities within the spaces between the houses. This has also been found for other cultures and for American cities.


Vulnerable members of families in Southern Africa suffer the most under the scourges of poverty, HIV/AIDS, crime and every so often political instability. It is therefore of cardinal importance to build the inherent capacity of households to care for their vulnerable members amidst these challenges.

Nova's Care Programme is developing solutions that would empower households to render quality care. We believe this endeavour is particularly relevant given the huge number of children who are vulnerable and even orphaned by HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa.

Knowledge Management, Integration and Publications

In Nova's understanding, poverty is the product of the dysfunctional interaction of a wide diversity of factors and systems.

Based on this problem definition, we understand our task as the designing of solutions for households, where the functional integration of these factors has been achieved. This includes:

  • The integration of the knowledge of residents who experience poverty from the inside, and the knowledge of different researchers who see aspects of poverty from the outside
  • The integration of the insights of researchers of various disciplines with each other
  • The integration of technology in the household as a whole
  • The integration of the views of service and product providers with the perceptions of household residents
  • Eventually, the integration of all of the above

The Nova approach recognises the mutual influence and interdependence of the different focus areas on each other. In fact, they are only a few of many more: they form part of a large number of factors that have an impact on the household. In the household, these factors interact and combine to form the household that we observe. Maybe even more importantly: the household as a whole is an entity in its own right that determines the place and role of each of the constituting parts.

We therefore have to consider the place of each focus area in the household as a whole. Our task can be described as the functional integration of each focus area into the whole household system.