Next year, I will celebrate my 10th anniversary in the inclusive business community. Supporting the Asian Development Bank’s IB initiative in Manila in 2012, an amazing universe of thought leaders and pioneering companies, investors and policymakers opened up to me. Driven by the desire to achieve social impact beyond the single bottom line, they have been a constant source of inspiration. That year, the Philippine Business for Social Progress private sector foundation developed the vision of Inclusive Business as the new paradigm of doing business. How far did we get since then? Did IB end up on the dust heap of history as another management concept that was overtaken by another school of thought? Looking at the management literature one could almost think so, as now the net-positive company is being proclaimed as the new kid on the block. But IB has proven very resilient; there is even a fair share of IB in the net-positive company.
During my 5th anniversary, one important piece of the puzzle was put on the table, which provided strong impetus to move forward. The ASEAN leaders endorsed IB and positioned it on their economic agenda. Since then, an amazing development of policy support for IB has taken place. Understanding that IB can contribute substantially to the overarching micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) agenda of the region, innovative policy makers in the majority of the ASEAN member states have developed IB policy guidelines, as showcased at the 4th ASEAN IB Summit. The most recent adopters are Viet Nam and Malaysia. Cambodia has moved from hearing about IB for the first time in 2017 to the implementation of a national IB strategy within four years. The first IB accreditation of 18 companies this year is testament to the dedication of the country to promote IB. A South-South dialogue is now introducing IB policy development to Nigeria, Zambia and Kenya, spreading the message on the African continent.
An important insight for me was that the positioning of IB in the broader development debate hinges on its ability to convincingly prove its unique contribution to a prevailing agenda which has broad support. In 2017 it was the MSME agenda for ASEAN. It’s my conviction that 2022 offers a window of opportunity to position IB in the global discussion as the business model for a just transition, ensuring that the journey towards environmental sustainability is accompanied by decent work, social inclusion and poverty eradication. Once the carbon tunnel vision is overcome and the holistic nature of sustainability re-emerges, IB needs to be visible as a private sector solution to leave no one behind in the pursuit of building back better. The development of the Inclusive Business Features and the Inclusive Business Playbook can provide the conceptual stepping stones for IB to take its rightful place in this debate. No doubt, more conceptual work needs to be done, business needs to be coached towards IB, more effort on environmental sustainability among IBs is needed and more policies have to be in place to incentivize companies to shift towards inclusive business models. What can turbo-charge this transition is the allocation of green financing, which after COP26 will increase even more, to Inclusive Business. A convincing narrative of IB as the motor of a just transition might make this possible. Then, we will be closer to the vision of IB as a new paradigm of doing business.