Reflecting on inclusive business - progress and what is next?

December 2017 Blog Series

Ebenezer Arthur

Ebenezer Arthur | Wangara Capital | Ghana

What is going well in the inclusive business space in your opinion?

This year has seen a lot of awareness creation and dialogue about inclusive businesses which will go a long way to help promote inclusive businesses. A number of conferences, forum and events have been held and these have put inclusive businesses on the radar.

What is missing?

There are still not enough intermediaries that support the growth and development of inclusive businesses. There is the need for more technical assistance.

Where are we going/what’s next?

The coming year should see the emergence of financing instruments aimed at inclusive businesses. This can however only be realized if inclusive businesses receive adequate investment readiness support.


MimosaTEK provides farm management solutions for smallholder farmers and large agricultural companies in Vietnam

What is going well in the inclusive business space in your opinion?

There are ongoing collaboration between different stakeholders in the inclusive business space, especially private and public partnership. In Vietnam, we are seeing the private and public partnerships collaborating in agricultural sector.

What is missing?

The scale is still small for these partnerships compared to the huge population of farmers in Vietnam. To scale up the impact to the poor, the role of local governments or international organisations is significant.

Where are we going/what’s next?

There is always need for innovations that can serve the poor at larger scale. The innovations need to be affordable and useful for the targeted group of low-income consumers.

Mike Debelak │ Inclusive Business Sweden

What is going well in the inclusive business space in your opinion?

There has been somewhat of a proliferation of inclusive business ventures being established - particularly from small businesses and start-up ventures, but also from some multi-nationals. We are also seeing more of a broader acceptance of the concept of inclusive business as a commercially viable business strategy as opposed to a charitable venture or CSR. Focus on the Sustainable Development Goals has also attracted more focus and investment to this space.

What is missing?

As much of the focus continues to be on new ventures, initiatives and innovations, we need to see more attention placed towards scaling and replication. For scaling, many pilots do not receive the right support and investment to scale for long-term sustainability and broader impact. For replication, we need to focus more on initiatives that work, and bring them to new markets and geographies. We also need to move away from public / development funding of these initiatives towards private sector investment.

Where are we going/what’s next?

The inclusive business space continues to develop and evolve, but we still see inclusive business as part of the development agenda. However, I hope we are moving to a point where inclusive business is more of a common strategy and investment for many more mainstream businesses as they discover the exciting growth potential of this space.

Markus Dietrich

Markus Dietrich | iBAN | Germany

What is going well in the inclusive business space in your opinion?

There is growing awareness among the policymakers globally that inclusive business is a great opportunity to engage with the private sector on aligned objectives. On the company side, successful IB models are scaling fueled by constant growth in impact investment.

What is missing?

The tipping point in the impact investment sector was reached in 2017 as more and more traditional institutional investors are turning their eyes onto this new asset class. IB has not reached this tipping point yet, it is still mostly undertaken by pioneer companies and has not entered mainstream business modelling.

Where are we going/what’s next?

With the growing support from policymakers and finance institutions, IB can become the “new normal way of doing business”. For this to happen, the IB community has to get out of its comfort zone and bring its message into the mainstream business discourse. I also expect the SDG’s to become another rallying point and IB has to find next year its way into the SDG debate.

Abir Hossain

Abir Hossain | Juteborg AB | Sweden

What is going well in the inclusive business space in your opinion?

A number of things are going well: A) Involvement of young entrepreneurs in inclusive business space which to me, is the biggest advantage to bring positive changes. B) Powerful network of inclusive business space especially driven by Europe as a whole. Being in a developed economy, it is amazingly good to lead a business for the base of the pyramid population in the world whose concentration is mostly in Asia and Africa . C) Access and smart usage of technology in the inclusive business space are creating lot of opportunities and involvement of interested group of stakeholders.

What is missing?

Looking at so far successful ventures in the inclusive business arena, my feeling is that it is mostly the small and medium sized ventures who are making the mark. But the big corporations also need to be included and bring in their capacity. Because big corporations could make much more impactful changes. It is important that they see that inclusive business is not CSR, but that it is a real business opportunity to grow, maximise profit and make positive impact for billions of lives in the world.

Where are we going/what’s next?

I am so hopeful about the positive future of inclusive business. But the defining factor would be how fast we could manage to expand the inclusive business with proper inclusion of entrepreneurs, authorities, policymakers and academics around the world. Digital platforms are going to be more important. I believe inclusive business has the high potential to bring life changing innovations. So it is important for the inclusive business community to be more inclusive in expanding the community and patronise more innovations around the world.

Yi Yi Khaing, Director Department of SMEs Development Ministry of Industry | Myanmar

What is going well in the inclusive business space in your opinion?

In my opinion, Policy Development and Financial Assistance are suitable to go well in the business space in Myanmar. Many businesses encounter challenges such as financial assistance, regulatory issues, technology support and capacity building training in my country. Good policies can help to improve the business environment. Meanwhile, financial assistance is crucial for businesses and the support by the government and private banks is not sufficient.

What is missing?

Encouraging companies to invest in low-income markets - Empowering poor people to engage with companies - Policy making for inclusive business (IB)  Government support is urgently needed to develop the inclusive business in Myanmar. To encourage the development of SMEs by nation wide, the multi-stakeholders collaboration is also very important. Government should implement the missing factors.

Where are we going? What’s next?

To find out the ways how to develop Inclusive Business Policies in my country - To find out the hindering factors to develop IB policies - To review that how to become the SMEs contributing to SDGs by using IB policies in Myanmar

Ted London

Ted London | Ross School of Business & Senior Research Fellow | USA

What is going well in the inclusive business space in your opinion?

Results from the field demonstrate that business can deliver value and impact to the BoP, and that they can do so profitably. Yet unleashing the full promise of creating sustainable and scalable businesses that truly alleviate poverty remains elusive. In particular, enterprise leaders have lacked a holistic roadmap that guides their journey to sustainability at scale.

What is missing?

One of my big goals to try to move the inclusive business/BoP domain toward more “professionalization.” We have entire business schools and unbelievable curriculum dedicated to helping our students build better businesses…for the wealthy. We have a handful of courses, at best, for those who want to build businesses to serve the BoP. And too many of these, in my opinion, rely on guest speakers to inspire and share experiences, rather than seeking to empower enterprise leaders through actionable strategies, frameworks and processes for navigating the complexities of an unfamiliar and impoverished market environment.

Where are we going/what’s next?

In our classrooms (and our books, articles, and reports), we can’t primarily focus on inspiration and anecdotes if we really want to move the field forward. We have to turn our attention to empowering entrepreneurs and enterprising managers with frameworks, tools, and processes that helps them to build sustainable, scalable enterprises by better optimizing their strategies and resources. The old question was “should we build enterprises for BoP markets?” The better question is: “how can we build better enterprises for BoP markets?”

Domo 2005

Domo 2005 is an Egyptian company working in the area of healthy food. It has been chosen to receive tailored support as part of the Strategic Advisory Services (SAS) programme organised by the Inclusive Business Action Network (IBAN) and GlobalCAD in 2017.

What is going well in the IB space?

The concept itself gives meaning and value to the business as well as a sense of impact. We are not working just to make money but to empower people at the base of the pyramid while we also create economic value.

What are we missing?

Engaging people from low-income communities is not that easy, and making an inclusive business venture sustainable is even more challenging. For us we are working to engage people from the base of the pyramid as suppliers but we believe that there is more value that can be done. More empowerment for inclusive business ventures is missing.

Where are we going / what is next ?

I think the low-income communities will gain more power in the future , online platforms for example will help them a lot while adding value to them in a fair decentralised way.

Romy Sato

Romy Sato | Global Donor Platform for Rural Development | Germany

What is going well in the inclusive business space in your opinion?

Donors are interested in this field and committing a growing number of resources to develop inclusive business or raising the topic in their political agenda, particularly on inclusive agribusiness. This provides an incentive for the private sector, particularly large companies, to (further) join forces in this endeavor.

What is missing?

A better definition of what is inclusive and what it is not. For example, is it good enough to have initiatives that are reaching and benefiting a large number of smallholders, but without ensuring/creating the conditions for women in the household to also have a ‘say’ on these benefits?

Where are we going/what’s next?

On the Donor Platform, we are planning to organise a series of webinars to discuss with donors and partners how to better support inclusive agribusiness. We will talk about the enabling factors, such as access to land, finance and training, the parameters to define inclusiveness, the relationship with trade and the challenges and opportunities to make this relationship work better for smallholder farmers etc.

Paula Pelaez

Paula Pelaez | Head of Business Call to Action | UNDP

What is going well in the inclusive business space?

We’re seeing good momentum in private sector adopting inclusive business models in part thanks to the new momentum brought by the SDGs , and the fact that IB is seen as a concrete way for the private sector to engage in improving the lives of those living at the bottom of the economic pyramid (those currently left behind). We’re also seeing greater recognition and awareness by different actors of the long-term business and societal opportunities behind inclusive business. Finally, there’s more maturity in understanding what a successful inclusive business is, and the different dimensions of impact, growth, and business value.

What are we missing?

We could benefit from greater evidence of the business case as well as concrete impact of IB. What works and what doesn’t in terms of inclusive business. This is why we’re working with many of our member companies to measure their inclusive business impact to better tailor their efforts to the needs and market opportunities on the ground. In addition, there needs to be greater transparency on the profitability, financing, reach and depth of impact overtime, and further action on the part of governments to create conducive policy environments for inclusive business, as well as awareness by the private sector on work governments are already doing towards this.

Where are we going/what’s next?

Going forward, issues such as climate change, human rights, and women’s empowerment will become much more explicit in the IB agenda as these are not only priority development areas affecting disproportionately vulnerable populations, but also areas where private sector contributions can have a significant positive impact. Additionally, we will see a greater focus on demonstrating sustained impact. Insights derived from this may also be a driver in business transformation in some sectors where issues of risk, value, compensation and intensity of work are highly uneven and unfair. While, thus far the focus has been on the companies and on the role of governments, I believe what needs to come next is to give a greater voice to the BoP population – those whose lives inclusive business stands to impact the most.

Eugenia Rosca

Eugenia Rosca |Tilburg University | the Netherlands

What is going well in the inclusive business space in your opinion?

A lot of social entrepreneurs really eager to make a difference, lots of initiatives to support these entrepreneurs at different stages of development with funding, partnership, business mentoring, etc. We have even programmes on inclusive business targeting students and executives to ensure transformative education for the next generation of leaders.

What is missing?

There are several important gaps. Firstly, there is a strong focus on social issues and poverty alleviation and the ecological aspects remain rather unexplored. Apart from ventures that provide clean energy technologies, there is little effort to support BoP communities in a a manner which is congruent with environmental needs. Here, we need to learn more from models of circular and sharing economy, product-service-systems and sufficiency-based business models in order to support poverty alleviation in an ecologically sound manner. Secondly, impact measurement at system level from a longitudinal perspective is missing. It is still not clear how much impact our efforts are creating and how ‘included’ BoP communities feel

Where are we going/what’s next?

I think the next few years will see an increase in focus on impact measurement at system level and focus on ecologically-viable models of development, in particular from the sharing economy, service delivery models enabled by advanced levels of digitilisation and transformation of key development sectors driven by the digital economy (e.g. the emergence of e-healthcare or e-agriculture solutions).

KC Mishra | eKutir | India

What is going well in the inclusive business space in your opinion?

Coming up with the new products and services for the people from the bottom of the pyramid.

What is missing? 

The willingness of other organisations to participate is missing because their roles are also critical.

Where is the inclusive business going and what is next?

It is going in the right direction, as some of the companies started taking their strategies to build inclusive business and have seen huge potential in terms of business and impact in base of the pyramid markets. Other things that became essential for inclusive business are internet connectivity and internet economy. Everything is becoming transparent and people are observing brands: what is the meaning of brand and what is its value. So inclusive business combines values and virtues together.

Fatma M'Selmi

Fatma M'Selmi | Inclusive Business Consultant | Tunisia

What is going well in the IB space?

I think in Tunisia things are now moving in a good way. When it comes to economic, social development and environment, inclusive business is one of the most important topics and I think we are on a good track: There are a lot of seminars about inclusive business development, social entrepreneurship and we must keep on moving here.

What are we missing?

What is missing now is concrete action to help low-income people. We have a lot of potential and people are aware that we must do something here in Tunisia, but the question is how? Therefore, we must talk to each other: the public sector, private sector and NGOs. With the support of national and international corporations it would be good if we develop something in common: A strategic plan and some pilot actions to show that things can succeed. Then, we can also help the base of the pyramid, especially in the interior regions in Tunisia.

Darian Stibbe | The Partnering Initiative | UK

What is going well in the inclusive business space?

We’re seeing significant growth in understanding and interest from companies about their role in development and looking to see how through their core business they can genuinely contribute to the SDGs. This obviously portends well for continued uptake of inclusive business practice.

What are we missing?

Governments should be doing everything in their power to encourage and support responsible, inclusive and sustainable business both using a carrot approach (co-investments in infrastructure and human-capital, tax breaks etc.) and a stick approach (taxing or regulating out of existence business practice which succeeds at the expense, not the edification, of societies).

Where are we going/what’s next?

What we need to happen is for inclusive business to become the mainstream way of doing business. Governments, business and civil society should be continuously talking and planning how to collectively drive forward positive business development through the necessary investments in infrastructure, human capital, and other elements of an ‘inclusive business environment’ (including tax and regulation). This could happen, for example, through the creation of national or state-level national competitiveness councils fully linked to each country’s SDG implementation plans.

Alexandra Oppermann, Advisor Sustainable Economic Policy and Private Sector Development| GIZ, Germany

What is going well in the inclusive business space in your opinion?

The number of companies applying inclusive business models to include the BoP has increased throughout the past years and they receive increased attention from policy makers. G20 is only one example for an international process that has dedicated attention to inclusive businesses. Also, the number of countries that have developed targeted policies to support inclusive businesses has significantly gone up and there are more and more good practices and lessons learnt distilled from these initiatives.

What is missing?

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that development challenges can be overcome in a sustainable way by supporting inclusive business models. But it is time to move a little further and provide sound data on inclusive business models and their contribution to reaching the SDGs. Monitoring and evaluation efforts have to be increased, not only by businesses themselves but also by other stakeholders, such as financiers and development organizations. Also, we need to move from piloting new approaches to ramping up the ones that have shown success!

Where are we going/what’s next?

For inclusive businesses it is not sufficient to concentrate on their social and economic effects, but they also have to consider their effects on the environment and their contribution to global challenges, such as climate change. Inclusive businesses have to show that the “triple bottom line” is achievable by applying a sound business model.

Inclusive Business Action Network
The Inclusive Business Action Network (iBAN) is a global initiative supporting the scaling and replication of inclusive business models. Through its strategic pillars iBAN blue and iBAN weave, iBAN manages an innovative online knowledge platform on inclusive business (inclusivebusiness.net) and offers a focused Capacity Development Programme for selected companies and policymakers in developing and emerging countries. iBAN creates a space where evidence-based knowledge transforms into learning and new partnerships. With its focus on promoting the scale-up of inclusive business models, thereby improving the lives of the poor, iBAN is actively contributing to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. iBAN is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the European Union. It is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

Blog post

What do we mean by ‘inclusive’?

What do we mean by ‘inclusive’? An unwelcome but important question is posed by Harvey Koh, Managing Director of FSG, as he reflects on 11 years wrestling with inclusive models in Mumbai, he asks: 'What if an inclusive business model harms low-income…
Harvey Koh
Table of contents

graphic summary


A visual summary of progress our contributors think has been made in inclusive business and on what is next. Learn more about these aspects by reading this edition of the online magazine on inclusive business! The illustration was developed by…


In the burgeoning inclusive business space, some core questions remain

From the Practitioner Hub’s inception in 2010 to now, Founding Editor Caroline Ashley has seen inclusive business grow and evolve. As she steps down from her editor role this month, she reviews the contributions from this month, and a few from years gone by, to reflect on the essential questions that remain : How much impact is good enough? What is needed to drive scale? How can corporates successfully adapt their business models?

Caroline Ashley

feature story

Inclusive business - Quo vadis?

At the end of the year 2017, we asked practitioners and thought leaders working in inclusive business for their personal opinion on the state of the sector currently and what they think is in store in 2018 and beyond: We asked what is going well, what is missing, and where inclusive business is going next. Read the short answers of our contributors, to see why they think technology, environment, fine-grained impact, SDGs, investment, and much more are top of the list.

Inclusive Business Action Network

What do we mean by ‘inclusive’?

What do we mean by ‘inclusive’? An unwelcome but important question is posed by Harvey Koh, Managing Director of FSG, as he reflects on 11 years wrestling with inclusive models in Mumbai, he asks: 'What if an inclusive business model harms low-income people with unfair terms or discrimination? His answer: not blissful ignorance, but focus on building inclusive market systems, not just stand-alone inclusive enterprises.

Agribusiness: inclusive intentions, not yet core business

Joost Guijt focuses on 'inclusive agribusiness' and calls for more real evidence on how models work, to ensure smallholders really gain and businesses have enough information to take risks. Looking ahead to the ongoing transformation of smallholder agriculture, he also wants to see inclusive business linked to transitions out of primary production.

Progress but time to get more sophisticated in the detail

Armin Bauer draws on years crafting and investing in inclusive business deals inside the Asian Development Bank. Lack of clarity on social impact is one of the two big gaps he identifies, calling for a clearer focus on the bottom 40%, alongside more sophisticated shaping of deals.

Scaling business to tackle malnutrition - making progress but policy action needed

The policy context and role of government is highlighted by Ndidi Nwuneli, a social entrepreneur and investor in Nigeria. AACE Foods is an example of a business that is achieving signficant scale, sourcing from over 10,000 smallholders, while tackling malnutrition. But Ndidi highlights 2 key policy actions needed to unleash local sourcing at scale: incentives and infrastructure.

The Inclusive Business Space in Pakistan

Dr Iffat Zafar Aga, founder of Sehat Kahani, gives an upbeat assessment of how technology has unleashed a raft of inclusive businesses in Pakistan, but a candid view from personal experience of the collision between requirement of entrepreneurs and norms for women in Pakistan. More digital, fewer barriers are the way forward.

Creating a more inclusive agricultural sector in India

KC Mishra is founder of eKutir, which provides 'soil to sale' services to farmers, to create a connected non-exploitative agricultural market. In our exclusive interview, KC argues that such social enterprises can provide a key piece of the jigsaw going forward; partnering with farmers, designing around their needs, and partnering with corporates who lack such ability to differentiate and accomodate.

2018: Next Challenge for Inclusive Business in Nigeria

Progress so far in Nigeria

So far in Nigeria, the term “inclusive business” is not well known since most have come into it quite by accident.

Delivering on the Promise of Inclusive Business

Zahid Torres-Rahman, Founder and Director of Business Fights Poverty, argues that delivering the promise of inclusive business means taking it deeper into corporate, into commercial and operational teams. And where necessary, jettisoning the language of inclusive business. Alongside this deepening, wider and more agile partnerships are needed for scale.

Effectively Using Synergies among Public and Private Stakeholders to Advocate for the Implementation of Inclusive Businesses and Improve the Lives of the Very Poor

It is not the global but the national companies that are flagged by Markus Dietrich, senior advisor within the Inclusive Business Action Network. His priorities for the future include more support to national medium/large companies, clearer linkages with SDGs and alignment with the fast-emerging impact investment market. He also gives a great update on the growing policy support for inclusive business, seen for example in Filipino Government legislation and adoption of principles and commitments by ASEAN, APEC and G20.

Editor's Choice: The Best Blogs of 2017  

Finally, our Editor's Choice flag up the top blogs of the year, with the Hub team explaining why they are our favourites.