Making the Inclusive Business Case

With more knowledge and momentum, making the IB case is easier than ever


Today, on Twitter, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations posted a photo with a quote: “Rural people produce 3/4 of the world's food yet these same people constitute 80% of the global poor - We need to support our food producers. They are our #ZeroHunger heroes!

I retweeted this quote because it resonated with me and reminded me about why I became a social entrepreneur in the food and agriculture landscape in the first place. I was propelled by anger about the rising levels of malnutrition among under-five children in Nigeria and high rates of post-harvest losses, and together with my co-founder, decided to establish AACE Food Processing & Distribution Ltd. in 2009.

From our inception, the AACE Foods team made a deliberate effort to weave inclusion into our business model because we were committed to “doing well and doing good.” Instead of importing raw materials like many other consumer goods companies who argue that smallholder farmers in Nigeria cannot meet their quality and consistency requirements, we decided to invest in building a local supply chain. We partnered with a range of nonprofit organizations such as IFDC, Technoserve and LAPO to identify the smallholder farmer groups, create clusters, and provide training.

Over time, we have been able to build a robust supply chain with over 10,000 smallholder, rural farmers who produce the herbs, vegetables, and cereals that we utilize. By providing them with training on good agronomic practices and post-harvest handling and access to financing and technology, we have not only ensured consistent, high quality supply of our raw materials, but also improved the livelihoods of our farmers, their families, and their communities. Indeed, our deliberate efforts to build an inclusive business cost us some financial and human resources in the short-term, but over time, this has proven to be a wise investment and has given us a competitive advantage in our industry.

Beyond AACE Foods, I have actively engaged in promoting inclusive businesses across West Africa through my role as the managing partner of Sahel Consulting. More specifically, by enhancing the productivity of nomadic dairy farmers and linking them to formal markets through the Nigerian Dairy Development Programme, supporting the strengthening of the yam and cassava value chains, or ensuring that female farmers and youth are engaged in these sectors, I have gained insights into the power of inclusive businesses.

My experiences in fostering inclusion and promoting inclusive businesses through AACE and Sahel Consulting have also underscored four key insights:

First, there is a real sense of urgency to ensure inclusion for youth and women, specifically given the demographic and climatic shifts occurring globally, and widening poverty gaps. For example, the potential of Africa’s agriculture sector cannot be unlocked without deliberate efforts to empower the rural poor, as well as women and youth who constitute 50-70% of the workforce.

Second, there is an urgent need for investment in data-driven research, to convince key stakeholders about the scale of exclusion, measure results and demonstrate the impact of inclusion.

Third, inclusion does not just happen, it occurs through deliberate strategic interventions by key stakeholders in all sectors and requires political will at the highest levels of any organization.

Fourth, there are emerging models and lessons learned from failures and successes which can be shared widely and leveraged to make a case for inclusion and foster broad-based engagement.

My experiences and the many that you will read in this publication demonstrate the power and promise of inclusive businesses. Ultimately, our collective political will and strategic efforts to create more inclusive business models will ensure more sustainable and profitable businesses, and a peaceful and safer world, for us all.

Ndidi O. Nwuneli
Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli is a serial social entrepreneur based in Lagos, Nigeria. She is the Co-founder of AACE Foods, Co-Founder & Managing Partner of Sahel Consulting, Chair of NourishingAfrica.com and Founder of LEAP Africa.

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As inclusive business trends towards mainstream, we must move the target

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Table of contents

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A visual summary of the key challenges entrepreneurs need to consider when it comes to making the inclusive business case. Learn more about these aspects by reading this fourth edition of the newly developed online magazine on inclusive…



Through her experience developing an agricultural inclusive business in Nigeria, Nwuneli has seen how her company’s commitment to “doing well and doing good” creates a competitive advantage and drives impact. She offers four key insights for making the case for inclusion.

Ndidi O. Nwuneli

feature story

As inclusive business trends towards mainstream, we must move the target

While inclusive business might not yet be at a tipping point, making the business case certainly has gotten easier—so, let’s use that momentum to strategize, collaborate, and scale for impact.

Dana Gulley

Planetary boundaries among reasons we need inclusive business, says former Unilever CEO

Polman is clear-sighted that the world needs inclusive growth, and it needs it now. Citing widespread damage to our environment and gross inequality, Polman describes the business success Unilever has seen over the past ten years using a purpose-driven, multi-stakeholder model.

Inclusive business creates opportunity at every level

Kahlmann shares insights on how the inclusive business case has evolved over time—from social responsibility and mitigating risk to the opportunity for growing profitability. She offers specific advice for social entrepreneurs, like the importance of focusing on small pilots to start.

Finding and articulating your purpose to make the case to your customers

Hyman’s marketing firm helps mission-driven companies drive growth by focusing their story-line on a single framework for their brand. Her advice for entrepreneurs who are pitching their businesses? Among other things, show your heart.

Embedding sustainability through purpose, transparency, and commitment

Meezan shares the story of Interface, a company whose purpose-led journey has driven them to be leaders in sustainability across their industry. She offers inspiration and wise words for intrapreneurs who want to effect change in their own organizations.

Policy changes have big impact on inclusive business in the Philippines

Through Asec. Fe’s work with the Board of Investments, the Philippines has prioritised inclusive business, making it a “pioneer in the region.” Governments can create the enabling environment for inclusive business, but as Asec. Fe explains, policy change takes patience and perseverance.

Companies are proving business growth alongside increased value for stakeholders

Turner discusses DSM´s purpose-led strategy, which places sustainability and inclusivity at its core. Without such an approach, in the next ten years, Turner argues that businesses will lose their license to operate.

Value generation and competitive advantage are key to making the case

Social entrepreneur Kamal Quadir launched bKash—a mobile money platform—just under a decade ago. Its impact on Bangladesh has been dramatic, with 31 million customers utilising the service today. Quadir offers advice to other social entrepreneurs looking to make an impact on society.

Scaling best practices to sustainably lift the livelihoods of the poor

Blumenthal often has to explain what makes the Social Ventures Foundation’s EndPoverty Fund different from other social impact funds. He details his foundation’s unique approach, like focusing on scale through social and micro-franchising and offers his perspective on the inclusive business space.

Beyond the Business Case - From the Why to the How

Kakar and Beard share important lessons learned on how to implement inclusive business ideas—from identifying a need to adjusting your business model and identifying key partners for success.