Bridging the Inclusive Business Talent Gap

How entrepreneurs, funders, educators and academics are investing in developing IB talent

Story highlights

The inclusive business sector requires traditional business skills, a passion for impact, skills unique to IB and a diversity of talent to match the diversity of the markets it serves

In keeping with the entrepreneurial spirit of the IB world, practitioners are innovating ways to address the talent gap from individual company initiatives to scalable, system-wide solutions

For system-wide solutions to take hold, the sector must invest in understanding—and developing best practices—to address these common talent challenges

Our traditional and non-traditional educational systems are taking up the cause to transform their programmes to adequately train the next generation to be thriving IB investors, practitioners, and leaders

Mind the Gap writing on the floor

Despite too few resources, inclusive business practitioners remain undaunted, putting their heads down to address the considerable challenge of closing the talent gap. Photo Credit: Greg Plominski on Pixabay


As Ross School of Business professor and researcher Ted London shares in his CLUED-iN interview, humility is the first best practice for companies working at the Base of the Pyramid. And yet, “humility training” does not rise to the top of the list of topics covered by mainstream business education and talent development programmes. This disconnect extends beyond humility to the many skills and capabilities that the IB sector needs to grow, scale, and drive impact.

people holding up coloured signs

Many different skills and capabilities are required to make inclusive business thrive, one being humility. Photo Credit: rawpixel.com on Pexels

In true IB fashion, practitioners and funders are making do—tackling the talent gap through system-wide and company-wide efforts alike. While a cultural phenomenon might be at play, driving this sector to do more with less, serious attention and investment should be paid to scaling those training and education models that can adequately develop that is so desperately needed.

two women and a man with an off-grid solar panel

Investing in training and education models helps close the talent gap. Photo Credit: +Acumen

To help us understand more about the talent gap and how it is affecting businesses at scale, the Skoll Foundation partnered with USAID, Mercy Corps, and The Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University to tackle the topic as part of their Scaling Pathways series. While they will be officially releasing a report of their findings next month, for this issue of the magazine, researchers Erin Worsham (CASE) and Amanda West (Mercy Corps) compiled insights from leading social enterprises into managing talent at scale. Also recognising the system-wide talent challenges that small and growing inclusive businesses faces, the Argidius Foundation and Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE) launched a talent challenge in 2016, the learnings from which Caren Holzman shares following over two years of implementation. These insights and learnings will begin to form the foundation of best practices that the IB sector can build on.

Meanwhile, two organizations—the African Management Initiative (AMI) and TheBoardroom Africa—have gotten to work on developing scalable solutions of their own. AMI is focused on disrupting the mainstream “training workshop” paradigm, as CEO and Co-Founder Rebecca Harrison puts it, by developing a new, promising practice-based model of entrepreneurship training in partnership with researchers from MIT. TheBoardroom Africa has set its sights on increasing the amount of exceptional female talent serving on boards across sectors and across Africa, a strategy that in turn will increase diversity on the executive teams of businesses across the continent. Founder Marcia Ashong believes this work is part of a “movement…for women and men to lead side by side.”

Women at a panel discussion

TheBoardroom Africa promotes exceptional female talent to boards across Africa. Photo Credit: TheBoardroom Africa

IT entrepreneur at a shop in Nairobi

Kelvin Kang'ethe, an IT entrepreneur in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo Credit: African Management Initiative

Because inclusive business does not currently benefit from traditional recruiting methods—and instead often depends on referrals—two companies have developed their own internal solutions for identifying talent. Essilor, a global vision care company, has increasingly been serving the Base of the Pyramid, leading to many learnings which their Vice President, Anurag Hans, shares with readers. To tackle the talent gap, his team developed the Essilor BoP Fellowship Program, which not only bring the team “fresh ideas and insights” but allows them to identify talent. Similarly, LGT Impact Ventures recognised that their portfolio companies—all purpose-driven—were struggling to identify management talent to support growth. Through the creation of the LGT Impact Fellows Programme, the company has been able to help their portfolio companies get the impact-focused talent they need. While LGT Ventures does not intend to scale this initiative, Associate Director Marc Moser believes that more investors and funders need to offer this kind of support.

Man holding a notebook and talking to a woman

LGT fellows in the field. Photo Credit: LGT Venture Philanthropy

Traditional and non-traditional education platforms are also focused on equipping the next generation of changemakers with the skills and capabilities they need to bridge the gap. Amy Ahearn explains how freely accessible, online courses offered by +Acumen have been focused on filling skill gaps in human-centred design and systems thinking, for example—both of which are needed in inclusive business. Traditional education systems, like the MBA, are also responding to the changing needs for different skills and capabilities. Claire Sommer shares the journey of the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative, including their Dean’s and Directors Cohort, which is aimed at innovating for global responsibility. One such success story is the Grossman School of Business’s Sustainable Innovation MBA programme at the University of Vermont, which former co-director Stuart Hart explains “chang[es] the horse instead of the saddlebags” thereby transforming traditional business education to solve “systemic, global challenges.”

people in a classroom discussing learnings

Both traditional and non-traditional learning platforms can help bridging the talent gap in inclusive business. Photo Credit: +Acumen

Dig into this issue of CLUED-iN to get inspired and glean insights and actions for you to bring back to your company or project!

Next steps for entrepreneurs
Practical tools for businesses
Dana Gulley
Dana joined iBAN as the Editor-in-Chief of its online magazine, CLUED-iN, in July 2018. She is the founder and lead consultant at Third Peak Solutions, a firm that advises businesses and nonprofits on developing innovative strategies to solve our world’s most pressing challenges. A trained mediator with a background in natural resources and business administration, Dana has spent her career building cross-sector partnerships to tackle both energy and water issues.

Blog post

Entrepreneurs and funders must address talent challenges to successfully scale

The CASE at Duke’s Erin Worsham and Mercy Corps Venture’s Amanda West preview talent insights from world’s leading social enterprises ahead of the Scaling Pathways report, which will be released in May 2019.
Erin Worsham
Table of contents

graphic summary


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



Chair of the CLUED-iN Editorial Committee, Caroline Ashley, sets the stage for this issue of the online magazine by offering her perspective on the type of talent that must be developed to grow and scale the inclusive business sector.

Caroline Ashley

featured story

In the wake of system-wide underinvestment in the talent gap, IB funders and practitioners are nonetheless innovating solutions

As Caroline Ashley explains in her Editorial, we do not yet understand the size and scope of the talent gap facing the inclusive business (IB) world. We do know that to stem the tide of global climate change, environmental degradation, and mass inequality, the IB sector needs to both grow and scale. With entrepreneurs and funders citing talent challenges—in terms of recruitment, training, and development—at every level of organizational growth, we ought to be investing in solving this problem.

Dana Gulley

Entrepreneurs and funders must address talent challenges to successfully scale

The CASE at Duke’s Erin Worsham and Mercy Corps Venture’s Amanda West preview talent insights from world’s leading social enterprises ahead of the Scaling Pathways report, which will be released in May 2019.

Talent challenges can inhibit growth, but solutions are possible

Talented managers are critical for small and growing businesses (SGBs), which are key actors in driving inclusive growth. However, finding and developing these managers can be especially difficult in emerging markets. Learn how the Argidius-ANDE Talent Challenge has led to real solutions.

Freely accessible online courses can help changemakers fill their skill gaps

+Acumen is keenly aware of the hard and soft skills that changemakers need to build and scale successful social enterprises. Through online courses focused on human-centred business, systems thinking, and unit economics, for example, thousands of entrepreneurs worldwide are filling their skill gaps.

Entrepreneurship training is broken. Now what?

Classroom-based training has proven limited in its impact on entrepreneurs, leading African Management Initiative to partner with researchers at MIT to develop a practice-based approach that is showing early signs of being effective in helping businesses to not only survive but thrive.

Enterprises need tools and frameworks to support talent development in base of the pyramid markets

Ted London recognises the need to focus on talent development to scale inclusive business models in base of the pyramid (BoP) markets. According to Ted, enterprises should focus on developing talent with humility, the skills needed for co-creation with the BoP and the capacity to productively engage with the development community.

A systematic approach is needed to overcome the talent gap

Essilor has been in the vision care industry since the industry’s inception. As the company focuses its attention on inclusive business models to serve the underserved, Hans shares his team’s lessons learned for recruitment and talent development at the base of the pyramid.

Diverse boardrooms mean diverse executive teams: Matching female talent with boards in Africa to address the gap

Marcia Ashong and her team have set out to overcome the systemic challenge of leadership ladders that look like pyramids for women across Africa—while women are represented well at the bottom, there are too few in leadership positions at the top.

LGT Venture Philanthropy tackled its portfolio’s talent gap with impact fellowhip programme

After identifying that their high-impact portfolio companies were all struggling to find the right talent, LGT Venture Philanthropy developed a fellowship programme to help bridge the gap. Moser suggests that entrepreneurs who are struggling with this same challenge should find investors and partners who can provide support.

Innovating for global responsibility

Sommer and Hart are focussed on transforming management education to develop the next generation of globally responsible leaders—which requires first asking fundamentally different questions and second taking courageous, bold action.

In Your Words

Entrepreneurs working in African countries offer a snapshot into what drives them to use business to solve problems in local communities.