Caroline Ashley

Caroline focuses on how innovative economic models can deliver more inclusive and resilient development.

Caroline has worked on markets, business models and investment approaches that deliver social impact for many years in roles with challenge funds, impact investors, entrepreneurs, corporates, NGOs and policy makers. As Results Director of the DFID Business Innovation Facility, and Sida Innovations Against Poverty programme, she founded the Practitioner Hub for Inclusive Business in 2010, then took on hosting it, and acted as Editor of the Hub for 7 years before it transitioned into managed by IBAN.

Most recently Caroline led economic justice programmes at Oxfam GB, before moving to Forum for the Future, to lead global systems change programmes to accelerate our transition to a sustainable future.

The Business Innovation Facility in 2013: will we generalise at our peril?

14. Jan 2013

2013 promises to be an exciting year for the Business Innovation Facility (BIF), as we move into our final year. At least final year for BIF 1. A second version of BIF is already on the drawing board.

As our direct support to inclusive business ventures in Malawi, Zambia, Nigeria, India and Bangladesh wraps up, we will focus more on assessing and sharing results.

BIF has a mandate to share lessons about inclusive business: about what works and what doesn’t at the level of a business, and a donor programme. For so long we have been sharing ‘preliminary’ findings. 2013 is the year when we have to step up a gear, and share highlights of all that we have found.


What will we be talking about? Three things are highlighted in our summary for 2013 (you can click the thumbnail to download).


  1. Results of inclusive business: what development and commercial returns can we really see in the businesses in our portfolio. By the end of 2013 they will still only be on trajectory towards their future goal, but we will explore ‘what path to what returns?’
  2. Stories: the personalities, coincidence of timing, twists and turns of a market that shaped the evolution of the inclusive businesses that thrived or stalled.
  3. Business models that work. We will focus on models that we have helped our clients to develop: models that reach low income consumers, that engage with thousands of farmers, or harness partnerships to deliver innovative solutions.

Will we be able to draw headline messages from such a diverse portfolio as we find in BIF, ranging across sectors, from social enterprise to multinational? If there is one thing I have learnt trying to analyse inclusive business, it’s that we ‘generalise at our peril’. Boundaries between categories are forever being blurred, and assumptions challenged.

Another is that there are no inclusive business solutions to take ‘off the shelf’. Almost by definition, a successful model requires innovation in one way or another.

But neither of these mean we should not draw out models trends and trade-offs. Because if every successful model is new, it also builds on several that went before. Understanding what makes a model distinctive and viable, helps identify which bits to replicate and which to change. Making the comparisons that lie behind aggregate generalisations can help identify key factors that lead to difference.

So in 2013 we will take on the challenge. Avoiding generalised solutions, but succinctly sharing as much as we can – in many different ways – about what is working and not working. Much of this will appear on this Practitioner Hub, complemented by events, reports, Twitter and more. We hope you will be part of this journey and share your views too.