Editor's Choice, August 2012: The G20 Challenge on inclusive business innovation
Nothing speaks louder than a good example, particularly an example that has taken on challenges and can now report real results. So the IFC’s report, G20 Challenge on Inclusive Business Innovation, will be a good read for all those that like to see what others are doing and how they are doing it across a myriad of sectors and countries: health, energy, clean water, baker products, online universities… they are all here.
The report highlights the 15 winners of the G20 challenge competition, which aimed to celebrate inclusive business around the world. They are not start-ups – together they already reach 40 million people at the base of the pyramid. So companies such as Jain Irrigation and Apollo Hospitals may not be new to you. But the inclusive business field has been so full of ‘future promise’ that it is very good to see what is being achieved by some who have a few years’ results to report.
The report is produced by IFC, who have managed the G20 Challenge process. It is not an analytical review of models and trends; it is simply a presentation of the short case studies. Yet it did not take more than a quick look at the summary map for one trend to be very clear. The majority of these are projects that reach the base of the economic pyramid as consumers: enabling them to access education, health, finance, life insurance or housing. There have been many companies over the years exploring how to better integrate farmers and other producers into the value chain. But these do not feature highly in the inclusive business headlines these days. One notable exception in this selection of winners is Engro Foods, which travels deep into rural Pakistan with a new milk collection infrastructure.
This makes me wonder. Is this unintended distortion? Does focusing criteria on the ‘scale’ of reach to the base of the pyramid inherently lead to a focus on businesses that reach the BOP as consumers – the ones that can sell to millions rather than buy from thousands? Or is this a reflection of current innovation? While supply chain initiatives continue with long-standing challenges, is the level of innovation is making services accessible and affordable to the base of the pyramid so high, that this is currently the cutting edge of inclusive business.