Editor's Choice, December 2013: Eight of the best on inclusive business practicalities
Usually at the end of the year I am trawling far and wide for highlights of the year. This December, Editor’s Choice covers 8 reports, all very close to home, but I hope with good reason. The ► 2013 Knowledge Exchange Report just published by Innovations Against Poverty (IAP) is a great read, sharing insights from the IAP portfolio of start-up social enterprises. It could be a depressing read - problems are certainly addressed frankly - but in fact it is an optimistic and energetic report, as well as a delightful read.
The report gives examples of how these social enterprises are striving to overcome the many obstacles in their path towards viability, such as forging external partnerships, getting access to finance, understanding consumer needs etc. It finds that while these challenges continue to hinder many of the companies, others have tackled them successfully and innovation is beginning to deliver tangible results. The report brings some interesting statistics to light on what companies are hoping to achieve in future years. But most importantly, it goes beyond the numbers to provide invaluable insights on the entrepreneurs' struggle towards viability, the need for donor support and the lessons learnt along the way.
The further seven reports are all in-depth case studies of inclusive business in practice. Not light or promotional, but packed with insight on how the businesses are working on the ground. Two things make these case studies stand out for me. One is the remarkable level of candour and disclosure. They were conducted by MBA students from Oxford and Business Innovation Facility team members, but of course approved by companies, who deserve as much congratulation as the authors. The second is that they start addressing the question of commercial return and social results of the businesses. Most are too early for strong conclusions, but at least data is there.
The series of seven case studies follows the inclusive business journeys of seven BIF supported companies, cutting across countries and sectors. They include an energy company, an education company, and a rural distribution company, all selling to households at the base of the pyramid. Two more provide credit or technology for agriculture, while two agribusinesses source fresh produce from farmers. While common themes such as the need for continuous innovation and adaptation run through all their stories, each journey is unique and compelling in its own way. Not only do these reports provide a wealth of useful practical information, they also demonstrate that it is the passion, patience and resilience of the people behind each venture that keep things moving forward.
Read more about the IAP 2013 Knowledge Exchange report here.
Read Elise Wach’s, M&E and Learning Advisor at the Institute of Development Studies, reflections on the BIF case studies here.