Editor's Choice December 2017: The Best Blogs of 2017
By Anna Swaithes, formerly Cadbury, Kraft and SABMiller
In a decade working for corporates, Anna Swaithes has seen the risk that programmes are designed to match donor money instead of vice versa. She explains why a partnership built around shared objectives will succeed- a programme designed around objectives to win funding will not.
Why I like it:
We don't often hear such frank speaking from business people who have been at the heart of corporate models and partnerships. And this blog says very wise words about partnership.
Interview by Karen Smith with a business leader
The Founder and Director of a leading agricultural business based in Sub-Saharan Africa tells the hard truths about private sector- 'DINGO' relationships.
Why Lara likes it:
This blog stands out because of how frank it is about the difficulties of partnership between the public and private sectors. I have read so many pieces extolling the benefits of partnership for inclusive business but few really talk about how hard it really is and what the issues are. This blog does exactly that and it is, perhaps, telling that the author chose to be anonymous!
By Tom Adams (Acumen)
Conventional approaches to assessing impact don't serve the social enterprise sector well, nor the impact investors that back them. So, Acumen instead focuses on helping enterprises understand the value they create for customers, as the heart of understanding social performance and how to manage it.
Why I like it:
This blog is one good insight into Acumen's overall approach which is putting customer-centricity into social business. It's about improving impact measurement but also much more than that. Listening to customers drives better business models, securing both growth and impact.
By Aurelie Brown (SPRING Accelerator)
The SPRING Accelerator presents five tips for business, based on insights about how girls spend their time and money, and the constraints they face. Why do older girls need to use bodabodas (motorcycle taxi) to get to school while younger girls clearly prefer walking as the way to get home?
Why Carolina and Lara like it:
Carolina: I like this blog because it presents the reality of African girls and adolescent women in a sophisticated manner that goes beyond typical gender stereotypes.
Lara: Rarely does a blog come along that is insightful, informative, useful and engaging to read. This blog provides some fascinating insights into the lives of girls at the BoP in Africa and what these could mean for inclusive business. I have a particular interest in gender so this really caught my eye but it’s a great read in general. And has some lovely pictures to boot!
Interview by Anne Salter with Jorge Tung (Dr. Consulta)
Dr. Consulta is a Brazilian business rapidly expanding its chain of clinics, busy keeping costs low so that their prices are 20% of typical private competitors. So why are they investing time and effort in customer feedback, from daily SMS, to annual surveys, to ‘customer safaris' service testing? Product manager Jorge Tung generously tells us why they invest in customer feedback, how they do it efficiently, and how valuable it is to them, enabling them to improve doctor performance, the customer journey and trust in their medics.
Why I like it:
I was astonished when I read this; astonished to read how thorough the business is in securing customer feedback, from post-appointment SMS, to monthly feedback and longer-term research. It was also clear from the interview that they really use it to drive performance.
By Robin-Bonsey (Hystra)
Success of smallholder adoption of a farming innovation rests on assessing reality not making assumptions, as Robin Bonsey from Hystra makes clear. He explains the key factor is the possibility to reverse/reversibility of their decision, and the implications of this.
Why we like it:
So many assumptions have been made about why low-income consumers do or don't buy a product or service. We have learnt that it's not just price. But this Hystra research really makes it clear that risk is the biggest factor for farmers, not price, and they back this up with several cases.
By Willem Nolens (SolarNow)
Solar companies find it hard to transition from being product sellers to problem solvers. Here are some great tips from SolarNow on how they put technical fixes back in their box, to put people (clients and agents) first in Uganda.
Why Lara and Carolina like it:
Lara: It’s always great to get contributions on the Hub from the entrepreneurs themselves. We all know how busy they are growing their businesses so when they take the time to share lessons, its worth paying attention. Willem’s tips are borne from running a solar company but they cut across sectors which makes it all the more compelling.
Carolina: this blog is uplifting, optimistic and it breaks a complicated matter down into its essentials.
By Claire Bishop
Need a tool to assess whether your inclusive business or market intervention is gender responsive? Clare Bishop introduces a practical framework with dimensions of gender transformation, and how to assess different aspects of your own operation. In assessing how 16 agribusiness initiatives perform, she finds field-level activities tend to focus on easier aspects of women’s empowerment such as developing technical skills and improving market access rather than those that tackle more fundamental issues like strengthening women's voices in the household.
Why I like it:
It can be hard to unpack what 'women's economic empowerment' really means in an enterprise programme, beyond women's participation. Clare's tool is very practical, with criteria that can be applied to how women engage in markets, and how programmes tackle gender issues in their management and staffing. And the findings from 16 examples are fascinating.
Support available to businesses
By Melanie Machingawuta
Brokering relationships between development organisations, fund managers, companies, and BoP actors is core to delivering success, and is core to the day job of Melanie Machingawuta, of AAF TAF.
Why Lara and I like it:
Caroline: Melanie speaks from experience, about providing technical assistance to a egg-production business to help it push boundaries of inclusivity in a commercial model. It shows what business can achieve, but also the effectiveness of technical support.
Lara: This blog is interesting as it shows how a donor funded organisation can work successfully with a private sector enterprise and yield real results. A flexible, well-informed approach can make all the difference – something our anonymous blogger (in blog 2) advocates for as well.
By Caroline Ashley & Aline Menden (Endeva)
'Mapping the landscape of advisory support for inclusive business' is a report assessing what support is available and how effective it is, published by USAID. Five types of support are explained: incubators, accelerators, donor funded programmes and facilities, investors, and consultancies.
Why Carolina likes it:
This blog clears up the jungle of terms and notions around support services that are out there for enterprises.
Best of the Editor's Choice of 2018
And finally, each month I select the best report, document or site to recommend to inclusive business practitioners. Looking back on the year as a whole, I have two favourites, from August and October:
This reviewed the report of the Better Business Commission. This combined sharp analysis of different types of business models that can be scaled, with some pretty strong language, some would say alarmist, some would say realist, about the urgency of doing business differently.
This reviewed a Deloitte report, pulling together emerging data on whether Base of Pyramid consumers reached by inclusive business are 'poor'. The data is scanty, but it's the start of an answer to a question that has been left hanging for a long time.
This blog post is part of the December 2017 edition of the 'Monthly Theme' that reflects recent and future developments in inclusive business.
What progress have we made? Where are the missing links? And what needs to change in 2018 in order to increase momentum on inclusive business? Read the full series to see what thought leaders and practitioners think about these questions.