Inclusive business, conventional companies and economic inequality
What do you think conventional businesses could learn from inclusive businesses in terms of addressing inequality?
Some of the things that conventional businesses grapple with, such as image/identity, customer loyalty, market share and profits can be sorted easily through an inclusive business approach.
How? Consumers today go beyond brand names, they increasingly want to be associated with doing good – paying it forward aside from meeting their immediate need. In horticultural circles it’s labeled as “traceability” and market prices are clear indicators that people will pay a +20% premium for products with a social good (hi)story. These loyal clients can then be cultivated (pun intended) to solve the challenges mentioned.
Do you include underrepresented groups and particularly those at the base of the pyramid in decision-making processes?
Yes, where possible. The final farming solutions we deliver to clients or communities are heavily guided by cost and complexity. We manage the cost element by using locally available material and labour where possible. The complexity is solved by training and educating farmers on how to localize “foreign” concepts, such as hydroponic fodder, vertical farming and data driven farming.
What are the main challenges in promoting inclusion and equity through your business model or supply chain?
The adoption of an inclusive approach as part of a business’ model and strategy is not attractive for several reasons but chief among them are:
- No clear incentives (financial, legal or otherwise) from regulators for firms deliberately taking this option when setting up an enterprise. Tax relief, Special Economic Zones and Regimes are tools governments can deploy to make the sector attractive.
- High market entry cost (taxes): Inclusive and social enterprises are dependent on volumes in terms of people and product, in order to keep the business afloat. In the case of a SocEnt (social enterprise) in agriculture the costs here in Kenya include field staff recruitment, farmer registration and multiple licensing fees (at county and national government level).
How does inequality matter for conventional companies? Is there a business case for equity?
Inequality for most conventional companies is either a legal hurdle/requirement or a Public Relations tool. This unfortunate state is brought about by abandoning of a people-first approach in business, replacing it with Absolute Profit.
In embracing an inclusive or social enterprise approach most inequalities, including gender, economic, and social inequalities, will cease to be “issues” owing to the diversity, achieved by way of recruitment, as exhibited by some successful social enterprises. In a typical SocEnt setup you will have a well-travelled inventor/innovator/PHD holder working side by side with a farmer in remote parts of Mbarara, Uganda at a peer-to-peer level without the socio-economic barriers that would exist in the bureaucratic conventional business model. The result of such collaboration is a sense of ownership by all parties involved and respect is earned for all players in the value chain resulting in fair trade.
How could your company (or inclusive business in general) improve in terms of equality?
Equality is an ever evolving and challenging issues for business owners regardless of the nature or model of the business; Inclusive or Conventional. In this day and age any business would do well to effect the following to pursue equity at the work place:
- Establish and effect equality policies in the workplace; they ought to be informed by staff experiences so expect the live document to revised periodically.
- Deliberately seek diversity at the recruitment stage; hire for skill and background diversity.
- Train staff/team on inclusion; this helps overcome cultural and unconscious biases.
- Create and foster a culture of inclusion and fairness from top to bottom. The management profile needs to reflect inclusion. Lead by example.
How can other stakeholders, especially policymakers, support (inclusive) businesses in promoting equality?
Policy makers could make impact strides for inclusive businesses addressing equality by effecting the following:
- Legislation: Inclusive businesses could quickly scale and increase their impact if tax laws were amended to offer incentives such as tax holidays, tax havens, Special Economic Zones and Special Tax Regimes for social enterprises. This would attract foreign direct investment (FDI) and foster local enterprise.
- Lobbying: The foremost beneficiaries of inclusive businesses are the public who are the electorate that put the leaders into positions. Lobbying for Government to Business (G2B) and Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) ventures for inclusively inclined businesses would certainly guarantee job creation – a perennial bait for the youth every election cycle.