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 only truly “bad” failure is one that's repeated

11. Jan 2014

I have just been looking at a great website, (not longer available). It's not focused on inclusive business, but it is very relevant to all our discussions about inclusive business. The title of this blog comes from them. Failure matters, a lot, because we need to learn from it and not repeat it.

They even have a 'how-to' guide on how to 'fail forward' and offer services to help business and others to diagnose and learn from failure. For sure business people are busy getting on with the job but a bit of looking backwards to move forwards sounds great.

In BIF and IAP the last few months we have been very busy summarising results and drawing out lessons from the hundred or so businesses that these programmes have supported. It is great to celebrate success. And overall we are positive about the direction the portfolios are going. But identifying where and when things have gone wrong is also invaluable.

I've been really impressed at how open entrepreneurs and even intrapreneurs (inside large companies, with established reputations to protect) have been. Some of the deep dive case studies  produced by BIF focus explicitly on how the company is adapting the business model because things did not work out: see the examples of ACI's failed tomato harvest, or Universal's frustration with limited cassava supply. The IAP final report, From Paper to Practice, gives many examples of the challenges start-ups have faced. At the Zambia conference in November, hosted by IAP in partnership with BIF, apparently there was great energy and enthusiasm for talking about mistakes and delays. Ruth's blog about the conference talks about it as 'going back to the drawing board.'

There is such determination to learn from mistakes that as we wrap up BIF 1, we are pulling together more examples of delays and mistakes. Meanwhile, thanks to Engineers Without Borders (a Canadian organisation) for the lovely website and encouragement to fail forward.