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.

A thousand piece puzzle - a fair reflection and a useful title ?

15. Oct 2013

I have been playing with titles and similes recently. My favourite is a 'jigsaw doing cartwheels' but my colleagues look strangely at me when I talk in such terms.

While writing the BIF final report, we have the important task of finding the right title. Jigsaws, journeys, zigzags, cartwheels, winding routes, tumble dryers ... are all images that reflect two of our key findings. The first relates to the premise on which BIF was designed: success all comes down to the business model. The experience of businesses in the BIF portfolio suggest that a business model is rather like a thousand piece jigsaw - so many components are needed, and the overall picture only works when every piece is in place. Of course for any business the business model is essential, but the inclusive businesses have found that many components need adaption to the BOP. It is NOT just the product, for example, that needs to work for low-income people, or the crop that is purchased. Timing, financing, partners, margins...all need to work for the BOP model.

So where are the cartwheels then? The cartwheels relate to the zigs and zags of the journey, as our second finding is that the journey of inclusive business development is a lot longer than most entrepreneurs anticipate. That may be for obvious reasons - natural over-optimism or inevitable delays at customs or board level. But the extra reason is the time to adjust the business model - change the product, the distribution network, build a partnership, rebrand the USP. ie. turn the jigsaw upside down, change a key piece, or perform a cartwheel.

If this sounds too negative, it should not be. We are seeing business models improve at each iteration, and companies move clearly towards success (although about a quarter do not). We are also struck that the destination is clear to most, and the business motives more compelling and strategic than we had realised. But we also see that patience passion and perseverance are needed to get there. Oh, alliteration. Could that be another option for a title?