Inclusive business

Inclusive business is any self-sustaining business entity with a sustainable business model that seeks to productively engage and create net value for income-constrained groups in the value chain by providing solutions to neglected problems. It is also defined by the World Bank as a private sector approach to provide goods, services, and livelihoods to people at the base of the economic pyramid (BoP). They do this on a commercially viable basis, either at a scale or scalable, by involving poor and underserved individuals across their value chain as employee, supplier, distributor, retailers, or customers.

However, there is not yet an shared agreement about what exactly inclusive business is and how it works out in practice. For example, the business community incorporates BoP and the triple bottom line accounting values, while the development community identifies more with inclusive growth and the seventeen UN Sustainable Development Goals.

In order to strengthen the conceptual foundation and practical implication of inclusive business it is important to be conscious about three questions:

1. Inclusiveness towards what impact?
When engaging BoP groups, one cannot expect to boost all varieties of inclusiveness. Focus is required, one can strive to create value by providing utility – enhancing solutions for a particular business opportunity associated with specific neglected problems related to an actual stakeholder group.

2. Inclusiveness of whom?
Most often the focus is on BoP groups defined in economic terms, however, from a development point of view, it is imperative to include, poor, vulnerable and marginalized groups as well.

3. Inclusiveness in what?
The shared principle of different inclusive business approaches is that income constrained groups participate in and contribute to economic development.

For the development of our 5-step approach and when working with the 5-step approach, we used the three questions to validate our approach.

[1] Schoneveld, G. C. (2020). Sustainable business models for inclusive growth: Towards a conceptual foundation of inclusive business. Journal of Cleaner Production, 277.

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