What exactly is inclusive business? This is a question that has a much more varied answer than was previously thought. The definition of the term itself is new and one that has yet to be settled, which opens it up to interpretation. There is, however, a general consensus on what it should be: a profitable core business activity that also tangibly expands opportunities for the poor and disadvantaged in developing countries through the engagement of the poor along some part of the value chain (as employees, suppliers, distributors, consumers and/or innovators) while creating positive social impacts.
To uncover the current perceptions on what inclusive business might be to individuals in the Business Innovation Facility’s five core countries (Bangladesh, India, Malawi, Nigeria, and Zambia), BIF tasked a team of five postgraduate students from the LSE Development Management programme to perform an assessment based on interviews and research. Nearly 50 telephone and online surveys allowed the team to get a gain a good understanding of what the participants’ perception of inclusive business was and what they thought it should be, in addition to examples of how it was being practiced.
Results of the assessment have now been summarized in short country profiles (can be found here) and findings are quite interesting: inclusive business is often being seen as synonymous and interchangeable with other terms and concepts such as corporate social responsibility, social business, social enterprise, and pro-poor business. The more popular terms varied geographically, but were relatively consistent within each of the countries.
Each country has its own status of practice and perception that couples with its unique economic and social profile and background, further explored in the five one-pagers presented by the team as a final deliverable. While there was a bias towards the interview of those who are associated with the BIF project or have an association with an inclusive project, the variety that was found through the interview selection system makes it even more interesting to ‘guesstimate’ what and how many other projects that may exist within these countries, and others that have not associated themselves with these or any terms.
A further on the ground assessment might uncover some surprising results towards a deeper understanding of what inclusive business means and how it exists, however, this assessment revealed some important understandings of the term inclusive business. Hopefully, the findings should help not just BIF, but other interested practitioners to further define their awareness of the term, its use, concerns associated with it, and help solidify a more proactive practice with key positive social results.
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