Benjamin van der Hilst is an inclusive innovator at the BoP Innovation Center, a founding member of Inclusive Business Accelerator. There, he co-build inclusive market propositions in low-income markets in partnership with companies and low-income communities in Africa and Asia. View his profile here
I started working in the field of Inclusive Business 5 years ago as a junior business advisor working for the BoP Innovation Center. And currently I’m developing tools and training methods to capacitate local business advisors to deliver high quality specialised Inclusive Business Development Services (IBDS). In this blog, I will share why we develop tools and training sessions for the Inclusive Business Accelerator and illustrate that with some of my own lessons learnt as an inclusive business consultant.
‘Can we toolify this?’
‘Toolifying’ is a word we used in our team, meaning as much as creating a tool from a practice. When we facilitate a workshop or support a company we ask ourselves: ‘Can we toolify this?’
When donors and governmental organisations started to focus more and more on business development, of course people and organisations started to offer business development services. This has increased the number of local business advisors in developing markets. I often hear the phrase ‘everyone with a laptop calls himself a business consultant’, which illustrates the opportunism in the business development sector.
The focus on supporting ‘inclusive business’ is relatively new and the market for Inclusive Business Development Services (IBDS) is still in its infancy. Of course, this new niche suffers from the same opportunism. The moment donors, companies, and governments started to look for Inclusive Business Development advisors, advisors added the ‘Inclusive’ prefix just as easily.
My first inclusive business development assignment
My first business development assignment was with a startup company in Kenya. I was a junior consultant, and while I received backstopping from my more experienced colleagues, it was a bit of a jump in the deep end.
Lesson 1: Tools are scattered and inconsistent
At that time our organisation was small, the knowledge was in the heads of the people, as we hadn’t formalised our ways of working yet. So I went online to search for people and organisations who had. There is no lack of tools out there, but there are many different understandings out there of what a tool is or should be. Some of the tools were great, others didn’t work at all. Some tools are just one visual framework, others are 100-page guidebooks. There can be value in each individual tool, yet the fact that they are scattered and inconsistent in use poses a barrier for adoption.
We therefore tried to create two tool packages with a clear structure. The Inclusive Business Toolkit for business support to inclusive business ventures. And an Inclusive Innovation Toolkit to guide companies in their inclusive innovation journey.
Lesson 2: A tool tells you what to do, a training can teach you how to do it
In the work with this first client, I picked a few tools, went to Kenya and delivered a series of workshops using tools like the Business Model Canvas. This tool is documented very well, and there is a lot of information to be found as other users have captured their experiences with this tool. Still, I wasn’t all that comfortable using the tool. I have used it many times since, and that experience has taught me how to use it. But I really learned how to use it when I used it in collaboration with other (inclusive) business advisors.
So when we created the toolkits, we knew we had to develop a training methodology to accompany them. The training that we have developed and rolled out mimics the setting of client – advisor interaction as closely as possible. People feel more comfortable using the tools because they have already applied them, and the setting that is created facilitates peer-to-peer learning.
Lesson 3: To support inclusive businesses, ordinary business tools and methods are inadequate.
In my online search I came across tools catering to different target groups, sectors, and settings, yet I found very few that specifically focus on Inclusive Business development. Inclusive Business is different from business as usual in its purpose (involving low income communities in the value chain), and in the context in which they operate, which presents many challenges (read more about the barriers for inclusive business in Scaling Inclusive Business). So in order to provide good quality support to Inclusive Businesses, you need tools that take into account the peculiarities of inclusive business. This can be achieved by making adaptations to existing tools. For example, we still use the Business Model Canvas a lot, but we have added an additional element on Impact. Or it can be achieved by developing new tools specifically for working with the Base of the Pyramid, for instance tools like Community Engagement or Planning for Impact.
Over the last few years there have been several initiatives to develop new tools, in more consistent toolkits, with a stronger focus on Inclusive Business. For example by SEED, the DIY Toolkit published by Nesta and the Inclusive Business and Inclusive Innovation toolkit of the Inclusive Business Accelerator (IBA). Toolkits that are consistent, which are accompanied by adequate training methods and that take the peculiarities of Inclusive Business into account can contribute to improving the quality of IBDS.
We have trained 60 advisors in three countries (Mozambique, Uganda and Vietnam), backed with an online infrastructure for the advisors to access the tools and provide feedback on their usability. We have also partnered with other organisations that build the capacity of IB advisors, so we now have a larger pool of trainers that can roll-out the toolkits and training sessions. We expect that through this Inclusive Business Accelerator network model we will increasingly reach mainstream BDS advisors who are seeking to professionalize in IB. This way they will be able to better tailor their services to companies that are offering basic services and products to customers at the Base of the Pyramid.
This blog is part of the September 2016 series on Inclusive Business Development Services, in partnership with the Inclusive Business Accelerator. Don’t miss the whole series on support available to inclusive business from practitioners, donors and intermediaries including Afrilabs, DFID, Endeva, EY and many more…