BoP Innovation Center: ‘How we use virtual reality for inclusive business’

Gerwin Jansen
By on February 10, 2017

Have you thought about using virtual reality in your work? Do you wonder how it could support your marketing and distribution efforts?  The BoP Innovation Center has been working with this technology for some time. Gerwin Jansen shares the potential of this new technology for creating impact at the BoP. 


Everyone is talking about it. Some say it’s a gimmick, others are convinced that it’s here to stay. Virtual reality (VR) provides an almost lifelike immersive experience by using 360 videos that allow you to look around. BoP Innovation Center has adopted this technology more than half a year ago. In this post we’d like to share a bit about our experiences and how we think VR can and will add value to inclusive business.

What are current applications?

VR is still at a stage where it’s mostly of interest to early adopters, but it’s an exciting time to get involved with this new medium. Within the aid sector, VR has been used mainly for journalism and fundraising as it has demonstrated to be an empathy machine that can change people’s attitudes towards global problems. The idea is to literally bring donors alongside, for example, a young girl hauling a jerry can of water for hours in 30+ degrees Celsius heat. The Clinton Foundation shot a VR video featuring former US President Bill Clinton to showcase their efforts in solar power and girls’ education in Africa.

At BoP Innovation Center we have been exploring different kinds of applications for VR. Currently we use it for two kinds of applications that support our core activities. First of all, we use VR in workshops to give participants the chance to “travel” to a BoP country and see how people live and work in these areas. This is a great experience for people that may not be that familiar with the BoP context. In a workshop with the Unilever management team in London, for example, we showed the participants a day in the life of a low-income family in the slums of Nairobi. This immersive experience brings to life the discussions we have and takes out misconceptions or biases that people may have towards the BoP context.

A second purpose for which we use VR lies in the training courses that we deliver to companies and consultants in low-income countries. For example, during our innovation workshop at the iHub in Nairobi we let participants explore different distribution models for rural areas including micro-franchise sales agent networks such as the PROOFS model. For many this has opened up the possibilities for marketing and distribution models that they could explore for their business. There is no better way to explain inclusive business solutions than to show how them as they are happening on the ground. This not only revolutionizes how we educate but it can also make trade missions between Western and BoP companies much more cost-effective by not having to get on a plane anymore but by letting them “visit” best practices from their own chair at the office.

What will the future bring?

At BoP Innovation Center we are currently exploring new applications for VR. Given the increasing penetration of smartphones at the BoP, it will be just a matter of time before VR becomes available for BoP consumers and entrepreneurs (the costs of the goggles can be as little as 5 USD). When this happens, the possible applications are manifold. For example, VR can be used for advertising purposes. In the end, “seeing is believing”. IKEA believes virtual reality will play a major role in the future of customers and already lets customers test out a kitchen before purchasing it. What if pit latrine sellers at the BoP can use computer generated images combined with VR to show customers what their homes could look like when they would buy an aspirational bathroom?

Furthermore we are quite excited about the applications of VR for behavioral change interventions. Standford University researched VR interactions and found that people that saw a fatter version of themselves in the video were more likely to improve their diet in real life.

What can we do for you?

We shoot our own VR videos and work with filming companies to build a library of VR videos that show different parts of the world and different kinds of places including households, markets, and kiosks. If you’re interested in these videos or if you wish to explore how Virtual Reality can add value to your own business, drop us a line.


Have a look at one of our VR videos.
Note: you don’t necessarily need goggles to watch this VR video. Just make sure you watch it in the Youtube player on your smartphone or, if you’re on your computer, watch it on Youtube in the Google Chrome browser.

Article originally published here: