Inclusive Business Leaders: Voices from the Corporate, Social and Public Sectors

Meeting of the MIT D-Lab Practial Impact Alliance, 2017.
Meeting of the MIT D-Lab Practial Impact Alliance, 2017.
MIT D-Lab

 

Inclusive business are scalable or at-scale businesses providing services that engage the base of the pyramid (BoP) as distributors, suppliers, retailers, or customers. At MIT D-Lab, we offer the professional education course, Applied Inclusive Business, which introduces participants to the fundamentals of inclusive business (IB), challenges in bringing technologies and products to market at the BoP, and equipping participants with frameworks and tools to market, distribute, and scale products and strategies at the BoP.

Kicked off on D-Lab’s social media, the Inclusive Business Leader Voices Series highlights and shares the stories of IB leaders in their journey as practitioners. In this series, we interviewed Karan Kapoor, Taylor Cruz Mwaila, and Keith Dokho as our first three nclusive business leaders. Coming from diverse backgrounds, sectors, and organizations, they offer different perspectives and lessons for new and experienced inclusive business practitioners.

Sector challenges: Our IB leaders pointed at BoP markets fragility or volatility, funding gaps for innovation and scale, ineffective regulatory environments, as well as common misconception about the economic opportunity at the BoP as some of the main challenges IB practitioners are facing in growing successful inclusive businesses

Missing levers: When asked what might make their job easier, our IB leaders called for better market information and data intelligence for BoP markets. They also notes the need for expanding opportunities beyond the metropolitan areas in these markets, particularly as it pertain to enabling innovation and developing human capital

Career motivators: Our IB leaders indicated that thriving as IB practitioners requires passion, curiosity, creativity and inclusion mindsets, as well as a deep appreciation for cultural diversity and local ingenuity.

Expanding on our social media series, this blog post will share the full interviews from Karan, Taylor, and Keith, and future IB Leaders.

Karan Kapoor

Karan Kapoor is the Founder and CEO of Snow Group, an agricultural inputs distributor in Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, and Mozambique. Learn how Karan’s East African background influences his career and his experience working in agriculture as an IB practitioner.

What has enabled you to pursue a career or transition to a career in inclusive business?
Growing up in Eastern Africa and being surrounded by a long family history of agricultural farming, this certainly allowed me the opportunity to follow suit and eventually transition to a career within the industry myself.

1. In your journey as an IB practitioner, what are some of the biggest challenges that you have encountered?

I’d definitely have to say that working within agriculture farming, some of the biggest challenges that we face are those primarily centered around climate change, currency fluctuations, logistical challenges and even environmental impacts such as natural disasters (Cyclones in Mozambique).  However, one of our biggest challenges and yet one of the most fulfilling feelings is working with and understanding the smallholder farmer and being able to design a product that fulfils and meets their requirements factoring in logistical challenges; technical challenges and pricing.

2. Thinking back on your career and looking ahead, what do you wish existed now that would allow you to do your work better? 

I honestly think that if we had better connections and links to certain information such as farmer locations, crops grown and offtaker details, this would definitely allow us to work in a more productive manner.   Something as simple as a database within different regions which would enable every stakeholder to be able to maximize their reach.

3. What is most exciting about being an inclusive business practitioner?

In the four main countries that we currently operate, each area is full of diversity and being able to experience so many different cultures whilst designing solutions that not only align with our own business model but benefit our consumer as well, is an extremely rewarding and exciting aspect of being an inclusive business practitioner.

Taylor Cruz Mwaila

Taylor Cruz Mwaila is a Senior Innovation Officer at Pact, an international development organization that is a global leader in social impact work. As an IB practitioner, Taylor shares her challenges in the innovation process and her team-based approach to resolving these challenges. She also offers her ideas on how she would like to see the increase in service offerings in the development sectors spread beyond metropolitan areas.

1. What has enabled you to pursue a career or transition to a career in inclusive business?

I have a background in youth development with a focus on teaching financial literacy and entrepreneurship skills. After years of watching young people attend well-intentioned workshops and attempt to start their own business pursuits, I noticed very few programs and mechanisms for young people once they selected an income-generating project and even fewer offerings when trying to scale business models. It was there that I decided to take a more sustainable approach to economic development and address one of the factors that make a viable innovation—creating enabling environments for ideas to thrive.. For the past five years of my career, I've worked with various actors, including local governments, academia, design firms, venture capitalists, and the private sector, to co-create inclusive business models with our experts on the ground.

2. In your journey as an IB practitioner, what are some of the biggest challenges that you have encountered?

I work mostly in the early stages of the innovation process when teams design and test their business models. Using a lean startup approach, we can mitigate challenges earlier on. However, this does not mean we have developed the magic formula for a full-proof pilot to scale project. When things go off course or something unexpected occurs, you need to be surrounded by a team that can quickly adapt and makes smart decisions, especially when working outside of a culture other than your own.  If you operate in a closed environment, it limits the number of ideas and leaves no room for new perspectives.

The other challenge I have encountered more than others is the limited amount of financial resources for early-stage innovation development. Often, donors and investors are looking for tested ideas with proof of concept and at least 1-3 years' worth of data. This is why I emphasize the lean startup approach to quickly build prototypes to get user feedback in real-time. By testing portions of the business early and often with potential users, an entrepreneur is able to get buy-in from the community and excitement around the product or service much sooner than if they wait for it to be perfected.

3. Thinking back on your career and looking ahead, what do you wish existed now that would allow you to do your work better?

Recently, I have observed the development sector taking more of an interest in income-generating solutions to address concerns around the sustainability of programs. It pleases me to see a new crop of service offerings, such as pitch competitions or business accelerators, that help aspiring and established entrepreneurs launch businesses.

Still, I would like to see those efforts go one step further and have more investment and attention given to innovation efforts beyond metropolitan areas. What would it look like to see a community center that functions as a gathering spot for women empowerment programs to also serve as a workspace for those same women to test new business ideas? I have witnessed this model in Zimbabwe, where a community center mobilized into an innovation hub for youth equipped with resources needed to design solutions for their community challenges. They have managed to stay in business for almost two years by partnering with a local telecom company and have captured the government's attention and support.

4. What is most exciting about being an inclusive business practitioner?

It is always inspiring to see how a social enterprise grows with the support of an entire ecosystem. Inclusive business makes room for all voices to be heard, whether it is a technician or an end-user. By elevating the inclusion of customer voice in the design process, ideas take on a new shape, leading to greater acceptance in the community, ultimately creating a positive impact in the local economies.  

Keith Dokho

Keith Dokho is a Senior Private Sector Engagement Specialist at USAID, a U.S government agency that works on international development and humanitarian efforts. Learn more about how Keith deals with IB scaling and the false narrative that IB isn’t profitable. Additionally, Keith expresses how the range of creativeness in Inclusive Businesses excites him.  

1. What has enabled you to pursue a career or transition to a career in inclusive business?

My previous experience in the private sector combined with my international development career has provided me with a helpful perspective for collaborating in this space. I have encountered people from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences who have successful IB careers. It takes a passion and ability to dig deeper into markets to a granular level that considers people’s culture, motivations, and needs.

2. In your journey as an IB practitioner, what are some of the biggest challenges that you have encountered?

A significant challenge is a false belief that it is not profitable to invest in economically marginalized markets. Targeted investment, thoughtful local market consultation, and strategic collaboration can help mitigate risks and allow businesses to grow and prosper responsibly.

Ineffective regulatory environments often stack the deck against most disadvantaged populations who tend to operate in the informal sector, making it difficult to conduct business without official identity cards, official licenses, or property titles. Working in this environment can make it challenging to transact with larger, more formal companies.

Achieving scale remains a tough nut to crack. Scaling is a complex issue but is particularly challenging for small and medium-sized businesses to access sufficient capital beyond the pioneer gap (i.e., the gap in time and money between the formation of the entity and the generation of a positive cash flow).

3. Thinking back on your career and looking ahead, what do you wish existed now that would allow you to do your work better?

Early on, development practitioners struggled for adequate market information to inform decisions around potential solutions. Even though data collection has improved, there is still a gap in actionable data that understands what economically marginalized populations offer, value, and demand as market actors.

4. What is most exciting about being an inclusive business practitioner?

There are so many incredible ideas and businesses out there, many of which have yet to be discovered. Whenever I meet local market actors, I am constantly amazed by their resilience and ingenuity. It inspires me to think more innovatively around potential business solutions to development challenges.

Challenges with scaling and delivering technology/products are important topics that are addressed and taught in MIT D-Lab and Bopinc Inclusive Business course. Whether you are a new or experienced IB practitioner, learn more about what it takes to advance your career in Inclusive Business with this MIT Professional Education course. Learn more and register.


About the author

Adowa Nyame is an Innovation Practice Fellow, working with D-Lab's Inclusive Business Manager for spring semester 2021. She is a Ghanaian immigrant who has been residing in Minnesota for over 10 years and is currently a junior undergraduate student at Colby College where she studies Global Studies and Government. Adwoa has had social impact experiences with her internship at IYAN Africa, an NGO based in Ghana that works to provide quality access to education for primary and secondary students. Under quarantine, Adwoa has been part of a variety of internships ranging from marketing intern for Ruggette, a womxn centered outdoors small business, to a consultant intern for a Kilt company based in Minnesota.


More information

Applied Inclusive Business (MIT Professional Education Course)

Contact

Amanda Epting, Inclusive Business Manager