Before explaining how and why our social innovation is scalable and sustainable, we think it is important to first define the nature of our product.
The “product” we are working on aims to help Japanese businesses consider the best options for entering the African market through inclusive business. To put this simply, we are attempting to devise a roadmap which identifies essential steps that certain businesses can take in order to properly implement the basic tenets of inclusive business. Sounds simple? Not really? Well, don’t worry, we are still trying to figure it out.
Essentially, our innovation might be scalable because the “roadmap” can be adapted or “scaled” up to fit the precise needs and impact that the business intends. In following the steps and applying inclusive business, companies can access and benefit a larger section of the population and in that process, even increase their market share. Taking on the perspective of someones hired by a Japanese company to think about the latter has helped us see more clearly how business motives and good intentions could be combined. We concluded that, in every inclusive ventures, there should always be a reward for the company, its consumers and the local population. Our road map attempts to make this shift without the need for competency or any drastic changes in the company’s core culture to make that transition as smooth as possible.
Since the introductory week end presented our challenge to us, three weeks have passed incredibly fast. We had fantastic team meetings, a very interesting “building impact” workshop and plenty of inspiration.
Our team’s challenge is in general terms to enhance inclusive business practices of Asian firms in Africa, thus to innovate programs that offer benefit to both the local population and the firms. Since we are of opinion that all great things begin with a great name, we dubbed our task the “Asian-African Win-Win challenge” (A2W2 and any variation of these letters, that you can possibly think of).
With input from past workshops, we explored the stakeholder environment in a mind map and analyzed their “pains and gains” in order to see potential needs more clearly. Apart from the realization that innovation can be approached very methodically, these steps helped us to confront this big task and put it into more manageable smaller pieces. This is especially important for us, since we have many potential target users of our innovation and even more potential ways to approach them.
Indeed, possible roads that we want to explore have been numerous so far. In one notably creative brainstorming session we had uncommon ideas that ranged from the idea of using empty buses that bring workers to their workplaces (on their return) to starting a Chinese-African dating platform to address the culture gaps. Without wanting to give away too much of our final solution just yet, it is safe to say that we focus on ways to have both sides (business and locals) profit from a cooperation. This means to go well beyond traditional calls for corporate social responsibility, which more often than not, rely on the good will of firms willing to sacrifice resources. Overcoming this means more concretely, to tap into resources that so far have lied unused. This can be for reasons of little cultural exchange or business approaches with seemed to be the least risky, but are ultimately more dangerous. These unused potentials are the innovators joy.
Thus, we remain very motivated and look forward to working on and presenting our program in about one and a half month. Until then, we will have a building impact session and a group meeting coming up next weekend, plenty of research to conduct on our topic and meetings with mentors as well as the challenge setter to schedule. And last but not least, find some free time to let this beautiful city, where we have the privilege to live, inspire us.
Stay tuned for upcoming innovations!
Your A2W2 Team
Our team is working with the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) to address the challenge of making the inclusive business concept accessible and practical for Asian companies conducting business in Africa.
What is inclusive business, you may wonder? Inclusive Business (IB), is an idea brought forward by the WBCSD since 2005 which rests upon the pillar of profitably engaging low-income populations across companies’ value chains and developing affordable products and services that meet the needs of low-income populations. IB aims to be good for business and good for development in communities where operations are conducted. Benefits of IB include accessing new markets, strengthening supply chains, improving efficiency and others. Importantly, participation from civil society and governments are also required to build success enabling frameworks and conditions.
Thus, our challenge is to essentially create win-win solutions which apply both to the case-study companies (Chinese and Japanese) and to the local communities which they impact (in Angola and some other African states). This is not an easy task, but we have already brainstormed to develop plausible intersections where the interests of the businesses and communities could meet.
One idea which we had has been to focus on gaining a competitive advantage. It is in the interests of any business to outperform its competitors, for instance in the areas of cost-effectiveness and market reach. If the competitors are operating according to IB principles and are of benefit to the community, this could be the motivation for other businesses to start operating in a similar manner. Another focus area could be actively engaging local communities, whether through employment, business partnerships or as advisers: creating opportunities, trust and monetary benefit between the two parties. For instance, Coca Cola has created the Manual Distribution Centers throughout East Africa to circumvent the problem of poor infrastructure, which made large transportation operations inefficient. This in turn has created opportunities for both local men and women entrepreneurs. In another example, a Japanese pharmaceuticals and cosmetics company Rohto has purchased surplus crops from farmers in Kenya for development of skin-care products. Local women were then employed in the manufacturing process. We hope to utilize the positive results obtained by these companies in shaping our own concrete steps to a sustainable, effective solution which anticipates and addresses possible loopholes. More on this topic will be discussed in our future blogs.
To find out more about the Inclusive Business initiative, please visit http://www.inclusive-business.org/