Provoke, discuss, and act – Perspectives from the BoP Global Network Summit 2015

The second BoP Global Network Summit took place on July 16 and 17 in Burlington, Vermont. The Summit was organized by Enterprise for a Sustainable World (ESW) and University of Vermont (UVM) in collaboration with the BoP Global Labs. It brought together corporate innovators, academics, entrepreneurs, students, and BoP Global Lab leaders from a wide range of countries. Speakers from large companies included World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) members CEMEX, KPMG, PepsiCo, and Tata.

Published: 9 Aug 2015
Author: Davide Fiedler
Type: Insight

The central theme was “Sustainable Entrepreneurship from the Bottom Up”. The overall objective across the mix of plenary and working sessions was to “provoke, discuss, and act” around the challenges faced by companies in developing and scaling inclusive business ventures targeting this market segment.

Session themes (see full agenda here) addressed questions such as: Where will the disruptive and leapfrog technologies come from? Can BoP business logic be applied to the developed world? How can we think beyond silos and adopt a systems thinking approach? How to learn from failed inclusive business ventures? What are effective national policies supporting this agenda? How to link supply chains with product innovation.

The linkages between inclusive business and corporate sustainability vision

I had the pleasure of representing the WBCSD, one of the Summit partners, in a session titled “Roadmap to 2050: Integrating BoP into Corporate Sustainability Vision”.

I introduced the Council’s Vision 2050 of a world in which 9 billion people, living well, within the limits of the planet. I also laid out how through our Action2020 platform, we position inclusive business as part of the set of tangible solutions that companies can catalyze and scale in their quest of turning sustainability issues into business strategy. And while targeting the base of the pyramid at scale may be easier said than done, companies can create significant opportunities for innovation, resilience, and growth.

Thereafter, the following speakers delved into the practicalities of corporations moving beyond individual, piecemeal inclusive business initiatives toward thinking about how the BoP fits into strategies focused on corporate growth, competitiveness, and sustainability:

  • Dan Bena – Senior Director, Sustainability, PepsiCo
  • James Shapiro – Resident Director, North America, Tata Sons
  • Urs Jäger – Associate Professor, INCAE Business School of Costa Rica
  • Vijay Sathe – Professor of Management, The Peter F. Drucker and Masatoshi Ito Graduate School of Management

Herewith a handful of key take-aways from our 90-minute session:

  1. Vision, purpose, and ambition are essential ingredients in a successful BoP strategy, and buy-in must permeate the highest levels of corporate management.
  2. Innovation must move beyond business as usual. Engaging in pre-competitive collaboration and thinking of CSR as an innovation lab for profitable growth are examples of successful strategies.
  3. Leveraging the BoP requires looking beyond the immediate discussions on Internal Rate of Return (IRR) and Return on Investment (ROI), and considering the value of securing and maintaining companies’ license to operate. Well-designed inclusive business ventures can improve and deepen relationships with partner communities.
  4. Driving awareness and action across the business relies both on data and normative approaches. An intrapreneurial outlook is essential to success in a corporate setting.
  5. Barriers to scaling up are many—including opportunity costs, governance structures, challenges of incorporating stakeholder voices—but persistence and partnership can help practitioners achieve success.

Base of the Pyramid 3.0: Sustainable Development through Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The Summit also provided a platform for the launch of the very insightful book titled Base of the Pyramid 3.0: Sustainable Development through Innovation and Entrepreneurship. The book, edited by Stuart Hart and Fernando Casado Cañeque, rightly argues that despite some successful examples and the interesting potential of business models targeting the base of the pyramid, ensuring success in implementation has proven challenging.

In the eyes of the editors, “many methodological and management deficiencies still need to be addressed, such as: developing proper co-innovation processes with BoP communities; understanding and enhancing the full potential of generating social and economic value throughout the full life cycle of product and service processes; and the scaling and replication of successful pilot cases.”

Warm thanks to the Summit organizers for these thought-provoking days in the charming city of Burlington on the shores of Lake Champlain!

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