There has been a lot of talk about “inclusive business” since the term was coined by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in 2005. A business is said to be inclusive when it’s value chains purposefully “include” the needs and wants of low-income people and communities, and the company then implements on a business model built around more than just a profit-based bottom line. Those of us who have been part of building things like Ushahidi, iHub Nairobi, Gearbox, and BRCK are nothing if not inclusive business practitioners. However, the real issue comes down to who gets to decide the “who, when, and where” of what gets included.
Our experience of “making in Africa for Africa” has shown us that local design is by its very nature inclusive. When we design here in Nairobi we are using “from periphery to centre thinking”, and the chances of misreading low-income markets in our product design is greatly reduced. Designers who live and work in Manhattan (no offence to the amazing designers of that great city) must consciously find ways to build processes that include the issues faced by the global poor. In Nairobi one has to try hard not to.
When you design at the periphery – the whole point is that you by necessity “include” the needs and wants of low income people, not just because this is a BoP market in the Prahaladian sense of the term, but because you live and work in the same context as those you seek to serve by making great products and services that people want. At BRCK there is a design team with diverse experiences, including what it is like to live in low income areas and schools. These experiences and context inform the design process and iterative improvements to the products and services provided by the various initiatives.
Forward thinking companies like Intel have been pursuing business models that benefit from local learning. Intel took the BRCK hardware platform known as the Kio Kit and combined it with their innovative software and content, to produce a customised Kio Kit designed specifically for women and youth empowerment projects in Kenya; which are a part of a larger initiative from Intel Corporation to tackle the digital divide. This is what inclusive business is about on the ground. From this partnership with Intel, we are finding that inclusive business goes hand in hand with appropriate technology and design at the periphery.
*Post by Juliana Rotich & Richard Klopp of BRCK.org, an initiative to deploy reliable technology to the edges of society. Juliana will be at Skoll World Forum next week discussing how new developments in tech can accelerate change. Do connect with her there or you can reach out to juliana at BRCK dot org to discuss more on how to partner for deploying tech to the edges of society.