Caroline Ashley

Another Online Hub? Here’s Why We Tried Something Different : The Business Innovation Facility and IAP database is a one-stop-shop for social entrepreneurs

Many inclusive business projects require financial and technical support to help them ‘get off the ground’ and grow. But the landscape of support is complex and disjointed. Understanding what is on offer and where to go can be a challenging and time-consuming task.

A new Database of Financial and Technical Support for Inclusive Business aims to reduce the time and challenge involved. Produced by the Business Innovation Facility (BIF) and Innovations Against Poverty (IAP), it’s a step towards a ‘one-stop shop’ for IB entrepreneurs.

This database provides a list of over 200 organizations that offer financial and/or technical support to inclusive businesses in developing countries. It provides categorization of what they offer to business, the geographies and sectors they cover and their contact details. Better still, it can be easily searched and filtered by the user.

BIF and IAP have produced this database because both initiatives work directly with inclusive business entrepreneurs, and both have found that the need to tap into further support is a major issue for their clients. BIF provides technical support (one to six months), while IAP provides grants (€20,000 – 200,000). However useful this support is, we are well aware that it is not enough. As businesses evolve they will need other partners too.

The database is just the latest and biggest of a range of public outputs to support practitioners of inclusive business. In a welcome example of donor collaboration, the DFID-funded BIF and Sida-funded IAP co-host an online Practitioner Hub on Inclusive Business. The Hub is a place for practitioners to post news and exchange ideas, read about BIF and IAP projects, as well as tap into a host of ‘Know-How’ resources.

“Another online hub?” you wonder. I agree, there are a few. But the unique selling proposition of the Practitioner Hub is that it is grounded in projects, their challenges and the progress they make. The combined portfolio of BIF and IAP is now around 100 projects, which provide the core material.

When we reviewed what already exists for knowledge-sharing on inclusive business we found a gap. On the one hand several sites, such as this one, share great ideas. On the other hand, several programs, such as Challenge Funds that directly support inclusive business but share no more than project descriptions, or sometimes a “case study.”

So we decided to try something different; support projects but then add another layer of work that develops and shares material with the wider audience. Perhaps it is because BIF provides technical advisors inside the company, rather than checks, we find there is a wealth of knowledge about problems, solutions, methods and tools. It would seem a waste not to share these with others! So we encourage our clients and technical advisors to post blogs and updates on the Hub, and as a team we produce publications that pull out key themes.

However, converting this information into materials that other practitioners can easily digest and use presents its own challenges. There are confidentiality issues – particularly on projects where organizations are embarking on a novel, perhaps risky, initiative and don’t want to leave themselves exposed. There are also issues on presenting the information. On the one hand, it often needs to be concise, accessible and user-friendly. On the other, the depth of insight, often unique, needs to be communicated, as some readers want to know more.

Our response to this has been to create a suite of materials that range from short overviews and handy checklists to more detailed documents that explore an IB issue in full. We even have ‘Project Resources’ – materials produced for one project, cleared of any sensitive information, that could be invaluable for someone working on another. We have a number of these publications already available on the Hub, but there are many, many more in the pipeline.

Another problem is how to help people find the resources that are relevant to them, whether their interest is in supply chains, distribution models, or farmer engagement. So to help with the search, we have clustered our outputs into 10 ‘Know-how themes.’

These materials may differ in format, length and content, but they share one crucial feature – they are created “by the practitioner, for the practitioner.”

Education, Social Enterprise, Technology
financial inclusion, social enterprise