Jenny Melo

New Lessons and Other Thoughts on the Presentation of the Last Book of SEKN

Editor’s Note: This post was first published in NextBillion Español. The original post may be found here.

Earlier this month in Buenos Aires, Argentina, I attended a presentation on the book Inclusive Businesses: Market Initiatives with the Poor in Latin America. It’s the third book written by the collaborative efforts of the academics and researchers in the Social Enterprise Knowledge Network (SEKN) and was published just as the Network celebrated its tenth anniversary.

The event was very well attended and brought together academics, entrepreneurs, and the general public interested in inclusive businesses. The presentations by Gabriel Berger (University of San Andrés), Patricia Márquez (University of San Diego/IESA, Venezuela) and Ezequiel Reficco (University of the Andes, Colombia) addressed the network’s purpose, the concept of inclusive businesses, and the book’s findings, pointing to several elements that seem important for contextualizing and understanding the dynamics that make up the practice known as inclusive business.

During the SEKN Network presentation, Berger mentioned that the Network publications were concerned primarily with market initiatives that generate social inclusion, and reminded the audience that the two previous books were about social partnerships and effective management of social enterprises. This annotation seemed very important, as it places the practice of inclusive businesses in context, showing the points of contact and relationships with other business and market practices. By keeping the big picture in mind, we can avoid falling into sterile arguments and can facilitate learning the lessons of other types of practices that don’t truly carry the label of inclusive businesses.

In his presentation about the concept of inclusive businesses, Reficco synthesized their defining characteristics: aspiration for a transformation of the status quo, patient innovation, mobile business and the search for profitability, new players -SMEs and civil society, the leveraging of local resources, and the local-global connection. In my opinion, these six characteristics reflect the diverse dimensions of this type of practice, and highlight both the means and the end. The end of inclusive businesses is achieving a transformation of the status quo and the living conditions of the low-income communities; the rest is in the middle: long-term perspective, recognizing the networks, leadership and local traditions and building on them, looking for self-sustainability, breaking the isolation of the communities and initiating dialogue with various types of players.

Regarding the book findings, Márquez pointed out six critical aspects that I consider illuminating for understanding inclusive business practices (they are well-developed in chapter 11 of the book):

  • Profound organizational transformations: New paradigms are required to initiate inclusive businesses, which will let them be flexible both in these businesses’ organization and operations. There isn’t only one way to advance these practices; some companies create a new line of business, others rely on their foundations to carry things out. We should not be dogmatic on this subject.
  • Internal processes for learning: Understanding means moving into the market of low-income sectors and spreading processes of creation, organization and internal socialization of lessons learned on the road.
  • Calibrating the importance of value. This means understanding what value means to the consumers, which is not necessarily the same as what the company believes.
  • Combining elements in the value proposition, creating a “value combo.”
  • Linking creativity with the ecosystem: This involves establishing relationships with other players (often unusual for the company), and developing non-traditional models of collaboration. In some manner, this is “thinking outside the box.”
  • Generating enterprising leadership: The entrepreneurial spirit is crucial for the success of inclusive businesses, hence the importance of growing and being aware of it, since it can come from anywhere.

The event closed with varied interventions from the participants and with comments about the book by Carmen Correa of AVINA – Uruguay and Antoni Ballabriga, director of Corporate Responsibility for the BBVA Group in Spain.

Going forward, I see four research topics that will be at the heart of this field in the coming years: analyzing and assessing social outcomes, advancing multidisciplinary perspectives, exploring ways of fostering entrepreneurial incubators and accelerators, and reflecting on the process of change in entrepreneurial logic and inertia.

This book provides an excellent input for expanding conversations and carrying them to new frontiers of learning from concrete experiences. The book is available in English and Spanish on Amazon; the PDF versions can be downloaded here and here. In the coming months a Portuguese version will also become available.

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