[TC-I Changemakers]: The UN’s place at the social enterprise table
Editor’s note: The following interview is part of an ongoing series for ThinkChange India where we speak to social entrepreneurs firsthand. The ThinkChange India staff is committed to providing our readers with first-hand insights from groundbreaking changemakers. Readers will be able to see other conversations under our TC-I Changemakers tab.
At SoCap09, a variety of players came together, including nonprofits, government, the private sector, and funders. The United Nations was also present, through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Growing Inclusive Markets (GIM) initiative. GIM brings together a coalition of actors to engage the private sector -through its core business activities- in the effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. ThinkChange India Managing Editor Shital Shah met with Sahba Sobhani, GIM’s Programme Manager, to discuss UNDP’s Growing Inclusive Markets Initiative and its various activities. Please note that Mr. Sobhani’s answers below are not verbatim.
TC-I: How does the UN fit into the social capital market?
Sahba Sobhani (SS): The UN is all over the world, including on the ground in 166 different countries. We play more of a catalytic role. We can inform governments about the value of the inclusive markets. Governments often have social transfer schemes, but we have to bring in a business aspect as well. Businesses need not only financial sustainability, but also ways to involve the poor.
UNDP’s Growing Inclusive Markets Initiative started its work about three years ago. Now here at SoCap, for example, we’re excited to see successes like the one of Indian entrepreneur Harish Hande, who built a business from the ground up, as he circumvents problems and addresses market constraints.
TC-I: Tell me more about the strategy matrix. How do you ensure that market constraints and solutions are contextualized?
SS: The strategy matrix is evidence based. We built a network of local researchers. This is also cost effective while building local capacity. We focused on three aspects: the business itself, the political economy, and the market perspective. Evidence shows that these business models often rely upon a “value web” of different actors creating an ecosystem – not necessarily formal partnerships. They could also look like flexible alliances.
TC-I: The Heat Map concept is very interesting. How is it best used to help businesses implement their goals?
SS: Harvard Business School Professor Rangan is the brain behind it although it was the result of a collaborative process. We created them because we need to know where the market gaps for access to key goods and services are, but we also need to know who the suppliers are. We created them based on household surveys. They should help people to think about market information and identify opportunities for their business.
TC-I: How optimistic can we be on India meeting any/some/all of the MDGs?
SS: India is actually in better shape than other countries. There are a lot of challenges, of course, in thinking about inclusive growth. There are issues of risk management when dealing with inefficient markets. We need to think about poverty alleviation versus poverty reduction.
TC-I: GIM’s primary products are reports, case studies and other action-oriented tools and research materials. In what way is the partnership model with so many other NGOs, GOs, and multilaterals giving GIM an advantage in truly drilling down what is going on in the BoP?
SS: The Growing Inclusive Markets Initiative is adding value to the space of private sector and development. We have the local networks and a local research pool, we’re multinational and multistakeholder, and we can act as a catalyst. We may not be the key catalyst in a mature place like India, but we do have a role. Most of all, we hope entrepreneurs use our tools to develop inclusive business models and thus contribute to inclusive growth.
Note: TC-I readers may be interested in GIM’s July 2008 report Creating Value for All: Strategies for Doing Business with the Poor, which is full of case studies and demonstrates “the successful pursuit of both revenues and social impact by local and international small- and medium-sized companies, as well as multinational corporations.”