group photo
BoP Inc facilitators Gerwin Jansen (first on left) and Yvonne Achieng (fourth on the right) with SAIS project participants attending the inclusive innovation workshop in Windhoek, Namibia.

Strengthening the capacity of SMEs to realise impactful business solutions for underserved markets

The Southern Africa Innovation Support programme offers workshop on inclusive innovation to combine profit generation with making a positive impact on the lives of marginalised people in the SADC region

14. Feb 2020

It started with fun and games. Straws, tape and whatever other material could be sourced in the room were available to construct a 1 foot-long bridge that should support 500 imaginary schoolchildren crossing a river over the course of one day. As a team-building exercise, it was effective, but, when the facilitators continuously threw spanners into the works, participants realised the goal was about more than just working well together. It was about adapting and being flexible in the face of change; finding innovative, cost-effective and feasible solutions that are available in the space around you; and listening to the needs of the customer.

Welcome to day one of a two-day workshop on inclusive innovation.

The Southern African Innovation Support (SAIS) programme has partnered with BoP Innovation Center to deliver a training course for those projects seeking to roll-out products and services amongst the base of the pyramid (BoP) markets in Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania and Zambia.

BoP Inc. is a global thought-leader supporting multinationals, SMEs and start-ups in creating and scaling inclusive business models for and with people living less than US$8/day as aspiring consumers and creative entrepreneurs.

Teams from three SAIS Innovation Fund supported projects – Living Permaculture, International Development Innovation Network (IDIN)-SADC consortium, and Precision Desert Agriculture – attended the workshop in Windhoek, Namibia, to explore validation of concepts and prototypes for BoP markets.

The BoP Inc. inclusive innovation workshop came at the right time during our grant period. Our work has largely been focused on unearthing grassroots innovators in Botswana, Zambia, and Tanzania with minimal focus and inconsistent resources to bring them fully to market, thus generating sustainable income neither for ourselves nor the innovators. The approach used to understand the customer better before packaging products for sale is something we will borrow to strengthen our curriculum, giving our clients a higher chance of success. We have confidence this will work well given the consistency and sufficient resources that the SAIS 2 grant offers us."

Workshop participant Thabiso Mashaba, Project Coordinator of IDIN-SADC Consortium and Co-Founder & CEO of These Hands GSSE

Understanding inclusive innovation

Inclusive Innovation is the entrepreneurial development of something new, with impact together with and for low-income markets that have been excluded from the development mainstream. As Gerwin Jansen from BoP Inc. explains, “it can occur on multiple levels but always together with low-income groups. Inclusivity can mean BoP as consumers with aspirations for life, as hard-working producers, or as employees and micro-entrepreneurs.”

Following a look at examples of inclusive innovations – be they products such as small biogas-powered milk cooling units, services like P2P sharing platform for tractors, or business models (e.g., PAYGO for solar home systems) – Gerwin and his co-facilitator Yvonne Achieng led the group in a discussion of the characteristics of inclusive innovators versus traditional entrepreneurs.

What to do and how to do it

Working within their project teams, SAIS grantees were introduced to the inclusive innovation design process based on the 4 Ds of Discover, Define, Develop, and Deliver. This was followed by an exercise on how to evaluate if they were on the right track using five checks:

  • Desirability – do consumers really want it and are they ready to pay for it? This is key in the early stage
  • Viability – can you make sufficient money to sustain your business
  • Feasibility – is it technically and organizationally possible to deliver on your promise to customers?
  • Suitability – are you the right one to pursue the idea?
  • Impact – does it improve the lives of the underserved without hurting the environment?

“This type of exercise can be done at various stages in your start-up,” Yvonne pointed out. “In the early stage, it helps you find gaps and define areas for improvement. At later stages, it indicates if and when you ready to launch.”

Support beyond the workshop

The training does not end with day two of the workshop. SAIS’s partnership with the BoP Inc. comprises a longer-term support package for grantees delivered during their 18 month project. This includes a 14-week, 7-module online course and one-on-one coaching by local experts with experience in working with inclusive innovators. All which leads up to the project team’s big day where they pitch the validated product or service, for example, at SAIS’s Annual Innovation Forum.

“We expect the Inclusive Innovation course to directly benefit in total eight SAIS funded inclusive innovation projects, more than 25 project partner organisations, and over 300 individual beneficiaries. The course will not only improve their knowledge on the subject but help project teams to deliver the grant-funded project with support network of business coaches and peers,” says Flora Ismail Tibazarwa, SAIS Programme Director.

“In the longer term, we hope project coordinators will promote the course among their networks and share the material for broader community impact in the SADC region. At the end of the day, our primary objective with courses like this is to strengthen innovation ecosystems and promote cross-border collaboration between innovation role-players in Southern Africa.”