Inclusive Business In Asia – Abuzz With Potential

By Caroline Ashley, Editor of the Practitioner Hub for Inclusive Business

Inclusive Business In Asia – Abuzz With Potential
Photo: Selling fish in Myanmar

Asia, the most populated continent, is well used to fast growth. But as the call for inclusive growth gets stronger, attention is turning to inclusive business. During April and May the team at the Practitioner Hub for Inclusive Business have been in touch with a host of contributors across the continent, the result is an array of news and views of how inclusive business is faring.

The Asia theme is run in partnership with the Asian Development Bank, which has scoped seven markets for their inclusive business potential since 2010 and is expanding its investment in inclusive business (IB). Dr. Armin Bauer, Principal Economist at the ADB draws on the findings from these studies in calling for greater policy support to unleash IB potential, in his blog Inclusive Business in Asia: New opportunities for private public pa… The seven market scoping studies, covering India & Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Vietnam, Pakistan, Indonesia and the Mekong delta, can all be accessed here.

Three themes emerge across the blogs newly posted on the Hub this month:

Firstly, inclusive business is bubbling, there is real progress being made by diverse companies.

Secondly, recognition of the need for inclusive growth, not just fast growth, is spreading amongst economic decision-makers.

But thirdly, despite both of these, a host of obstacles remain. Lack of finance, regulatory constraints, and rigid mindsets are mentioned often.

The Philippines is a country where inclusive business has gone from an unknown term to a topic in the media. Markus Dietrich has witnessed this journey, and illustrates the emergence of IB models across sectors in his blog, Inclusive Business in the Philippines: From nascent to emerging. Demonstrating the serious commitment of the Filipino Government, Felicitas R. Agoncillo-Reyes, Assistant Secretary of the Investments Promotion Group, Department of Trade and Industry, outlines how the Board of Investments is developing a novel system for accreditation of inclusive business, offering non-fiscal incentives. The approach to harvest the low-hanging fruits means starting with the agricultural sector first.

From Nepal, we have great news of how mobile banking is rolling out. Sanjay Shah, the founder of Finaccess, one of the success stories of the Innovations Against Poverty portfolio, brings us a detailed update of the roll-out of Hello Paisa, now used by eight banks in the country, with each providing differentiated services to their clients.

In Bangladesh, there is a start-up scene, including social enterprises, that is bubbling and developing rapidly, and most of it is away from the international spotlight. This is something that excites serial entrepreneur and angel investor Samad Miraly who describes the country as a ‘land of opportunity’ for entrepreneurs. Visit Future Start-Up to see what start-ups are discussing. In our first cross-posting from this Bangladeshi site run by young entrepreneurs, Mohammed Ruhul Kader writes about social start-up Fairwear that is aiming to bring fair and sustainable practices to the corruption-riddled garment industry.

But constraints are plentiful in Bangladesh. In his blog Awaiting the ‘Big Push’, Zunaed Rabbani, Executive Director of the Market Development Forum Bangladesh Association, describes how closed mindsets and an uneasy relationship between the private sector and those in development are preventing an inclusive business ecosystem from thriving, while CSR continues to take centre stage.

Similarly in Indonesia, a shift in perception towards the social value of business is needed writes Tiur Rumandong, MD of the Indonesia Business Council for Sustainable Development. In Prosperous people = Prosperity to business, she too suggests the country needs to move away from current CSR practices towards inclusive models that involve low income people at every stage of the value chain.

In Vietnam, SNV’s Javier Ayala describes the portfolio of the Vietnam Challenge Fund. The 23 deals selected for support (out of 400 applications) cut across sectors and size, representing total investment of $150 million. Amidst the diversity, the similar problems they face include limited financial access, market information gaps and closed mind-sets and behaviours.

In Japan, the potential for inclusive business has been recognised and the government is keen to support Japanese companies in catching up and progressing in this space. Kiyoshi Mori from the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry outlines in his blog, How is Japan supporting inclusive business?, the various IB initiatives being undertaken by the Japanese government also providing links to the Japan Inclusive Business Support Centre.

Having only relatively recently opened up its economy, Myanmar is some way away from developing anything resembling an inclusive business ecosystem. Tom Harrison, International development consultant, discusses the dilemmas facing Myanmar where the very basics of business growth are just emerging, in his blog Myanmar: ready for Inclusive Business?

Education services are a growing part of the inclusive business operations in Asia. Endeva’s new report, Private schools for the Poor: Educating millions in the developing … demonstrates how private schools are plugging the gap for quality education in low-income markets. Co-author, Aline Kramer, looks at the key findings and recommendations from the paper that assessed schools in Hyderabad, India.

We’ve been overwhelmed by the rich content that the Hub received from across Asia for our theme this month. From entrepreneurs to investors and facilitators, the message is clear – the transformative potential of inclusive business in the continent is huge and there are many innovative, inspirational people working in this space, it just needs that extra push to remove the barriers that currently constrain it. That extra push is exactly what the new Monitor report, Beyond the Pioneer, is calling for. The report is reviewed on the Practitioner Hub here.

Editor’s Note:

This blog was previously published on Practitioner Hub for Inclusive Business and is reproduced with permission.

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