NGOs seem to give relatively higher priority to issues of inclusiveness than companies doing business in Africa. This is one of the findings of a survey of 75 businesses and NGOs from the Netherlands and six African countries as part of the INCLUDE research group ‘Inclusive Business Strategies in Africa’. The survey also found that considerable differences exist among businesses when it comes to inclusion. And, no matter who is embarking on the challenge of inclusive business in Africa, be it NGOs or companies, they all face a number of challenges in integrating socially-relevant issues into their core operations.
Identifying key success factors for inclusive businesses in Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the aims of the INCLUDE research project on ‘Inclusive Business Strategies in Africa’. The research is led by the Partnerships Resource Centre of the Rotterdam School of Management in partnership with the Netherlands-African Business Council (NABC), Eastern and Southern Management Institute (ESAMI) Business School. The broader research consortium includes a range of African and Dutch frontrunner companies, knowledge institutes, international NGOs and government representatives operating in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania and Mozambique. The project explores how businesses can achieve inclusiveness with the involvement of non-market actors such as NGOs, national governments and local stakeholders.
The research consortium currently comprises around 10 organizations from Africa and 20 from the Netherlands, with more than 50 additional organizations from Africa also participating in the research activities. An important element of the programme is the action-oriented research component it comprises. The research results are shared at an early stage with the network of participating organizations, not only to validate the results, but also to inspire the future research agenda and instigate a discussion on related topics. In this regard, the research team has organized two workshops and two executive trainings, in both the Netherlands and Africa, for its partners. In the Quarterly Report the results of these meetings are shared, including the research agenda for 2016.
In addition, the research team prepared a research note early this year to summarize the findings from the survey conducted a few months earlier. The survey was conducted to foster a better understanding of inclusiveness issues, themes and challenges as encountered by practitioners. The results of the survey show that organizations define and frame inclusiveness in many different ways. However, inclusiveness is generally understood as economically empowering disadvantaged groups of people, especially women, small-scale entrepreneurs and the poor, but also to some extent rural people, illiterate people and owners of medium-sized enterprises. The focus is mostly on improving the income and productivity of these people through employment creation, improving access to finance, capacity building, and providing access to information and education.
Noteworthy are the most important obstacles that organizations say that they face in becoming more inclusive (see figure). Shortages of skilled workers and limited financial resources are the two most important limiting factors. In addition, a number of organizational factors, such as lack of capacity and bureaucracy, as well as external factors, such as poor infrastructure, low levels of access to energy and roads, and prohibitive laws and regulations, were identified as critical obstacles. These insights are useful for shaping and sharpening the future research direction of the project.
On the basis of the results of the survey, the research team is currently preparing a second survey to further sharpen its understanding of inclusive business and the related motivations of, and barriers faced by, companies doing business in Africa. In the fall of this year the research group will organize stakeholder dialogues to discuss the results of the second survey and determine relevant strategies for inclusive businesses to contribute to inclusive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa