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Inclusive business - a US$5 trillion opportunity

Our goal at the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) is to work with member companies and partners to do much more walking than talking.

Terms like inclusive business, a concept we coined and have been advancing since 2005, are useful but only if we drill down and actually flesh out how companies can implement it and bring it to scale.

That's what I like about our new issue brief, Scaling up Inclusive Business – Strategies to overcome internal barriers. It identifies not only barriers, but also zooms in on concrete and proven solutions that have helped companies scale up these commercially viable activities. Activities that expand access to goods, services, and improve livelihoods for low-income communities at the economic 'base of the pyramid'.

It's encouraging to see that many of the solutions presented in this brief are inspired by best practices already at work in WBCSD member companies, including CEMEX, Grundfos, ITC, Lafarge, Masisa, Nestlé, Novartis, Novozymes, SABMiller, Schneider Electric, The Coca-Cola Company, and Vodafone.

Capturing and promoting these best practices on inclusive business is a critical component of the WBCSD's Action2020 initiative, which sets a science-based agenda for business to develop scalable solutions that address the most urgent environmental and social challenges that we face.

Action2020 focuses on where planetary and societal pressures are most critical, identifying nine priority areas and setting societal goals (we call them societal 'Must-Haves') against which we will measure the impact of business solutions.

The nine priority areas are: climate change; release of nutrient elements; ecosystems; exposure to harmful substances; water; basic needs and rights; skills and employment; well-being and sustainable lifestyles; and food, feed, fiber and biofuel. The societal 'Must-Haves' that we have agreed will only be achieved if business, policy-makers and other stakeholders collaborate with each other to achieve them.

Inclusive business solutions, such as the ones highlighted in our latest issue brief, will be key to delivering the societal Must-Haves related to meeting basic needs and protecting human rights.

Inclusive business solutions represent a credible and significant business opportunity. It's estimated that the global 'base of the pyramid' has a combined purchasing power of around US$5 trillion, with strong growth projections until the end of this decade.

Inclusive business solutions are already tapping into this potential through a wide-range of activities, from companies of all sizes, most notably by:

Producing affordable goods and services to meet basic needs for healthcare, water, sanitation, food, or housing (e.g. DSM, BASF, Bayer, Novartis, GE, Grundfos, P&G, Lafarge, Holcim, Nestlé, SC Johnson, CEMEX, Sumitomo Chemical); engaging local labor forces and entrepreneurs in their supply chains and distribution channels (e.g. Coca-Cola, Unilever, Natura, Masisa, Mondi, Vale, Anglo American); facilitating access to key development enablers, such as energy, communications, financing and insurance (e.g. Schneider Electric, Novozymes, GDF Suez, ABB, GE, Vodafone, Deutsche Bank); and sourcing raw materials from small-scale producers (e.g. ITC, Nestlé, Syngenta, DuPont, SC Johnson).

[These all help] to increase market share, especially in growing economies, expand cost-effective labor pools and secure more direct access to supplies and resources.

Inclusive business is an exciting area of our sustainability work that will, in no small measure, contribute to our members' efforts to work towards achieving the societal Must-Haves needed for a thriving planet and healthy global economy for generations to come.

You can get more details on our new Scaling up Inclusive Business issue brief here.

- Peter Bakker is the president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. He is the former CEO of TNT NV. This was first posted by the WBCSD on December 05, 2013.

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