Can companies innovate for profit AND inclusivity? We believe the answer is yes. In fact, we’re so passionate about this topic that our director Lisa has recently been delivering workshops on it. In this post we’re going to explain in a nutshell what inclusive innovation looks like and why it should matter to your business.

In 2016, two U.S. economists published a report showing that M-Pesa, the mobile phone based money transfer service, was responsible for lifting 2% of Kenya’s population out of poverty. The company allows those who don’t have access to a bank account to deposit, withdraw and transfer money using a simple SMS system on their phones. 

The service is impressive in its efficacy, and has been lauded not only for giving millions of people access to the formal financial system, but also for reducing crime in otherwise largely cash-based societies. But M-Pesa isn’t a social enterprise, nor is it affiliated with an NGO or charity. It is simply one of a growing number of companies that is choosing to practice what ChewingRice calls “inclusive innovation”. In doing so, it has become one of the most successful finance companies in the developing world.

Defining inclusive innovation  

So, what exactly is inclusive innovation and what does it entail? Put simply, inclusive innovation is about identifying those groups within your customer base who are being overlooked and innovating in a more inclusive way. 

Rather than being an afterthought that’s merely bolted onto a business (as is often the case with CSR or charity) this type of inclusion should be central to how a business thinks and innovates. It’s about putting your products or services under a microscope and asking the what-if questions:

  • What if your user is blind?

  • What if they don’t own a desktop?

  • What if they are not on social media?

This goes one step further than the social enterprise model; it doesn’t necessarily always include groups that have been marginalised by society (although it often does). It can also mean including more generic groups that have simply been overlooked by a business until now. 

Harrods recently demonstrated this in action when they realised that they didn’t have a system to accept payments from Chinese banks. Realising that they needed to include this sector of the market, they responded by introducing a Chinese payment platform that would cater to this segment of their customer base. The result? Their sales increased, simply because they chose to innovate for this previously overlooked group.  

Why innovate for inclusion? 

As the case of M-Pesa and Harrods show, the benefits of inclusive innovation are plentiful. Growth is a major byproduct of this approach.  Research shows that, from 2012 to 2015, the companies with the highest rated ESG (Environmental, Social & Governance – central factors in measuring a company’s sustainability and societal impact) outperformed the lowest-rated firms by as much as 40%. 

Along with this spike in growth, innovating for inclusion also means businesses can attract the best talent; people who truly care about making an impact and want to work for a forward-thinking organisation. Digital transformation is also easier when we’re inclusive; it can lead to less friction and higher user satisfaction. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, adopting inclusive innovation means we can also come together to solve meaningful global problems such as inequality. Therein lies the magic of inclusivity: when done correctly, it can create a lasting impact at the same time as increasing profit.  

How to think inclusively 

All of which begs the question: who can we innovate for in our mission to be inclusive? Here are some important demographics to consider: 

  • Physical limitations – groups such as the disabled or elderly 

  • Societal inequalities – people who are marginalised due to gender, weath, education, or sexuality

  • Geographic barriers – communities living in remote regions, travellers, migrants, and refugees

  • Varied access to technology – mobile-only users, those with restricted access to technology, software users of android vs. apple  

Putting inclusive innovation into action 

Those are just some of the groups and customer profiles we can innovate for under the inclusive innovation model. But how do we go about implementing this?  Here are some key areas where we can create inclusive innovation within our businesses: 

Communication; is the language we’re using inclusive enough, or is it too gender-specific, too isolating, too obscure? 

User experience; are we taking into account users with disabilities, literacy issues and other special needs? 

The capabilities of our products and the conditions under which they work; have you tested your product away from an office environment, for example? Is your product dependent on mobile data? What if your customer loses data when travelling, or cannot afford data in the first place? 

Looking to the future 

One thing’s for sure: the economic landscape is uncertain right now, and businesses need to be one step ahead of the curve. We should be thinking of ways to leverage that uncertainty to fuel innovation and creativity. But first, we need to change our mindset. We have to be fearless in our examination of the products and services we’re offering. And we need to be bold enough to demand more. The inclusive innovation model is an incredibly impactful way of achieving this. Are you ready to make the leap?

If you want to learn more about inclusive innovation, ChewingRice is here to help. We adopt an inclusive approach in everything we do, whether it’s developing a new app, building a brand, creating social media campaigns, or launching new websites. We can also train your team to think more about inclusive innovation through guided workshops. Talk to us today. Get in touch here.