Sustainable business models for inclusive growth: Towards a conceptual foundation of inclusive business

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The Post-2015 Development Agenda envisions a global economy with enlarged opportunities for low-income groups. Businesses are accordingly challenged to become more inclusive. What this involves in practice is anything but clear, however. This partly stems from weak and inconsistent conceptualizations of ‘inclusive businesses’ and their business models. Because development actors and academics generally offer conflicting and value-laden interpretations of these concepts, an unambiguous and theoretically grounded perspective on business inclusivity is sorely lacking. This article attempts to move the needle on extant inclusive business discourse by delineating, conceptually, what it means to be(come) an inclusive business. By drawing on the rich literature on inclusive growth, sustainable business models, social enterprise and hybrid organizations, it offers revised definitions of inclusive businesses and inclusive business models. The article argues, amongst others, that inclusive businesses necessarily prioritize value creation over value capture and should be judged based on the net value they create for ‘income-constrained’ groups. It furthermore proposes how the boundaries of entrepreneurial responsibility can be delimited, with implications for how sustainable business models more generally should be designed.

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