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If you want to go far, go together...

Co-opting Stakeholders in Impact Incubation

During my years of directing affordable product design for assistive products, our team of professors and development engineers were very keen on implementing "inclusive innovation"- a concept where the end-user is involved in various aspects of the design. Not only did this bring us amazing customer insights, but many-a-time we had break-through ideas from our customers. That is to say, we got closer to our product by including our customers in the design process. Further, on the commercialization and production side, we always sought to make our vendors as partners in our impact journey so that they could service our 'low-volume high-quality' orders effectively. We ensured that they got value out of this partnership too – be it recognition, revenue or resolution of their problems.

When we started building a health portfolio at Villgro India, we practiced "inclusive incubation"

by involving other stakeholders in the ecosystem to propel our entrepreneurs further in their journey. We relied on other technology-based incubators to assess tech for us; we reached

out to physicians practicing in resource-limited settings to help us with mentoring, needs assessment, clinical validation, and even some market pilots. Many of our entrepreneurs still continue this practice by leveraging relationships in the incubation ecosystem around them. We even brought prospective investors and customers to sensitive solutioning discussions at our ‘diagnostic panels’ – truly pushing the boundaries of cooperation. All the while, we made sure all the stakeholder organizations derived value out of these interactions - through sharing our knowledge at their learning events, strategic guidance to their innovators, help with lead assessments and participation in joint initiatives. This approach grew out of a common observation and subsequent understanding that many of us in the ecosystem were working towards common goals – to help social entrepreneurs succeed – and so leveraging our complementarity was to our advantage.

This philosophy has found its way into Villgro USA's incubating incubators training too. In our handholding sessions with various incubators across the world, the first activity we undertook was a stakeholder value-map, which specifically looked at other entrepreneur support entities in their countries’ ecosystem and identified how we could all get to our goals faster – together. It helped us understand the local incubation environment better and it helped the incubator rethink their strategy in a new collaborative light.

We find that it is helpful to approach one’s mission with clarity, confidence and humility – clarity on the goal and one’s role in it, confidence in one’s competency in playing that role, and humility to understand that one needs others to get there and should co-opt them in this journey. Of course, some initiative to discover this shared value for the partners is essential, but this is second nature for our incubator members – who are driven by their passion for impact. We know that the journey to success and scale for a social enterprise in emerging markets is long and arduous, and hence, it is better to go together, so we can go far.


Arun Venkatesan

Co-founder and CEO at Villgro USA

Arun is passionate about scaling impact by helping impact incubators succeed. He led Villgro India's health sector before his current role at Villgro USA

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