How can we promote inclusive, equitable, and peaceful societies?

Behavioural “fixes” for inclusive business: creating the human “software” to achieving SDGs ?

Ground Floor A 022 September 8, 2017 11:00 am - 12:30 pm

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Solène Morvant-Roux, University of Geneva, Switzerland; Philip Mader, Institute of Development Studies, United Kingdom


This “traditional” paper session (with four or five presenters) will assemble research grappling with the interconnection of two current phenomena that affect poor people in developing countries.

The first is the deepening of market-based and business-oriented forms of engagement with poverty since the early 2000s, recently acknowledged and cemented in the new development agenda (SDGs), often collected as “inclusive business” approaches. The suggestion is that inclusion of people at the “Bottom of the Pyramid” (BoP) in global value chains as consumers, producers and intermediaries brings them substantive welfare gains and generates worthwhile returns for business actors. Following the seminal work of C.K. Prahalad (2004), many development actors and scholars have started to see the poor “not as the needy but as potential consumers and a market” willing to consume and to pay for such services and goods (Elyachar, 2012: 110 and Cholez & al. 2010). This new development approach crucially not only intends to facilitate access to manufactured goods but also to more essential services such as safe water, power, health, etc. However, in practice inclusive business models have often failed to engender the presumed demand and transformative impacts, with promises of a “fortune” at the BOP proving to be “a mirage” (Karnani 2009). Moreover, critical questions more broadly have also been raised about whether the actual terms and conditions of “inclusion” may lead poor people to experience “adverse incorporation” in markets (Hickey & Du Toit 2013). The later allows to think of inclusion processes beyond a binary approach between those who are included versus excluded.

The second phenomenon is the recent emergence of the behavioural approaches encapsulated in the 2015 World Development Report, aimed at reshaping poor people’s behaviours and mental dispositions. These connect with a newfound interest in the psychosocial dimensions of poverty and the ascendancy of behavioural economics, signifying an ongoing “behavioural turn” among key institutions in development. The “new behaviourism” proposes to better recognise the unique circumstances and constraints which poor people face, tailor interventions better to them, and assist them in making more sound decisions. At the same time, as Christian Berndt (2015: 578-583) highlights, the discourse of poverty as reflective of behavioural “anomalies” of the poor problematically charts a shift “from market failure to the failing individual” as the target of policy, and potentially exposes poor people to new forms of control, discipline and blame.

Our panel seeks to explore and better understand the interconnectedness of the “inclusive business” agenda and the “new behaviourism” in development, and aims for contributions that theorise and empirically examine this relationship. Acknowledging the postcolonial world’s failure to deliver basic infrastructures and services, the BoP “inclusive markets” approach encourages businesspeople to engage “hostile environments” (Elyachar, 2012) without waiting for the right conditions. At the same time, the behavioural turn proposes that better conditions for market-oriented action could be engineered, with the deployment of new technologies for “nudging” poor people into the right behaviours to accommodate new business-driven solutions, and social enterprise helping to pave the way. Central tools in this project are financial services and digital technologies, to grant poor people the starting capital and tools to become market-oriented producers and consumers, while also offering numerous inflection points to affect individuals’ behaviours. This panel session therefore invites papers which explore the origins, dynamics and outcomes of inclusive business models and their emerging connection with behavioural approaches, at different analytical levels and from a range of disciplinary perspectives, including socioeconomy, economic anthropology, political economy, and geography.


Berndt, C. (2015). “Behavioural economics, experimentalism and the marketization of development”, Economy and Society, 44(4): 567-591.

Cholez, C. et al. (2010). « L’exploration des marchés BoP. Une entreprise morale », Revue française de gestion 2010/9 (n° 208-209), p. 117-135.

Elyachar, J. (2012). “Next Practices: Knowledge, Infrastructure, and Public Goods at the Bottom of the Pyramid”, Public Culture, 24 (166): 109-129.

Hickey, S., Toit, A. D., Shepherd, A. (Ed.), & Brunt, J. (Ed.) (2013). Social exclusion, adverse incorporation and chronic poverty. In Chronic Poverty: Concepts, Causes and Policy. (pp. 134-159). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillian. . Publication link: 129dae02-0944-43cc-aba0-aa69661fb8c1

Karnani, A. (2009) ‘Romanticising the Poor Harms the Poor.’ Journal of International Development, Vol. 21 (1), pages 76-86, January 2009.

Prahalad, C-K. (2004). The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty through Profits, Pearson Education.