What is impact investing?

Impact investing Africa

Impact investors make financial investments in businesses that aim for positive social and environmental as well as a financial return on their investments. Impact investors play an increasingly important role in the ‘missing middle’: SMEs that are too large for micro-credit and grants yet too small and risky for commercial banks. SMEs are the backbone of the economy, both in rich countries and in developing countries, but in low-income countries their contribution to the economy is much smaller than in the western world mainly because of poor access to finance.

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Cattle microinsurance in Rural India

Guest contribution by Kim ‘t Hart.

Princess Maxima, advisor “inclusive finance” at the United Nations, opened in the beginning of April the first Dutch microinsurance conference at the University of Twente where she stressed the importance of research in the microinsurance field in order to gain more insight in the complex and fragmented market. In collaboration with the BoP Innovation Center and MART Consultancy, I have done research to the supply of and demand for cattle microinsurance at the Base of the Pyramid in rural India.

Demand for Cattle Microinsurance at the BoP in Rural India

Today, India is one of the most exciting emerging markets in the world. The country has a population of over one billion people and it belongs to the largest economies in the world. India is an agriculture-based economy with a substantial cattle market; the country leads the world in cattle population and milk production. Nearly 90% of the cattle market in India is owned by small and marginal farmers in the rural areas. However, these households face high risks due to poor veterinary services, various prevailing diseases and fluctuating supply of feed. I have found that the potential loss of cattle is one of the biggest concerns for cattle-holders at the base of the pyramid (BoP) as it leads to a substantial fall in their income.

Currently, there exist few risk mitigation mechanisms for the cattle-holders at BoP in the rural areas. According to ICICI Lombard, the cattle industry offers `substantial market potential for microinsurance.´ However, the market is still untapped and underdeveloped; less than 7% of the total cattle population is insured in India. One of the key issues pertinent to the weak market is the mismatch between the supply of and the demand for cattle microinsurance at the BoP. Therefore this research study focuses on discovering how the existing cattle microinsurance products differ from the demand at the BoP in rural India in terms of product design and product distribution.

Research Findings

I have discovered that the biggest challenge within the cattle microinsurance market lies in reaching the potential beneficiaries effectively. The awareness of microinsurance amongst the cattle-holders is very low, there is a lack of trust in insurance companies and application and claim settlement processes are inefficient. Therefore more emphasis should be put on innovative distribution methods. Second, product features of cattle microinsurance need to be improved and adapted to the conditions of the farmers. In general, the cattle microinsurance market is plagued by predetermined misperceptions and an inadequate effort of insurance companies to understand the market better. Cattle-holders demand a broader risk coverage, innovative bundling possibilities and better risk-mitigation techniques. It has become evident that there are too many gaps in the product design and product distribution of cattle microinsurance for it to become a successful product in its current state. It is crucial that these gaps are closed in order to increase the uptake amongst cattle-holders at the BoP in rural India and realize growth in the business.

Innovative Distribution Model

I have developed a distribution model which is a hybrid between a partner-agent model and a community-based model; insurance companies distribute cattle microinsurance through group-heads within well-established and operationally sustainable organizations such as SHG Federations and Dairy Co-operatives. The insurers are responsible for educating the group-heads, developing the microinsurance policy together with the group-head and carrying the financial risk. Group heads of communities are in charge of educating the farmers, leading the application and claim settlement procedures and scheduling appointments with paravets for risk-mitigation measures. Paravets act as a link between the group head and the beneficiaries, supplying all the necessary health, valuation and ear-tagging services. Within this distribution model I would recommend insurance companies to implement the RFID-technology and compulsory risk-management packages in order to decrease the fraudulent and moral hazard behavior of beneficiaries. After a sustainable and transparent distribution model has been established, insurance companies should customize the cattle microinsurance policy to the needs of the cattle-holders in terms of premium payments, risk coverage and bundling possibilities.

Significance of Cattle Microinsurance at the BoP in Rural India

There are significant investment opportunities at the BoP in rural India – both in providing the cattle insurance cover itself and because having cover against the unexpected is a vital component in economic growth. I have found that with the appropriate innovations in distribution channels and product features, cattle microinsurance at the BoP in rural India could become a profitable business model for insurance companies. It is an interesting market to invest in as today’s low-income policy holder is tomorrow’s middle class, a promising market for insurance companies. Further, the growth of the cattle microinsurance market could lead to a decline in the vulnerability to poverty for BoP households in rural India. Therefore penetrating the Indian cattle microinsurance market is not only valuable for insurance companies, cattle-holders at the BoP but also for the country as a whole.

Eline Kim ‘t Hart, 2012

Download the report “Understanding the gap between the supply of and demand for cattle
microinsurance at the Base of the Pyramid in Rural India”

For more information please contact: info@bopinc.org

Access to Food and Improved Nutrition at the Base of the Pyramid

5 Business InterventionsFive business interventions to achieve social impact, financial sustainability and scale

Improving food and nutrition security through better availability, accessibility, and utilization of food and food products is another complex challenge. It involves a sector where key activities – such as the production, distribution and consumption of food and the identification of food markets – are largely in the hands of private enterprises. Interventions by the private sector in the food value chain can increase the income of the actors in the chain by involving the Base of the Pyramid (BoP) as consumer, producer or entrepreneur. It can increase the availability of food products, make food products more affordable, or increase the quality of food in the BoP.

In collaboration with the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and supported by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we have identified five different business interventions for BoP ventures in a new publication. These interventions achieve social impact, financial sustainability and, potentially, scale:

  1. Interventions focusing on smallholders to improve quality and volume of production. For example, DADTCO, a social enterprise, develops mobile small-scale cassava processing units in Nigeria allowing first processing close to farms.
  2. Commercial buyers to assure access to a supply of  produce that meets specific volume.
  3. Interventions focusing on BoP intermediaries between (smallholder) producers and consumers. For example, Hariyali Kisaan Bazaar is a rural retailer selling agri-inputs and consumer goods through its chain of centres, which also serve as a common platform for providers of financial services or health services.
  4. Adaptation of existing products, services, processes to serve BoP consumers.
  5. Innovative strategies that seek to create new markets at the BoP, through the introduction of new (specialized) products. For example Danone has ventured with Grameen in Bangladesh to create a business Grameen Danone Food Ltd that produces an ultra low cost fortified yoghurt for small children distributed by entrepreneurial Bangladeshi ladies.

5 Business Interventions

The five business interventions are an entry point for companies and other stakeholders to develop products and services to improve access to food and better nutrition with and for the BoP. They are based on extensive study and analysis of existing projects and venture worldwide.

Deliberately choosing one of these strategies, implementing a suitable governance structure and leveraging existing elements in specific models not only enables companies to become more effective in the food value chain, but also to interact and partner with the BoP.

By broadening our understanding of the options available for private sector engagement in providing better access to food and improved nutrition, this report provides key challenges and lessons to scale BoP ventures to be used by the private sector and its partners, be they NGOs or public authorities. Especially in the 2SCALE (Towards Strategic Clusters in Agribusiness through Learning in Entrepreneurship) programme, the BoP Innovation Center will use these insights to develop market based innovation trajectories.

Building blocks BoP Venture

You can download the report here.

Constraints as drivers for innovation

Guest contribution by Pepijn Veling

prosthesesA few weeks ago, Pepijn Veling visited our office. He had just returned from his master thesis field study in Thailand, where he had spent some time with Dr. Jivacate, founder of the Thai Prostheses Foundation. Pepijn shared his experiences in an inspiring presentation during our monthly team meeting. This excerpt is a story about pro-poor innovation, driven by constraints.


“Innovating for the poor is a challenging task. It is difficult to know what they need and how to develop affordable and appropriate innovations that are useful to them. Hence, local innovators can play a vital role. Their inherent immersion amongst the poor enables them
to discover and deeply understand their needs and relevant contexts. Additionally, local
innovators’ limited access to resources tends to stimulate frugal innovation processes, which can result in highly affordable and appropriate innovations.

The case of local innovator Dr. Jivacate and the Thai Prostheses Foundation
proves to be an inspiring example. Over the past 40 years, they have developed and delivered over 25,000 affordable and appropriate artificial legs to amputees in remote areas of Thailand and surrounding countries.

The intimate relationship between Dr. Jivacate and his patients showed him that conventional artificial legs were unaffordable and inappropriate for the majority of Thai amputees. The reasons being they were made of expensive, imported materials and designed for amputees with different (Western) cultural practices. Additionally, they were only distributed in Bangkok, limiting access. This resulted in amputees making their own artificial legs from local materials such as bamboo. However these were most often too painful to use. This inspired Dr. Jivacate to define their most essential need: to walk without pain. He set out to develop a solution.

As a local innovator, Dr. Jivacate had to overcome limited access to resources. Lacking
appropriate technological knowledge and capital, Dr. Jivacate modified existing technology
from the US and applied this to local materials. His goal was to eliminate the need for
expensive imports. Amazingly, after numerous experiments, his first artificial legs were
developed out of mere recycled Yakult bottles, soda cans, sandals and pieces of wood. These artificial limbs were not only extremely cheap, but they were also lightweight, durable and comfortable. As professionally skilled technicians were obviously too expensive to hire, Dr. Jivacate instituted a training program for those amputees who showed a special interest in the fitting process. Hiring amputees as technicians stimulated the need for product and process simplification and allowed immediate feedback on improvements. Additionally, it created an instant recognition between these so-called amputee-technicians and the patients. The absence of distribution systems spurred the creation of a highly efficient mobile unit and 27 satellite workshops in local areas. Between 1992 and 2011 the mobile unit has made more than 115 trips serving over 16.000 amputees. It has recently broken the Guinness World Record of serving 864 amputees in 13 days.

Originally targeting the poor, continuous innovation efforts have drastically improved the quality of the artificial legs over time (ISO certificates pending). The limbs are now also used by more affluent amputees in Thailand and beyond.

This all-inspiring success story shows how local innovators, like the Prostheses Foundation, have developed affordable, appropriate and accessible solutions for the poor. Due to their inherent immersion amongst the poor, it is these local innovators who are capable of understanding their needs whilst their constrained access to resources conversely stimulates an incredibly frugal innovation process.”

This is an excerpt of Pepijn Veling’s master thesis at the Utrecht University, The Netherlands, which looked at frugal innovation by local innovators based on a 6-weeks in-depth field study at the Prostheses Foundation. Pepijn Veling is a Dutch student-entrepreneur involved with sustainable innovation in both developed and developing countries.
Contact: schrijf@deinnovatieman.nl