Inclusive Business at the Base of the Pyramid: The Role of Embeddedness for Enabling Social Innovations

  • Addisu A. Lashitew
  • Lydia Bals
  • Rob van Tulder
Original Paper


Inclusive businesses that combine profit making with social impact are claimed to hold the potential for poverty alleviation while also creating new entrepreneurial and innovation opportunities. Current research, however, offers little insight on the processes through which for-profit business organizations introduce social innovations that can profitably create social impact. To understand how social innovations emerge and become sustained in business organizations, we studied a telecom firm in Kenya that successfully extended financial services across the country through a number of mobile banking innovations. Our qualitative analysis revealed the strong role of being embedded in local networks and structures for initiating and implementing social innovations. Strong embeddedness enhanced the pragmatic and ethical imperative for internalizing social issues, but also provided access to diverse resources for implementing and legitimizing social innovations. However, hybridization processes that emphasized social issues introduced organizational tensions by increasing goal diversity and requiring adapting organizational processes and structures. The case shows how developing a mission-driven identity enabled the sustenance of social innovations by providing a meta-narrative that bridged goal diversities and rationalized organizational change.


Inclusive business Hybridity Sustainable business Social innovation Social mission Base of the Pyramid (BoP) 



This project is part of the research agenda of the Knowledge Platform Development Policies, which was funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs through NWO-WOTRO with the Grant Number W 08.350.102. The authors would like to thank NWO-WOTRO for making available the resources that made the research possible.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Addisu A. Lashitew
    • 1
  • Lydia Bals
    • 2
    • 3
  • Rob van Tulder
    • 4
  1. 1.Rotterdam School of ManagementErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Supply Chain and Operations ManagementMainz University of Applied SciencesMainzGermany
  3. 3.Copenhagen Business School (CBS)FrederiksbergDenmark
  4. 4.International Business-Society Management, Rotterdam School of ManagementErasmus University RotterdamRotterdamThe Netherlands

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