WECONOMY: Saving the World With Business

WECONOMY: Saving the World With Business: Weconomy Start - A global innovation programme for companies and low-income communities

Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

From ME business into WE business! We facilitate interaction and co-creation, which results in new business models, products and services that create value for low-income communities as well as companies by offering grass-root knowledge of the BOP (Base of the Pyramid), innovative ways of delivering the services to under-served segments, hands-on inclusive co-creation with the local communities and ethical, sustainable and scalable business.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Weconomy Start aims at solving wicked problems of the world by fostering new kind of partnerships between private sector, academia and civil society. The programme builds bridges and facilitates rights-based collaboration between companies, low-income communities and other relevant stakeholders. It offers a practical path for companies to develop sustainable and profitable business at the BOP. It fosters new, innovative and sustainable solutions to economic, ecological and social problems identified by low-income communities such as lack of opportunities, unemployment, poor sanitation, malnutrition etc. On the other hand, companies need new markets: there are 4 bln people living under by 5 € per day with needs and capabilities.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

During the one-year programme companies will be able to indentify new business opportunities, do fast-prototyping, innovate together with end users and make implementation plans for starting a business in new markets. It includes 1) practical knowledge of local needs, challenges and opportunities; 2) understanding the purpose and benefits of co-creation with communities and NGO’s; 3) identifying viable business concepts and selecting the most promising ones and 4) refining the selected business concepts to business plans. The programme brings together the expertise of its partners: the NGO offers a platform locally and globally for innovation, academia brings research knowledge and businesses have their business and marketing skills.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Finnish company Palmroth Consulting went to Indore with Weconomy Start to develop a concept of importing handicrafts produced by Indian women to the Finnish business-gift market. They set four key targets 1.To learn about BOP business opportunities and methods in India. 2. To find out how the co-creation process between community members and the company could work. 3. To develop a business model around the concept and to start a new business. 4.To generate employ ment for local artisans. People living in the slums of Indore are lacking employment opportunities and skills. As a result, a new company brand was launched, a business with a group of local artisans was started, first products are being exported - all this in 14 months.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

The programme will be scaled-up through World Vision's network of almost 100 countries, starting from Europe (potentially first Germany and Austria) on the other hand and Africa (potentially first Kenia, Tanzania) and Latin America (potentially first Peru, Brazil) on the other. During 2014 negotiations for scaling-up are made and new countries will start in 2015. The programme is alsocontributing to a policy reform process going on in Finland about development and corporate funding & aid-for-trade. It is one of the first examples of getting private sector involvement into the development work in a new way. Low-income markets are a great but so far unused market for European companies. Apart from getting new customers, reverse innovations and know-how flowing back to Europe can be major changemakers in the future of our continent.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

As far as we know there are no other similar NGO organisations offering exactly the same kind of solution. There are some approaches, for example in Denmark and Netherlands, that have more an academic focus or offer on-line courses on the subject. Some Finnish projects organise short co-creation field-visits for companies to low-income markets, but with no long-term commitment. We see that there is definitely need and market for our solution.


In Weconomy Start the partnership is in the center of everything. The whole idea is combining expertise from different sectors, bringing together development work and business and involving academia actively in the process. The team is multi-cultural, cross-sectoral and involving several organisations. It is challenging but truly fruitful at its best. It is important that there are members involved from the grass-root operating level to the top management. Obviously the companies that take part in the programme also play a crucial role - without them there would be no co-creation and innovation happening. From the companies' side the top management has a key role. They need to see the benefits from stepping into this kind of endeavour right from the beginning and be committed. Developing sustainable business in new markets needs to be in the core of their strategy as well.
About the Lead Co-Creation Partners
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Primary European Country where this Project is creating social impact
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Impact for other than European countries: Sri Lanka and India, later on other countries in Africa and Latin America

Select the category that best fits the type of your project:

New products & services: Entries in this category develop and offer essentials product and services that address needs currently unmet, Last mile distribution: Entries in this category focus on solutions that enable the physical delivery of life-changing services to people with restricted mobility or restricted access (senior people, people with disability, remote or difficult areas, etc.), Inclusive supply chains: Entries in this category implement efficient, sustainable and inclusive supply chains, Job Creation: Entries in this category create new jobs for people away from the labor market.

What awards or honors has the project received?

The project has received financing from Innovation and Technology Fund in Finland.

Project Summary
Co-Creation Model: Tell us about your main strategic partners and how the partnership truly create value. For each Partner please include its type (business/social/public), its name, a short description, its key motivation to participate in the co-creation project, and the key contributions it is making in the co-creation project. Please follow the format displayed below:

-Partner 1: World Vision Finland
-Type of partner:social
-Short description: Part of the World Vision Partnership: a Christian humanitarian development organization and world’s biggest child sponsorship organization.
-Key motivation to participate in the co-creation project: World needs new partnerships to foster a better life for children. NGOs, companies, academia and other partners can do this together; none of us can do it alone.
-Key contributions in the co-creation project: Management and coordination of the project. Expertise in development cooperation & community mobilization and organization.

-Partner 2: Finpro
-Type of partners: business
-Short description: the national trade, internationalization and investment development organization in Finland that supports companies' international growth and success by enabling them to be in the right markets at the right time with a competitive concept and offering.
-Key motivation to participate in the co-creation project: Opening up new opportunities for Finnish businesses.
-Key contributions in the co-creation project: Expertise and sparring in new business development.

-Partner 2: Aalto University
-Type of partners: academia (public)
-Short description: a multidisciplinary university, where science and art meet technology and business, doing cutting-edge research on innovation and inclusive business.
-Key motivation to participate in the co-creation project: To provide academic knowledge and expertise for new business development and to make new research on co-creation between unsual partners.
-Key contributions in the co-creation project: Methods and practical guiding to co-creation methods and linking to global BOP networks.

-Partners 3 and 4: World Vision India and World Vision Lanka
-Type of partners: social
-Short description: part of World Vision's global partnership, working across the two countries, experts in community development and grass-root knowledge of local needs and opportunities of the BOP communities.
-Key motivation to participate in the co-creation project: to foster economic development and provide new opportunities, skills and know-how for poor communities.
-Key contributions in the co-creation project: Linking the companies to local communities, businesses, decision makers and other stakeholders, facilitating the companies' field-work.

- Other partners:
- 6 companies have so far participated the programme ranging from a start-up to a big stock-exchange company.
- The companie's motivation is to find new sustainable business.
- Their contribution is innovating together with other partners and stakeholders and bring them business know-how.

In sum it has so far been a truly innovative process with 10 key partners and other crucial stakeholders participating the process - especially the local commuinties in India and Sri Lanka. Without any one of the elements the co-creation wouldn't have been possible and the value created in the process is genuinely unique.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact. Please specify using qualitative and quantitative data (e.g. # of indirect and direct beneficiaries); help us understand how this solution truly makes a difference.

So far 4 companies have found new business, 2 companies are starting and 2 poor communities (approx 200 people) in India and Sri Lanka have benefitted by getting new skills, knowledge and employment. These results are only from the developing phase and as the companies start operating in India and Sri Lanka in the way planned in Weconomy Start programme, the impact on business and development will grow through their actions. In the future as more companies will join and we scale-up, there will be even larger impact on companies, on poor communities and to the entire way of working through partnerships with different sectors - and of doing development work, business and research at the BOP. In the coming years the programme will be scaled up to include more countries and the impacts will be truly global. Beneficiaries in different countries are visioned to be hundreds of thousands.

Funding: How is your project financial supported? [select all that apply]

Businesses, National government.

Sustainability Plan: Has your project already reached financial sustainability? If not, what is this solutio’s plan to ensure financial sustainability? Do the main partners have enough stake to sustain the solution? If this project requires limited budget, how will other resources be secured to maintain or grow this work?

The project is still somewhat struggling with financial sustainability, as our fund from the Technology and Innovation Fund of Finland (Tekes) is ending in June 2014. Companies pay for their participaction in the programme and this covers most of the costs, but from the sustainability's point of view we need to find other funding sources as well. The government of Finland is developing new financing models for this type of partnerships and also EU funding could be applied. The challenge is that our way of doing things and combining different sectors is still so new, that the existing financing models don't easily fit to it.

Founding Story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the Partners to get started and/or to see the potential for this to succeed.

The idea started from having an innovation competition for companies, to get them involved in sustainable business and partnering with World Vision. However, we started to see the possible partnership in a broader way; it should link to the strategy of the company and its core competence. We saw that the partnership could solve many issues of today's world: on the other hand Western companies are struggling with the economic situation and on the other, poor communities need new opportunities. At the same time there was a lot of discussion among the academia, after doing research on the topic, about how to get the companies to do co-creation with the BOP communities in practise. We realized that someone should bring these actors together, to solve the problems of the poor communities and the companies at the same time by bringing in the expertise of NGOs, academia and business.

About the Co-Creation
Barriers: What main barriers may you have encountered to co-create during the creation and implementation of the project and how did you try to overcome them?

Three type of main challenges in co-creation have occurred. First, the operating model and philosophy of each participating organisation is different, starting from the vocabulary we use. We have had to co-create common working methods and language in order to work as team. Second, the logic and motives behind the operations of a participating company looking at developing profitable business and an NGO that strives to develop a better life for the most vulnerable children and their communities of the world differ. We have had to discuss openly about our motives and find our common goals: the win-win. Thirdly, the cultural differences of Finland and India and Sri Lanka have created situations, in communications for example, where misunderstandings have risen. This issue we have tackled by trying to foster open dialogue and by developing different communication methods and tools.

Governance: What is the type of the relationship between the partners? (e.g. joint venture, contractual relationship, joint project...)

We have a mutual agreement of operating together for our common goal with Aalto University, World Vision india and World Vision Lanka. Between World Vision Finland and Finpro there also exists a client-relationship for the consultancy offered by Finpro. The participating companies make agreements with World Vision and they also pay a fee for the service.

Interaction model: How is the project a transformative partnership? How is the interaction transforming the partnering organizations and their employees/ leadership in terms of creating a new vision, new management practices, new skills and new organizational structures? Please provide for concrete examples

The partners come from very different backgrounds and also different cultures and their core capacities and motivations are different. During the partnership and through the co-creation process all have gained a tremendous amount of new know-how and skills. We have learned from each other but there has also been unforeseen learning, new ideas developing that none of us was expecting. E.g World Vision has gained a lot of knowledge about how to cooperate with companies and the companies have learned about community involvement and mobilization. Also the poor communities have gotten new skills and been empowered through the process. All parties have been transformed in the process and we wish to transform the entire way of doing development and business. Also our Weconomy model can bring operational platform to support implementation of innovative financing for sustainable development.

How did you find out about this competition?

The Netherlands' BoP Innovation Center's newsletter that Aalto University has subscribed to.