Research stream 2: Partnering with Social Entrepreneurs

A key conclusion of PhamaFutures 3 was the need for greater collaboration between business, civil society and governments to address key challenges around access to health. Social entrepreneurs, such as Aravind Eye Hospital, were identified as offering not only inspiration for new business models to reach low-income patients, but also as potential partners in developing and scaling industry-supported initiatives.

While promising, the potential for partnerships between large multi-national corporations and social entrepreneurs is not without its challenges. A case study prepared by Pamela Hartigan, Founding Partners of Volans Ventures and now head of the Skoll Centre at Oxford University, explores one such partnership between Danone and Grameen and highlights some of the opportunities as well as challenges of this type of collaboration. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Partnerships in which there are complementary competencies have a higher probability of success. Relationships, rather than transactions, underpin successful business endeavours in low-income settings.
  • Partners in a venture need to understand that low-income market segments are extremely heterogeneous, so labelling it with any one term – such as the ‘Base of the Pyramid’ for example – can be counter productive to the success of the venture.
  • Both parties should enter the venture seeking to learn, together with the poor, how to co-develop the venture so all constituents benefit in terms important to each. Ventures typically need to start out small in order to test the model first, and be able to devise and implement corrective measures quickly.
  • Impacts associated with the enterprise need to be tracked carefully in order to validate the benefits of the value proposition.


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In the face of environmental, business and societal changes, pharmaceutical companies must adapt their business models to new markets with commercial potential – even if it conflicts with decades of practice – or risk getting left behind.

Stewart Adkins, Stewart Adkins Advisors Limited