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Will Selling to the Poor Payoff? Failures and Successes for Social Enterprises in Emerging Markets

Jeff Pilisuk May 28, 2021

The promise of serving the world’s poorest 4 billion people has captured the imagination of many entrepreneurs, investors, and corporations. But so far, the results are elusive. There are a few examples of commercial viability: the global uptake of mobile phones, single-serve packages of shampoo, toothpaste and soap, low-cost eyeglasses, solar lights, and clean cookstoves. Yet there are plenty of failures that illustrate the difficulty. What lessons have we learned?

This session will take a critical look at the promise and challenges of developing market-based solutions that positively impact some of the poorest and most underserved populations globally. We will explore both failures and successes to unpack challenges, insights, and strategies used to create market-based solutions and sustainable impact . What mistakes have been made? What strategies have been successful? What role has technology played in success or failure? What tradeoffs can, or should, be made to avoid commercial failure while remaining true to your social purpose?



Meta Themes

  • Social Entrepreneurship

  • Sustainable Development


market-based solutions for low-income and rural communities, the promise and failure of technology, last mile distribution

Purpose and Desired Outcome

To help entrepreneurs, corporations, and impact investors learn successful strategies, avoid the pitfalls, and consider the role of technology used by social enterprises that serve low-income and rural communities.


  • Corporate & SME

  • Entrepreneurs

  • Government

  • Accelerators & Incubators

  • Allocators (Family Offices, HNW Individuals, Foundations)

  • Intermediaries (Financial Advisers, Investment Bankers)


  • NameKatherine Lucey
  • TitleFounder & CEO
  • OrganizationSolar Sister
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameEmma Colenbrander
  • TitleHead
  • OrganizationGlobal Distributors Collective
  • StatusInvited
  • NameDiana Popa
  • TitleCo-Founder & CEO
  • OrganizationExtensio
  • StatusInvited
  • NameJean Marc Cuvilly
  • TitlePlatform Lead
  • OrganizationHaiti INVEST / GECA Transaction Advisors
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameJeff Pilisuk
  • TitleAssoc. Director, Partnerships
  • OrganizationMiller Center for Social Entrepreneurship
  • StatusConfirmed
  • NameZaki Raheem
  • TitleSenior Specialist, Enterprise Development and Entrepreneurship
  • OrganizationDAI
  • StatusConfirmed
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