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Reflections on Scaling Impact in Inclusive Market Systems from the 2014 SEEP Conference

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At the 2014 SEEP Annual Conference, held September 22-25 in Arlington, VA, Sharon D'Onofrio, Executive Director of The SEEP Network, recaps the success of the conference. In attendance were nearly 550 individuals from 60 countries and 211 organizations. In the following interview with D'Onofrio, she describes the importance of this year’s theme on scaling impact in inclusive market systems. In particular, D’Onofrio mentions how the four conference tracks – technology, basic services, push/pull strategies, and research and evidence for scaling up inclusive solutions – contributed to furthering discussions and learning towards this end.

Q: Can you talk a little about this year’s SEEP conference theme of scaling impact in inclusive market systems. Why is this topic so timely?

A: Our opening plenary speaker, Paul Polak, said “Scale is the single biggest challenge facing development”.  Many would agree. Promoting scalable solutions to poverty reduction is core to SEEP’s mission.  We believe this this challenge must be addressed through transformative solutions that seek to catalyze change in how market function. The application of efficient and scalable mechanisms to enhance impact is inherent to a market systems approach. Market systems encompass a range of actors including the public and private sectors, civil society, as well as support services, infrastructure, funding, policies and regulations, and socio-cultural norms. Experience has shown understanding the role of vulnerable groups in markets and the constraints to their participation is critical to designing effective strategies. There is a growing base of experience in market systems development amongst SEEP Network members and the development community in general. When employed effectively, these strategies can lead to more active and productive participation of the poor as market actors and ensure broad based economic development benefits, such as increased private sector investment, innovation, and job creation. Our objective for the Conference was to identify and share emerging practices and to accelerate learning across a large number of organizations.

Q: What do you see are the key next steps to better achieve scale in inclusive market systems?

A: We designed the technical tracks for the Conference around the areas we believe offer the most important opportunities in market systems development. First, technology as an enabler in addressing market constraints and facilitating wide scale behavior change. This included a close look at technology to strengthen financial systems as well as local and global supply chains in a variety of settings. We also recognized it is very difficult to talk about poverty reduction at scale without recognizing the role that access to basic services plays in this development. Market based solutions for water, sanitation, and energy were among the topics we explored. Another important area of inquiry was, “Push and Pull strategies”, these are strategies that encompass both efforts to help the very poor build up a minimum level of assets for engagement in market systems, and also “pull strategies” that leverage commercial incentives to enhance the terms of their participation. This is critical if we are to pursue truly inclusive market development. And very importantly the role of research, monitoring and evaluation, where we hoped to look closely at the type of information and investigative processes we need to assess the effectiveness of our work, expand its impact, and to ensure continual learning and adaptation.

Q: What are your main takeaways from this year’s conference?

A: There is a great deal of opportunity for inclusive market development in non-traditional sectors such as water, sanitation, health, energy, and housing. Financial services can play a very important part in this development if these market opportunities are better understood. The conference exposed some very important innovations but the challenge of achieving scale is still very significant. Likewise, we are only beginning to develop practical tools to monitor and measure change in market systems. If we intend to devise strategies with market system impacts, we need appropriate tools that inform us when these changes are occurring. Technology is becoming pervasive in our work. However, the opportunity to harness the data derived from the rapid growth of digital data sources is largely unrealized.  We can use new sources of data to better understand behaviors, reshape service delivery, and dramatically improve approaches to inclusive market development.

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