2020 EFMD Case Writing Competition Winners Interview Series: Inclusive Business Model

EFMD encourages and rewards innovative and impactful cases in management development each year. This year brought an exceptional variety of winning cases across various industries. EFMD decided to interview the winners to find out more about their motivation, inspiration and significant challenges.

The seventh interview is with James Chiswell, one of the winning authors from the category “Inclusive Business Model”.

The 2021 edition of the EFMD Case Writing Competition is now open for submissions. Find out more on the webpage and submit your case

Silulo Ulutho Technologies: Scaling a social enterprise in South Africa

The team of authors:

  • James Chiswell, University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business
  • Geoff Bick, University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business
  • Warren Nilsson, University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business
  • Sarah Boyd, University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business

Silulo Ulutho Technologies, established in 2004 with its head office situated in Cape Town, South Africa, is a pioneering information communication technology in emerging and rural communities with operations in the Eastern and Western Cape.

Could you tell us what the greatest inspiration for your case was?

The initial inspiration for the case arose from meeting Luvuyo Rani during a podcast interview arranged by the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB). During that interview in July 2019, Luvuyo spoke candidly about the recent struggles of growing the business in an extremely uncertain and challenging economic and social context. In addition, he informed the interviewer that a potential investor had recently backed out of funding the next phase of growth due to concerns over the business’s financial position.

I approached Luvuyo following the interview to try and understand more about the recent headwinds that he and the directors of Silulo had faced. I immediately felt a connection with him, and what convinced me to pursue a case on Silulo was just how willing and honest Luvuyo was when talking about his business. An hour’s meeting soon turned into three hours and could have easily gone on for longer. I was drawn to his openness, enthusiasm and positivity, in hindsight, an extremely difficult situation for the company. This was what ultimately made for such an insightful and deeply stimulating case; the honesty and self-awareness of the directors provided the perfect foundation to build from.

What were the major challenges in designing the case from your point of view?

Given how much information I had from the candid nature of my interviews, the most challenging part of the process was deciding what not to include in the case. I felt very fortunate to have too much data to work with, but conversely, it became a slight hindrance in deciding how to focus the case. I must pass a lot of the credit of this particular aspect to the Case Writing Centre at UCT GSB, which helped me to decide which direction to take it, focusing on social franchising and investment readiness in particular.

I had to try to remain as objective as possible in presenting the situation so that the case readers are merely provided with the facts.

The other major challenge that I faced was that during my writing of the case, Silulo already decided how they were going to proceed as regards scaling the business and which divisions were going to be closed or less of a priority. I, therefore, had to ensure I was not swayed by any of the decisions that the business had already made. Instead, I had to try to remain as objective as possible in presenting the situation so that the case readers are merely provided with the facts and a degree of impartiality to give them the best possible opportunity to decide for themselves which route and choices they would make if they were the business owners.

In what ways, according to you, could the case impact society and business in the near future?

I hope that the case highlights the undeniable talent and entrepreneurial spirit of Black South Africa, allowing some to deepen their knowledge and understanding of the developing world in general. For others, I hope it contributes to inspire a new generation of local entrepreneurs and businesses in these markets to shift the economic and social landscape of the developing world more broadly.

The case helps showcase the immense opportunity to close the skills gap in underserved communities throughout the world. I hope it acts to inspire and provide a framework of what works and what doesn’t when trying to scale and grow a business of this nature and what needs to be considered before doing so.

The case helps showcase the immense opportunity to close the skills gap in underserved communities throughout the world. I hope it acts to inspire and provide a framework of what works and what doesn’t when trying to scale and grow a business of this nature and what needs to be considered before doing so. If the case can serve as a guide in this context, it would be the most fitting legacy of the candid nature of the founders’ stories and experiences and the generosity of the time they gave to me as the author.

I genuinely feel it is exactly for that reason that they were so willing to open up with me, a passion for serving the underserved and wanting people to learn from their many successes, as well as failures and shortcomings. Whether it is in the classroom of a business school or teaching their students the basics of computer literacy, educating people is in Silulo’s DNA. Therefore, the case will serve as an extension of what drives everyone at Silulo day-to-day in the townships and rural areas of South Africa; a chance to personally learn and develop in whatever context that may be.

The Sponsor’s Commentary

The category “Inclusive Business Model” is kindly sponsored by IMD – Institute for Management Development. EFMD greatly values the sponsorship, the expertise and the effort of the sponsor to contribute to the Case Writing Competition.

Nancy Lane and Vanina Farber from IMD – Institute for Management Development share more information about sponsoring the category.

Why is case writing & teaching on the topic of “Inclusive Business Models” important? And what are the reasons that IMD Business School in Switzerland is encouraging case writing on the topic by sponsoring the category?

The elea Center for Social Innovation is a research center of the International Institute for Management & Development (IMD), based in Switzerland. It inspires and encourages leaders in business, government and civil society to create social innovation in their respective areas of responsibility. It enables social innovation by the following: Reflecting on the purpose of business; creating, consolidating and disseminating knowledge; forging connections between corporations and actors in the social innovation space, such as practitioners, academics and other stakeholders; and designing pedagogy to inspire a mindset change.

EFMD’s “Inclusive Business Model”, sponsored by IMD, encourages inclusive business model cases featuring commercially viable models that include the poor on the demand side as clients and customers and on the supply side as employees, producers and business owners at various points in the value chain. These firm-level case studies provide insights into the effects inclusive business models have on communities, the environment and profitability.

Silulo Ulutho Technologies (Silulo) was a social enterprise-facing an interesting dilemma faced by many of its successful peers: In the quest to scale up, many social enterprises develop an opportunistic and unfocused strategy, leading them to resource dilution. This eventually hampers their ability to achieve both their social and financial goal. Raising awareness about this dynamic can hopefully help other social enterprises learn from Silulo’s journey.

About Sponsorship

Each year, more than 14 institutions sponsor categories in the EFMD Case Writing Competition. The choice of category, its exact definition and any specific conditions are the privileges of the sponsor. Sponsorships for the following categories are currently available – Bringing Technology to Market, Continuous Improvement: The Journey to Excellence, and MENA Business Cases. If you are interested in sponsoring the mentioned categories or launching a new category relevant to case writing and teaching, please contact Hansol Park at hansol.park@efmdglobal.org.

More information about the 2020 EFMD Case Writing Competition can be found on the EFMD Global Case Writing Competition page.

Please visit the Case Centre’s webpage to access the collection of the winning cases.

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