Growing Prosperity: Developing Repeatable Models® to Scale the Adoption of Agriculture Innovations

More than 2.5 billion of the world’s poor rely on agriculture for their livelihood. Helping these smallholder farmers gain access to better products and inputs has the potential to improve their lives permanently. Because when farmers grow more food and earn more income, they are better able to provide for their families, send their children to school and invest in improving their farms.

Growing Prosperity, a new report by Acumen and Bain & Company produced with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, unveils how social enterprises can find new, effective ways to profitably serve these hard-to-reach customers at scale.

How can we scale agricultural innovation?

From microdrip irrigation systems to drought-resistant hybrid seeds, there are hundreds of social enterprises providing innovations that help farmers increase the yield and quality of their crops. While these social enterprises offer huge promise, they face challenges that make their growth extremely challenging.

Based on extensive research conducted in five countries across South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, including interviews with more than 300 smallholder farmers, Growing Prosperity proposes how these companies can give poor customers much-needed access to the right products and services at the right time to help pull them out of poverty.

Drawing upon multiple examples from northern Uganda to southwest India, the report provides practitioners with key insights on how to spur greater adoption of agriculture innovations by smallholder farmers, including two new frameworks: the Four A’s of adoption and Repeatable Models®.

By Sasha Dichter, Tom Adams, Noor Ullah, Siddharth Tata, Vikki Tam, Chris Mitchell and Fernando Martins

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The Four A's of Adoption

The Four A’s (awareness, advantage, affordability and access) are a simple and actionable framework intended to help the entrepreneurs leading these firms understand how their target customers—in this case smallholder farmers—experience their products or services and business models.

To address the structural barriers to adoption, pioneer firms must systematically ensure that the Four A’s of adoption are continuously in place for their farmer customers: Adoption starts with an unrelenting focus on the farmer: how to raise his or her awareness of new products and services, how to communicate and reliably deliver on the advantage the farmer will gain by adopting innovations, how to ensure the affordability of these innovations and how to provide easy and timely access to them. While these Four A’s are not revolutionary, we learned from our research that few firms are able to systematically address each of these elements in a sustained way as they grow.


Building Repeatable Models®

repeatable models

For agriculture-focused pioneer firms, building Repeatable Models® is at the heart of achieving scaled adoption.

The best Repeatable Models® are built on what companies do best, and they enable the companies to replicate these successes over and over again with new customers and new products, and in new geographies.

The framework and checklist include four key elements for creating a Repeatable Model®, tailored for agriculture-focused pioneer firms operating in very challenging markets and starting from a small base of customers. The goal of this framework is to provide leaders of pioneer firms with a way to think through and discuss their path to “good scale” with their management teams, frontline personnel and investors.

What People Are Saying About Growing Prosperity

Growing Prosperity offers valuable insights that can significantly increase the contribution of pioneering entrepreneurs. To sustainably increase agricultural productivity, the entire sector must unite to ensure that smallholder farmers have the tools and resources they need to live healthy and productive lives.”

-Dr. Chris Elias

President, Global Development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

“There are a growing number of entrepreneurs who are trying, and succeeding, in reaching these farmers, in building businesses that both create a profit and help farmers work their way out of poverty. These ‘pioneer firms’ may be the key to transforming the potential for smallholder farmers to make new and better lives for themselves and their children.”

-Paul Polman

CEO, Unilever

“These entrepreneurial companies we call pioneer firms are too important to remain subscale, or worse, to fail. Growing Prosperity identifies what’s working, and what must change to shift the odds more in favor of these firms and the smallholder farmers they serve.”

-Vikki Tam

Partner, Bain & Company

“The solutions are out there, but they are not being used widely enough to make a meaningful, lasting difference. The time to accelerate progress is now—not by one sector, but by all sectors.”

-Jacqueline Novogratz

Founder and CEO, Acumen