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  • Co-Authored by Anoushka Boodhna & ​Devi Ramkissoon

Diversity and Inclusion in Market Systems Programming

In this post, Devi and Anoushka start an important evidence-based discussion about why diversity and inclusion are central to addressing complex challenges. Central to the rationale for taking a market systems approach is that market systems are complex systems, which means that they are dynamic, evolving systems that are influenced by many factors all at the same time. Because there are many factors influencing a market system at one time, traditional approaches that assumed away all the factors except for one technically solvable factor have not worked. As donors have become more comfortable with recognizing that development is complex, they have also had to realize that the process for addressing complex challenges is different to traditional approaches. Specifically, complex challenges need teams that can engage in a learning and creative problem-solving process that emerges of overtime. Organizationally, best practice for such challenges includes teams that are diverse and inclusive of as many perspectives as possible. Diversity and inclusivity are not only a nice thing to have, but are necessary characteristics of teams that are effective at generating results in complex environments.


In this blog series, we examine the ways in which the concepts of diversity and inclusion apply to market systems programming. We hold that diversity in complex adaptive systems is one signal of a healthy market system. To this end, embedding these principles in programming will contribute to successful market systems activities whose results will ultimately be more sustainable in the long run. ​

The concepts of diversity and inclusion are increasingly becoming integrated into workforce management across the public, private, and non-profit sectors. According to George Washington University (GWU), the term “diversity” is commonly used to describe “individual differences (e.g., life experiences, learning and working styles, personality types) and group/social differences (e.g., race, socio-economic status, class, gender, sexual orientation, country of origin, ability, intellectual traditions and perspectives, as well as cultural, political, religious, and other affiliations) that can be engaged to achieve excellence in teaching, learning, research, scholarship, and administrative and support services.” GWU defines inclusion as “the active, intentional, and ongoing engagement with diversity -- in people, in the curriculum, in the co-curriculum, and in communities (e.g., intellectual, social, cultural, geographical) with which individuals might connect.” Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) are now seen as a crucial aspect of increasing productivity for organizations, no matter what their goal. Diversity is an important characteristic of a healthy market system. In particular, there are three ‘capacities’ in market systems that are bolstered or enhanced as a system becomes more diverse:

  1. Inclusivity: In market systems development (MSD), inclusivity is the value market actors place on underserved populations. In market systems that are more inclusive, firms tend to see underserved populations as a great opportunity for business growth; and in such systems, we find that market actors will adapt their marketing, supply chain, or management strategies to meet the needs of different market segments. As a result, inclusive growth requires increasing variation (i.e., diversity) in how the market works.

  2. Innovation: In market systems, a diversity of ideas and perspectives encourages innovation. Diversity for innovation is closely tied to navigating complexity as the greater the diversity the greater the likelihood of innovation (new ideas, new ways of working, adaptations, re-combinations) in response to changing signals.

  3. Resilience: In market systems, resilience is the ability of a market system to respond to disturbances (such as shocks and stresses) in a way that allows consistency, sustainability, or an improvement in the market system’s functioning. In this context, diversity - and diversification - is a central component of resilience. As a result, the more diverse a system, the more resilient it is.

Within international development programming, D&I is integral when working in market systems and navigating complexity. A diverse and inclusive team is more likely to bring about the variation needed to catalyze market system change through individual and social differences in perspectives, viewpoints, and ideas. When aligned around core principles such as poverty alleviation, they are better able to support market actors to explore different pathways for business growth and inclusion as well as generate innovation where needed. A diverse and inclusive team is also more likely to support market actors to navigate risk in constantly changing environments by thinking ‘out-of-the-box’ when observing signals, making adaptations, and finding creative ways to solve problems. From program design through implementation, learning, and adaptive management, and monitoring and evaluation, diversity in staffing and perspectives can be invaluable to the market system change. For example, by cultivating an inclusive, diverse team and hiring staff with diverse backgrounds, one program in Kenya was able to advance its goals. Specifically, the program hired a marketing expert to support inputs distribution strategies for smallholder farmers. Not only did she fit a diversity profile as a young Kenyan woman, she also was from the private sector and introduced new cross-cutting interventions in ICT and media, which became a new space in MSD and agriculture. She also linked the program to a young, creative, tech startup scene in Nairobi. This is just one of the ways that programming responds positively to applying D&I concepts to MSD. In Part 2 of the Diversity and Inclusion Blog Post Series, we’ll dig deeper to explore how D&I plays out at some of the key junctures of MSD program design and implementation.

About The Authors:

Co-Authored by Anoushka Boodhna, Consultant, EcoVentures International &

​Devi Ramkissoon, Acting Division Chief, USAID

Anoushka Boodhna, Consultant, Vikāra Institute (Formerly, EcoVentures International)

Devi Ramkissoon, Acting Division Chief, USAID

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