Category Archives: Development

Feeling the Pain

By Robin Porsfelt.

While the recent US ’opioid crisis’ has been widely reported, a second, less recognized, crisis related to opioids has been taking place, and is still ongoing, more quietly in countries with less Western media visibility. Whereas the crisis in the US is arguably related to an over-subscription to opioid-based pain relief, such as OxyContin, the second crisis could rather be seen as a case of too tightly regulated access to opioids in health-care systems. This is at least the argument of a recent report commissioned by The Lancet which proclaims that the world is experiencing an under-management of pain where as many as 25 million people are suffering partly as a result of regulatory and cultural approaches to the use of opioids.

Severe lack of access

The report was the result of a three-year study on the integration and access of pain relief and palliative care in health systems. It opens with a succinct description of the problem: “Poor people in all parts of the world live and die with little or no palliative care or pain relief. Staring into this access abyss, one sees the depth of extreme suffering in the cruel face of poverty and inequity” (Knaul, Farmer & Krakauer et al, 2017: 1).

Those suffering from lack of access to adequate medication are predominantly found in low-income and middle-income countries, often with terminal illnesses, and includes approximately 2.5 million children dying with, what the report terms, ‘serious health-related suffering’ each year (Knaul, Farmer & Krakauer et al, 2017: 2). Of the almost 300 metric tons of morphine-equivalent opioids distributed annually, only 0.1 metric tons reach health systems in low-income countries. This is something the report’s authors condemn as: “a medical, public health, and moral failing and a travesty of justice” (Knaul, Farmer & Krakauer et al, 2017: 1).

Addiction and pain relief

But what are the reasons for this state of potentially unnecessary suffering? In contrast to many other debates on access to medication, the problem is in this case not predominantly related to questions of scarcity, costs, or tightly enforced intellectual property rights to drugs, but rather a mix of cultural and regulatory factors. There are (at least) two factors that explain the pattern: One is a lack of visibility due to fragmented patient advocacy and exclusion of pain alleviation from standard measures of health. Another key factor is that opioids do not only fall under the scope of medical regulation but are also controlled substances under international drug conventions (Ibid.).

As substances such as morphine are listed and regulated as narcotic substances by the UN, they become part of a machinery of international checks and balances on their flow, including import quotas and reporting requirements. The UN treaties are based on two imperatives, on the one hand the limitation of harmful and addictive substances, and on the other hand to secure access to medically vital analgesics.[1] In recent decades, the war on a drugs-compatible first imperative of strict control has become increasingly dominant, making such medication harder to access (Knaul, Farmer & Krakauer et al, 2017: 8).

A second related issue suggested by the report is ‘opiophobia’, described as prejudice and misinformation concerning medical use of opioids. Whereas a balanced approach to opioid prescriptions is needed, a prevalent fear of non-medical use and its side-effects among health-care providers, regulators, and patients have led to an underestimation of needs and insufficient medical use in many countries (Ibid.).

What’s to be done

Even though this inequity in pain relief is indeed under-acknowledged, potential solutions should at least, in theory, not be gridlocked by economic interests. As morphine and morphine-like medication is cheap to produce and commonly used in Western medical systems, the problem is rather about framing and contesting stigmatization. While acknowledging the risks with a too laissez-faire approach, there is a need to recognize the value in a controlled medical use of opioids to avoid unnecessary suffering as well.

A way to do so, as the report highlights, would for instance be a broadening of the third Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on ensuring healthy lives and well-being for all. Currently, the battle against substance abuse is covered in the SDG target 3.5, a step forward however would be to include pain alleviation and access to pain relief as similarly essential objectives – for instance as part of SDG target 3.8 on universal health coverage. As a measure, this is of course not enough, but at the current stage, and given the documented ‘abyss’ of equity in pain treatment worldwide, simply diagnosing the issue as problematic per se would to some degree seem like progress.

 

[1] A member of a group of drugs to achieve analgesia, i.e. relief from pain. (editor’s note)

References

Knaul, F. M., Farmer, P. E., Krakauer, E. L., et al. (2017). Alleviating the access abyss in palliative care and pain relief––an imperative of universal health coverage: The Lancet Commission report. Lancet. DOI: 10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32513-8


Robin Porsfelt is a PhD fellow at the Department of Management, Society and Communication. He is part of a PhD cohort on time and societal challenges, with particular research interests in the sociology of valuation and global governance

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

A framework for assessing the potential of behaviour change for global decarbonisation

By Kristian Steensen Nielsen

Addressing climate change requires an urgent implementation of far-reaching solutions. Policy-makers and natural scientists have mainly offered supply-side solutions to solving the climate problem, such as widespread adoption of new or innovative technologies. While of critical importance, strictly prioritising supply-side solutions is unlikely to deliver the necessary greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions within the desired time frame. An often-overlooked demand-side solution is behaviour change, which can offer both immediate and long-term reductions in GHG emissions.

There is an urgent need for rapid decarbonisation to reduce the magnitude of climate change. The Paris Agreement reflected this urgency in its formulation of ambitious goals to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C and preferably 1.5°C. Since the Paris Agreement, researchers—often affiliated with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)—have with accelerated frequency been building scenarios for potential pathways to reach the temperature goals.[1] These far-reaching—and arguably radical—pathways involve urgent transitions to renewable energy sources and the majority assumes the use of carbon dioxide removal (CDR) technologies, such as afforestation or bio energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS). Neither of the pathway scenarios take behavioral changes into account despite the fact that studies have shown its potential to reduce GHG emissions. For example, Thomas Dietz and colleagues (2009) found that a national implementation of behavioural changes in the United States could reduce U.S. households’ direct emissions by 20% within 10 years (representing 123 million tons of CO2). Although not sufficient single-handedly, behaviour change can help speed up the decarbonisation of societies.

 

Three dimensions of behaviour change

To identify the potential of behavioural changes to reduce GHG emissions, it is critical to consider three dimensions[2]:

  1. the technical potential (TP) of a behaviour, or the emissions reduction achieved if an individual or a target population collectively adopted the behaviour;
  2. behavioural plasticity (BP), or the proportion of the technical potential achievable through the most effective behavioural interventions; and
  3. feasibility of initiatives (IF) to induce change, which refers to the likelihood that the most effective interventions are achievable within a target population.

Focusing exclusively on either of the three dimensions will result in skewed analyses from which only imperfect interventions can be developed. For example, substituting a GHG-intensive behaviour with a less GHG-intensive alternative (e.g., flying to Bermuda on vacation versus vacationing in one’s own country) will promise a high TP but the extent to which people are willing to make such a behavioural substitution may be less promising (BP) and so might the feasibility of achieving the behavioural change across a large population (IF). Conversely, a behaviour could be easy to change (e.g., getting people to shut off lights in unoccupied rooms) and feasibly be implemented in a large population, yet hold a very low TP and therefore even in the aggregate fail to reduce emissions by much.

Identifying the most promising target behaviours

The task of researchers (across disciplines) in collaboration with policy-makers and companies is to identify the behaviours with the highest potential to reduce GHG emissions while considering all three dimensions in cohesion. Making such calculations is no easy task—as the dimensions may vary substantially between and within countries—but neither is adopting innovative technologies at a massive scale. However, focusing on both supply- and demand-side solutions will heighten the likelihood of achieving the Paris goals.

[1] Rogelj et al., 2018.

[2] Dietz et al., 2009; Vandenbergh & Gilligan, 2017.

 

References

Dietz, T., Gardner, G. T., Gilligan, J., Stern, P. C., & Vandenbergh, M. P. (2009). Household actions can provide a behavioral wedge to rapidly reduce US carbon emissions. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences106(44), 18452-18456.

Rogelj, J., Popp, A., Calvin, K. V., Luderer, G., Emmerling, J., Gernaat, D., … & Krey, V. (2018). Scenarios towards limiting global mean temperature increase below 1.5° C. Nature Climate Change8(4), 325.

Vandenbergh, M. P., & Gilligan, J. M. (2017). Beyond Politics. Cambridge University Press.


Kristian Steensen Nielsen is a PhD Fellow in environmental behaviour change at Copenhagen Business School. His research interests are self-control, behaviour change, and environmentally significant behaviour.

 

Pic by Duncan Harris, Flickr.

‘Just Sustainabilities’ in a World of Global Value Chains

By Stefano Ponte.

What if we used our size and resources to make this country and this earth an even better place for all of us: customers, Associates, our children, and generations unborn? What if the very things that many people criticize us for—our size and reach—became a trusted friend? 

Excerpt from ‘Leadership in the 21st Century’, speech by Lee Scott, then CEO of Walmart, Bentonville, Arkansas, 24 October 2005 (as in Humes 2011: 102)

Whenever we engage in consumption or production patterns which take more than we need, we are engaging in violence.

Vandana Shiva, Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace (2016: 102)

A New Era

Human activity is having major impact on the earth and its biosphere, to the point that geologists have now defined a new era – the Anthropocene – to reflect this phenomenon. For some, this is a period that started in the late 18th century with a marked increase in fossil fuel use, and that has accelerated dramatically since the middle of the 19th century. During this time, human action has overshadowed nature’s work in influencing the ecology of the Earth. Global sustainability crises, such as climate change, the acidification of oceans, and the ‘sixth great extinction’ of planetary life characterize this period of great turbulence in the relation between humanity and nature.

Others question the focus on humanity as an undifferentiated whole in the term ‘Anthropocene’, and propose a different term to explain the same result: Capitalocene, ‘the era of capitalism as a world-ecology of power, capital and nature’ (Moore 2016: 6). This term shifts focus away from the putative duality of human-nature relations and towards capitalism as a way of organizing nature. From a Capitalocene perspective, major changes in the world-ecology started taking place already in the mid-15th century – with a progressive transition from control of land as a way to appropriate surplus value, to control of land as a way of increasing labour productivity for commodity production. In other words, it is not enough to simply examine what capitalism does to nature and how humanity can solve global sustainability challenges through innovation in technology and business models. We need to conceptualize power, value and nature as thinkable only in relation to each other.

Sustainability Management

In addition to cost, flexibility and speed, sustainability management has become another key element of contemporary capitalism. The practices that corporations enact to address sustainability issues are also (re)shaping the existing spatial, organizational and technological fixes that are needed to ensure continuous capital accumulation.  Geographically, production is moving to locations that can meet basic sustainability specifications in large volumes and at low cost; organizationally, multi-stakeholder initiatives on sustainability have come to play a key role in global value chain (GVC) functioning; labour conditions among suppliers are under pressure from the need to meet increasing environmental sustainability demands from lead firms; and the need to verify sustainability compliance has led to the adoption of new technologies of measurement, verification, and trust.

The ‘business case’ for sustainability has been by and large solved – lead firms do not only extract sustainability value from suppliers, but also benefit from internal cost savings, supplier squeezing, reputation enhancement and improved market capitalization. As the value of goods increasingly depends on their intangible properties (including those related to sustainability) than on their functional or economic value, sustainability management becomes a central function of corporate strategy – filtering through organization, marketing, operations and logistics. Lead firms in GVCs are leveraging sustainability to extract more information from suppliers, strengthen power relations to their advantage, and find new venues of value creation and capture.

The business of sustainability is not sufficient as a global solution to pressing climate change and other environmental problems. It is doing enough for corporations seeking to acquire legitimacy and governance authority. This legitimacy is further enhanced through partnerships with governments and civil society groups. Some of this engagement is used strategically to provide ‘soft’ solutions to sustainability concerns and to avoid more stringent regulation. While the business of sustainability is leading to some environmental improvements in some places, and better use of resources in relative terms in some industries, the overall pressure on global resources is increasing. The unit-level environmental impact of production, processing, trade and retail is improving. But constantly growing consumption, both in the global North and in the global South, means that in the aggregate environmental sustainability suffers.

What To Do

Public actors at all jurisdictional levels need to put in place orchestration strategies that improve the actual achievement of sustainability goals, and activists and civil society groups should identify and leverage pressure to strengthen the effectiveness of orchestration. But these strategies have to be informed by the realities of the daily practices, power relations and governance structures of a world economy that is organized in global value chains. Orchestration is more likely to succeed when a combination of directive and facilitative instruments is used; when sustainability issues have high visibility in a global value chains; when the interests of private and public sectors are aligned, and when orchestrators are aware of the kinds of power that underpin the governance of value chains and act to reshape these power configurations accordingly.

A path towards ‘just sustainabilities’ means addressing inequality – since it drives competitive consumption and leads to lower levels of trust in societies, which makes public action more difficult; it entails focusing on improving quality of life and wellbeing, rather than growth; it demands a community economy and more public consumption; it involves meeting the needs of both current and future generations and at the same time reimagining these ‘needs’; it demands a paradigm of ‘sufficiency’, rather than maximization of consumption; it recognizes that overconsumption and environmental degradation impacts on many people’s right to enjoy a decent quality of life; and it requires a different kind of ‘green entrepreneurial state’, which also caters to these needs. Just sustainabilities necessitate building a social foundation for an inclusive and stable economic system that operates within our environmental planetary boundaries; and it demands business to behave responsibly (within its organizational boundaries and along value chains) to maintain its social license to operate.

This text is based on excerpts of Stefano Ponte’s forthcoming book Green Capital, Brown Environments: Business and Sustainability in a World of Global Value Chains, Zed Books: London. The book is based on 20 years of research on sustainability and global value chains, and builds from empirical work on several agro-food value chains (wine, coffee, biofuels) and capital-intensive industries (shipping and aviation).

Stefano Ponte is Professor of International Political Economy in the Department of Business and Politics, Copenhagen Business School and the former academic co-director of the Sustainability Platform at CBS. Twitter: @AfricaBusPol


Selected books for further reading on this topic:

Agyeman, J. 2013. Introducing just sustainabilities: Policy, planning, and practice. Zed Books.

Dauvergne, P. 2016. Environmentalism of the Rich. MIT Press.

Humes, E. 2011. Force of nature: The unlikely story of Wal-Mart’s green revolution. HarperBusiness New York.

Jackson, T. 2009. Prosperity without growth: Economics for a finite planet. Routledge.

Moore, J. 2016. Anthropocene or Capitalocene? Nature, history, and the crisis of capitalism. PM Press.

Shiva, V. 2016. Earth democracy: Justice, sustainability and peace. Zed Books.

 

Pic by Marufish, Flickr.

Wonder Tech and the Institution of Gender

by Jeremy Moon

“I didn’t realize that I was a woman until I went to the US.”

This was the rather arresting comment of a keynote speaker at the WonderTech Summit in Copenhagen, organized by a group of, mainly female, IT professionals. The speaker in question (a Senior Vice President of a leading MNC and leader of a women’s innovation initiative) explained that this awakening to gender was because in her home country, Denmark, she was used to being treated as another ‘person’ and, by inference, equal to men.

I have noted elements of equality in Denmark in: the extent of public funding for schools (overwhelmingly mixed sex) and parental leave; and the involvement of fathers in parenting. However, this is not to suggest that there is no gender institution in Denmark. The speaker referred to her disappointment that Denmark was only ranked 14th in the World Economic Forum Report for Women, and some other speakers alluded to the institution of gender in the tech industry and higher education in Denmark, and the way it worked against women.

Gender as an Institution – marco, meso and micro level

This comment struck me as a nice illustration of the idea of gender as an institution[1]: the way gender delineates the largely taken for granted roles of men and women. At the systemic (macro) level there are the respective norms, laws and rules. At the organizational (meso) level gender regimes shape the ‘way things are done here’. At the individual (micro) level there are the gendered practices in daily interactions. Of course, the gender institution is manifest in different ways in different places as illustrated by the aforementioned speaker’s contrast of its operation in Denmark and the USA.

So what, I wondered, would be the approach to this issue recommended at the conference whose purpose was ‘to celebrate the achievements of women in the industry and inspire diversity in tech’?

I was interested in the way participants addressed gender in their contexts. The aforementioned speaker advised that women disappointed in job / promotion applications, should not complain but try harder and better next time. Another speaker referred to a role model for women in blockchain entrepreneurship who advised ‘not to talk about gender’. The emphasis was upon innovation and taking initiatives at the individual level, and the numerous awards that were made enabled yet more such personal stories to be told. Wilma Rudolph was a used as a role model by one speaker (check out her amazing story of overcoming obstacles of socio-economic means and physical disability alone).

Network merit

Another key theme of the conference was at the meso level but focusing not on the oppressive organization, but on women’s self-help networks for mentoring, capacity building, career modelling, and sheer encouragement. The conference was replete with evidence of network organizations and social enterprises working in the field.

All this was so positive. The conference speakers and participants seem confident in their abilities to work professionally and effectively. There was little sense of inferiority or ‘being a woman’ in their organizations. How representative or scalable are these stories?

Too little attention on the political level

Which leads to my final observation that there was little attention to the systemic, or political, level of the gender institution to advance the careers of participants at WonderTech, even though the conference did give cases of ‘solving problems for people, businesses, and the planet’ (e.g. how ICT could be deployed to address systemic obstacles to equality for women in developing countries?).

Solving Problems for People, Businesses, and the Planet.

Can the inspiring individual stories and the network values and achievements carry the day or will more political action along the lines of the suffragettes or #MeToo be required? This might be to increase female participation in Tech science education, to increase women leaders in the Tech industry, and to enable women not to need ‘to feel like women’ – at least when doing so is a sign of adverse effects of the gender institution?[2]

 

[1] The subject of a forthcoming paper with Lauren McCarthy (more when it is published)

[2] Former Soviet countries lead the EU rankings of women in the tech workforce, presumably a legacy both of their policies of enrolling the brightest students in specialist maths high schools, and of current practices of selecting equal numbers of boys and girls in these schools, and encouraging girls to study computer science at university https://www.ft.com/content/e2fdfe6e-0513-11e8-9e12-af73e8db3c71


Jeremy Moon with some help from Marjahan Begum, Plamena Cherneva, Lavinia-Cristina Iosif-Lazar and Lauren McCarthy.

Jeremy Moon is professor at the Department of Management, Society and Communication, member of the Governing Responsible Business Environment and holds the VELUX Chair of Corporate Sustainability, all at Copenhagen Business School.

 

Pic by Jennifer C, Flickr.

A Taxonomy of Sustainable Business Model Patterns

By Florian Lüdeke-Freund & Sarah Carroux.

In recent years, so-called “sustainable business models” are increasingly gaining in importance in both practice and research.[1] There is hope that business models and business model innovation could, for instance, support the diffusion of ecologically and socially-beneficial products and services in the market.[2] Despite the growing interest, there still exists a lack of systematically-generated knowledge about the different shapes (or “patterns”) such business models can take. Hence, our research project aims to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date overview of presently known business model patterns that can contribute to the diffusion of ecologically and socially beneficial innovations. We developed a structured patterns system, a new taxonomy, of 45 patterns organized into 11 groups, including experts’ expectations for their contributions to sustainable value creation.

Key Objectives of the Study

A broad range of business models are being discussed in current scientific and applied literature. These are often identified as “patterns”.[3] Following Christopher Alexander, a pattern theory pioneer from the field of architecture, a pattern basically represents a solution to a reoccurring problem.[4] What makes patterns so special is that their solutions can be applied in different contexts. For instance, a window is a universal solution for the problem of a lack of lighting in a room. A window exists in different variations and can be applied in various contexts (e.g., for residential buildings, skyscrapers, small windows, large windows etc.). Similarly, business model patterns can be understood as replicable and modifiable solutions to reoccurring business challenges. For instance, the “freemium” business model can not only be used for online services such as Spotify, but also to market high-quality medical services that, depending on patient type, are offered either for “free” or for a “premium” (e.g. Aravind, an eye-care service provider in India).[5] The key objectives of this study are (i) to consolidate the current knowledge about business model patterns with the potential to support sustainable innovations, i.e. to develop a new taxonomy, and (ii) to prepare the foundations for a “sustainable business model pattern language”.[6]

Methodology

We identified a total of 102 potential business model patterns in the relevant literature. These were critically assessed and duplicates or irrelevant items were eliminated, resulting in a sample of 45 patterns. These were reviewed and organized into groups by 10 international experts to condense the large number of patterns in a way that allowed recognizing a systematic order. In the second survey round, the international experts were asked to assess the patterns with respect to their potential contributions to ecological, social, and economic value creation. This enabled us to develop a structured patterns system, a taxonomy, of 45 patterns organized into 11 groups, including experts’ expectations for their contributions to sustainable value creation.

 

Results and Practical Implications

The patterns system is comprised of 45 patterns that were each allocated to one out of the 11 identified groups according to their problem-solution combination. The following groups of sustainable business model patterns were found:

  1. Pricing & revenue patterns
  2. Financing patterns
  3. Eco-design patterns
  4. Closing-the-loop patterns
  5. Supply chain patterns
  6. Giving patterns
  7. Access provision patterns
  8. Social mission patterns
  9. Service & performance patterns
  10. Cooperative patterns
  11. Community platform patterns

These groups can be characterized based on (i) their specific problem-solution combinations (e.g., solving the problem of limited access to health care through a specific pricing model), and (ii) their expected ecological, social, or economic effects (i.e. their expected contribution to sustainable value creation). The patterns system is highly practice-oriented, given the input provided by the experts. For instance, it could be used as an instrument in innovation workshops. Furthermore, our patterns system could be used in combination with business model innovation tools such as the Business Model Canvas, the Business Innovation Kit, or the Smart Business Modeler. Our pattern taxonomy is based on an essential principle in business and innovation: “learning by example”. Companies that want to integrate sustainability into their business models can refer to our taxonomy for guidance and inspiration and use it as a catalogue that also includes practical examples. This means that companies do not have to start from scratch and, instead, can learn from the experiences of others and use these to progress towards sustainability. All-in-all, our sustainable business pattern taxonomy is an efficient and effective instrument that enables practitioners and scholars alike to benefit from vast years of experience. The sustainable business model pattern taxonomy is dynamic in nature and can be easily expanded with new patterns and examples. It can already be used for online business modelling by using the Smart Business Modeler.

[1] Lüdeke-Freund, F. & Dembek, K. (2017): Sustainable Business Model Research and Practice: Emerging Field or Passing Fancy?, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 168, 1668-1678. [ DOI | ResearchGate ]

[2] Boons, F. & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2013): Business Models for Sustainable Innovation: State of the Art and Steps Towards a Research Agenda, Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 45, 9-19. [ DOI | ResearchGate ]

[3] E.g., Remane, G.; Hanelt, A.; Tesch, J. & Kolbe, L. M. (2017): The Business Model Pattern Database — A Tool for Systematic Business Model Innovation, International Journal of Innovation Management, Vol. 21, No. 1, Article No. 1750004. [ DOI ]

[4] Alexander, C.; Ishikawa, S.; Silverstein, M.; Jacobson, M.; Fiksdahl-King, I. & Angel, S. (1977): A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction. Cambridge, MA: Oxford University Press. [ Website ]

[5] Breuer, H. & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2017): Values-Based Innovation Management: Innovating by What We Care About. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan. [ Website ]

[6] Lüdeke-Freund, F.; Bohnsack, R.; Breuer, H. & Massa, L. (forthcoming): Research on Sustainable Business Model Patterns – Status quo, Methodological Issues, and a Research Agenda, in: Aagaard, A. (ed.): Sustainable Business Models. Houndmills: Palgrave.


Florian Lüdeke-Freund is a Lecturer at ESCP Europe Business School, Berlin, where he also holds the Chair for Corporate Sustainability. Since 2013, Florian facilitates the research hub www.SustainableBusinessModel.org.

Sarah Carroux is a research associate and doctoral candidate at the University of Hamburg. As member of the Chair of Management and Sustainability, lead by Prof. Timo Busch, Sarah researches topics related to sustainable finance with a strong focus on impact investing, as well as the business case for sustainability and sustainable business models

 

Pic by Eli Duke, Flickr.

Researchers in BLOXHUB seeking to improve indoor climate

by Lara Hale

In the second week of May 2018, the architectural and design worlds were abuzz with reviews of the new green glass giant looming over the Copenhagen harbour – BLOX. There have been critiques of design, urban planning, participation processes, and more, but perhaps less likely to emerge in your social media and news feeds is the nature of organizational development and experimentation designed into the very heart of BLOX.

Physical, organizational and cultural diversity under one roof

BLOX as a physical building is composed of various building elements but is also socially composed of diverse elements. The property is home to the old military storage buildings at Fæstningens Materialgård, still stunning with their yellow-washed walls and currently under renovation for becoming part of the BLOX family of offices and meeting spaces. The new building houses top-floor apartments, a large fitness centre, the Danish Architecture Center (DAC), the Danish Design Center (DDC), and last but not least, BLOXHUB, the new building industry innovation hub.

These last elements are where the organizational potential lies. Firstly, there are the yet-to-be woven together threads that draw across DAC, DDC, and BLOXHUB, opening up for potential co-conferences and exhibitions that not only blend spaces, but blend disciplines. Secondly, BLOXHUB is a non-profit organization of around 150 members (and anticipated to grow) aiming to stimulate innovation for sustainable building and urbanization by facilitating co-working, co-creation, and experimentation. Beyond the potential stemming from sharing working spaces, the hub supports the organization of seminars and conferences and offers access to labs that can serve as platforms for new products or services, including, for example, epiito’s virtual reality (VR) lab and UnderBroen’s maker-space equipment. And thirdly, nested in BLOXHUB is the Science Forum, hosting a suite of built environment researchers.

Smart Building research among industrial researchers

Now the Science Forum is one of my offices-away-from-the-office. Since the start of this year, we are a cluster of nine industrial researchers – seven PhDs and two postdocs – with projects concerning “Smart Buildings and Cities” (read here about the formation of the cluster). Launching from my postdoc project with VELUX and CBS on smart building business model innovation, we have already  identified several crossovers and synthesis possibilities within the first months. This begs the question: what happens when you combine companies, universities, and industrial researchers into an innovation hub? How does this change how research, investment, and innovation are done? And how does this change how industry can relate to academia?

With user-friendly tech to better indoor climate

With VELUX, the starting point is smart device automation, but based on the people who live and work in buildings (read: all of us). But even if the indoor climate is ubiquitous and something we all experience, we also take it for granted and may not even notice how we are feeling unless something disturbs us. Even more importantly, the more serious health consequences of a poor indoor environment stem from factors that cannot necessarily be noticed just by paying attention, including for example, high CO2 levels from poor ventilation or off-gassing chemicals from unsustainable building materials. My research investigates both how smart devices can be designed based on an organization’s inquiry into the user experience, but also how the nature of these user-driven digital devices can change the way traditional manufacturing companies do business.

Much more to expect in the future of BLOX

The project has only been running a few months, and BLOXHUB has only been open not even a month – so there will be many more exciting developments and synergies to report in the future. In the meantime, swing by the great glass giant and experience the shifting landscape around Langebro. You can visit the most recent DAC Exhibition “Welcome Home” looking at how the meaning of home has shifted historically and continues to adapt in Denmark, and your kids can have a go at the new playground on the city-side of the building. A new bicycle and pedestrian bridge is planned for 2019, as well, and then the connections will go even further; from connecting industry and researchers to connecting the city on a level we all can meet.


Lara Anne Hale is an industrial postdoc fellow with VELUX and Copenhagen Business School’s Governing Responsible Business World Class Research Environment. The 3-year project is part of Realdania’s Smart Buildings & Cities cluster within BLOXHUB’s Science Forum. It builds upon her PhD work on experimental standards for sustainable building to look at the business model innovation process in organizations’ adaptation to the smart building business. Follow her on Twitter.

Pic by Michael Levin, taken from BLOX.dk.

Making it to the World Heritage List: Envisioned and Hidden Effects

By Lotte Thomsen.

UNESCO’s World Heritage designation of places around the world has the honorable purpose of taking responsibility. Taking responsibility for the preservation of things that may otherwise be left unpreserved, and for which destruction would be a severe loss. Yet, making it to the World Heritage List is known to have both positive and negative effects that reach far beyond the  preservation of, for example, architecture. It may change the daily life of host communities immensely – not least in the Global South. The World Heritage site of Hoi An in central Vietnam is one of those places in which listing has led to preservation and enormous change at the same time! The city itself certainly is both well-preserved and stunning. But what is going on behind the facades of the beautiful old houses that millions of tourists visit every year? And what are the effects on the business sector?  

‘Authenticity’ and Retail in Hoi An
In the newly published article ‘Retail in Places of World Heritage and Transition: Selling Clothes to Tourists in a Context of ‘Planned Authenticity’’ (Thomsen, 2018), I show how Hoi An’s transformation into a heritage tourism site has led to the emergence of a clothing retail sector that barely existed before. The sector plays a key role in the city’s contemporary tourism industry, and has come to appear as an ‘authentic’ part of the landscape of ancient buildings and monuments.

The paper shows how the creation of a clothing retail market was linked to a well-planned configuration of an ‘authentic’ Tailor City. It is to a large extent a reflection of interactions between the transitional Vietnamese economy and heritage listing. And it is reinforced by the urge of tourists to buy presumed place-specific products such as souvenirs or tailored clothes to preserve their memories of the place of Hoi An – regardless of how few links such products actually have to the place or its history and traditions.

A Retail Landscape of Opportunities and Challenges
So, why is this revitalization of Hoi An not merely impressive, but also in some ways problematic, not least seen from a development perspective?

Well, heritage designation did in many ways boost the city’s economy, making Hoi An one of Vietnam’s largest tourist attractions. And surely this came about due to extremely well targeted and impressive local planning in interplay with the World Heritage listing. It also created much needed jobs and prosperity linked to the tourism industry in the formerly poor agrarian area. Still, the revitalization of the city also represents a development that is highly uneven. It has made certain people more powerful, some activities and products more important and ‘authentic’, and some retailers better positioned in Hoi An’s tourism economy than others.

The paper shows how the opportunities of the clothing retailers vary significantly and are related to their status within a network of tourism stakeholders. A network that is intrinsically related to the ways that businesses and the state interact in Vietnam’s transitional economy. My intention here is not at all to point fingers at the Vietnamese authorities that cleverly utilized highly needed opportunities for economic development. What else should they have done? My intention is also not really to blame UNESCO that acted to preserve invaluable world heritage.

The impact on clothing retailers that are explored in much more detail in the paper was not easily foreseen. Yet, certain consequences could perhaps have be mitigated if international interventions like those of UNESCO are done with more caution and based on a deeper understanding of those local contexts and relations they tip into.

The example of Hoi An surely serves to remind us to critically assess and consider all kinds of effects of interventions locally. It reminds us of the importance of understanding better how different types of interventions – that undoubtedly are essential in their own right and done in the spirit of responsibility – play out differently in different places.

The full paper can be accessed via this temporarily free link: Thomsen, L. (2018). Retailing in places of World Heritage, transition and “planned authenticity.” Geoforum,91, 245–252.


Lotte Thomsen is Associate Professor of Business and Development at the Department of Management, Society and Communication at Copenhagen Business School. She holds a PhD in economic geography from Copenhagen University.

Pic by Qui Nguyen Khac, Pixabay.

Entrepreneurship: The Solution to Africa’s Youth Unemployment Crisis?

By Thilde Langevang and Katherine V. Gough.

  • Small-scale entrepreneurial activities currently provide livelihoods to a large proportion of the youth population in sub-Saharan Africa
  • In spite of a promising rise of entrepreneurship, we should be careful not to celebrate youth entrepreneurship uncritically

Approximate reading time: 3-4 minutes.

Africa is teeming with business activity managed by young people. In cities and towns, young traders are touting their goods in traffic jams, trying to sell everything from phone credits and toilet paper to drinking water and Christmas decorations. Alongside streets and pathways, young people sell a variety of items and foodstuffs from table tops or shacks. In neighbourhoods, women operate hairdressing salons and dressmaking shops often from their homes, whilst young men carve wood and fix electrical equipment. In the busy market places, young women and men trade a variety of goods including locally grown fruits and vegetables, imported new and second-hand clothes, shoes, mobile phones, and housewares. Some young people offer inventive services as and when the need arises; young men fill in potholes on the roads, hoping that passing vehicles will acknowledge their work with a token payment, while others rent out gumboots to pedestrians who seek to pass flooded streets. Others again act as ‘traffic police’ when narrow roads become jammed with cars, motorbikes and minivans.

Everyday Forms of Entrepreneurship
Such entrepreneurial practices might seem mundane, trivial, or insignificant when compared to instances of high-growth and high-tech entrepreneurship in the global North. And some might even dispute whether these types of income-generating activities should at all be labelled entrepreneurship. Yet such “everyday forms of entrepreneurship” (Welter, 2017) are significant since they currently provide livelihoods to a large proportion of the youth population in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the book ‘Young Entrepreneurs in Sub-Saharan Africa’ (Gough and Langevang 2016), we examine the rates, characteristics and experiences of young entrepreneurs in Ghana, Uganda and Zambia. Drawing on surveys conducted by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, we show how African youth are the most entrepreneurial in the world with around 40% of young people in Ghana, Uganda and Zambia being involved in “early state entrepreneurial activity” (which includes young people aged 18-35 setting up a business or running a business less than three and a half years old). These levels are equal to or higher than the adult population in their respective countries, and much higher than their youth counterparts in other regions of the world where average rates range from just 9% in Europe to 18% in Latin America.

Youth Entrepreneurship in Africa – Promises and Limitations
At first sight these high rates of youth entrepreneurship might look encouraging for African governments and international development organisations, which are increasingly promoting youth entrepreneurship as a solution to the mounting youth unemployment crisis. Whilst Ghana, Uganda and Zambia, together with a number of other African countries, have experienced high and sustained economic growth rates during the last two to three decades, the growth has not generated adequate, decent jobs. In a situation of very limited wage employment, and a rapidly growing youth population, young Africans are increasingly encouraged to change their mind-set from being ‘job seekers’ to becoming ‘job creators’ and are hard pressed into using their entrepreneurial ingenuity to start their own businesses as a means of creating livelihoods for themselves.

When looking closer at the statistics and listening to the experiences of young people, however, the picture is mixed. While entrepreneurship rates are high and the attitudes to business start-up very positive, a common characteristic of African young entrepreneurs is that their businesses stay at the micro-level and are concentrated in the informal economy, hence lie outside the protection and regulation of the state. Their businesses are concentrated in a limited number of vocations, with the majority engaged in trading or providing similar services. Competition is, therefore, cutthroat and earnings minimal. Noticeably, the majority of young entrepreneurs have no or only a small number of employees, which means they contribute little to job creation apart from self-employment, have low expectations for growth, and their businesses close down at a high rate.

Consequently, we should be careful not to celebrate youth entrepreneurship uncritically. It is important to acknowledge that not all young people have the skills or resources required to pursue viable entrepreneurial ven­tures. Indeed, most young people in Africa currently appear to be poorly equipped to become successful entrepreneurs in the sense of establishing durable businesses and growing them. There is also the risk that an excessive focus on entrepreneurship becomes a way to blame young people themselves for their misfortunes and provides an excuse for states not to deliver welfare services and ensure decent jobs (Jeffrey and Dyson, 2013).

No Silver Bullet for Tackling Youth Unemployment in Africa
So far the strong policy discourse on entrepreneurship in Africa has not been backed by adequate support measures. While the book reveals that the three African countries have all witnessed a similar mushrooming of entrepreneurship promotion schemes initiated by governments, NGOs and international development organizations, the general picture emerging is that youth entrepreneurship promotion is characterized by many uncoordinated schemes, which tend to have limited uptake and scope. Moreover, there tends to be a quite narrow focus on promoting business start-ups through providing finance. While more holistic approaches to entrepreneurship promotion are clearly needed it is equally vital that entrepreneurship is not singled out as the only solution to the youth unemployment crisis but rather is seen as just one element of broader labour market policies, which cannot themselves be separated from wider policies aimed at stimulating job-generating, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth and development.


Thilde Langevang is Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and Development Studies at Copenhagen Business School.

Katherine V. Gough is Professor of Human Geography at Loughborough University.

Pic by Thilde Langevang, edited by BOS.