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Research on Inclusive Economy

Our research focuses on the subjects of inequality, poverty and inclusion. We dedicate special efforts to develop key performance indicators for corporate social initiatives and inclusive business.

What is an inclusive economy? How do you assess whether or not an initiative or undertaking is inclusive? How do you measure its impact on reducing inequalities? What criteria do you use for assessing this impact? 


Our research center led by Marieke Huysentruyt seeks to shed new light on the causes of inequalities, their consequences, and above all on what are the most promising strategies available to firms and their eco-system partners to reduce inequalities, fight against poverty and social injustices, and contribute to a more inclusive society.  

  • What are the economic models for a more inclusive economy? Which types of partnerships are they based on? What are the hurdles, driving forces and key success factors for such novel organizing forms?
  • How can we make citizens more aware of the impact on inequalities of the products and services that they consume? 
  • How can corporate social initiatives that provide goods to disadvantaged groups outside the firm overcome psychological barriers to take-up?
  • How do inclusive-economy policies affect a firm’s competitiveness?
  • How can we assess whether an entrepreneurial initiative or intrapreneurial undertaking is truly inclusive? How can we measure and evaluate their impacts on reducing inequalities? 

We try to answer these types of questions using original data, state-of-the-art empirical methods, and multiple disciplinary lenses. We aim to provide public and economic stakeholders with scientifically robust evidence and help them design and evaluate effective strategies. Our researchers publish their work on these issues in the leading academic journals. 

We organize events that bring together researchers and practitioners, as shown through the conference held with the ARCS network on 11 and 12 October 2019, with the theme of “Accelerating Researcher-Practitioner in Sustainability Research”. These types of events aim to give people opportunities to share knowledge, spark cutting-edge and relevant research ideas as well as novel management practices geared towards serving the common good. 

We also draw up reports such as the Social Impact Assessment Strategy Report, which is a tool for measuring the social impact of companies during a period when social impacts are taking on an unprecedented dimension in the global economy. We use such reports and our scientific insights more broadly to actively contribute to public debates and flagship policy initiatives like Business For Inclusive Growth (B4IG).

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What you need to know about Sustainability and CSR

S&O Executive Factsheets

Have a look at our collection of 19 factsheets


Meeting “the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” captures the essence of “sustainability” - the natural constraints that present and future generations are facing.

What is sustainability?

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is commonly defined as a business model in which companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and interactions with their stakeholders instead of only considering economic profits. CSR became mainstream in the 2000s. The UN Global Compact and the Global Reporting Initiative cover the main international standards of CSR.

What is CSR?

Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 2015, the 17 “Sustainable Development Goals” (SDGs) are the layout to achieve a better and more sustainable world for all by 2030. These goals are a call for action to address a series of global challenges, such as: poverty, inequality, climate, environmental degradation, and justice. A growing number of corporations use SDGs to orient, prioritize, and report on their CSR activities.

What are the SDGs?


The “triple bottom line” stands for the idea that firms’ performance should not be assessed in merely economic terms, but along three dimensions: social, environmental, and economic (the “three Ps”, for People, Planet, and Profit). Since its inception 25 years ago, this idea has permeated into business practice. Yet, it has not been spared from criticism – most recently even expressed by its very inventor John Elkington. 

What is the Triple Bottom Line?

There is currently no single definition of “social business”, but the most prominent one is that offered by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus. He defines social business as a business » which objective is to solve social, economic and environmental issues affecting humanity: hunger, homelessness, illness, pollution, ignorance,…”. 

Social businesses can provide the poorer populations with access to funds, goods, and services they could not otherwise afford, as well as facilitate their access to work. Multinational companies' engagement in social business has become a noticeable trend in recent years. 

What is Social Business?

Inclusive business is a form of business that aims at facilitating and fostering economically vulnerable people’s participation in economic life – by easing access to a stable and sufficient source of income, to essential goods and services, or to valuable credits and loans. 

To achieve this aim, inclusive business balances social considerations with profitability objectives. 

What is Inclusive Business?

Individuals increasingly pursue social entrepreneurship and combine entrepreneurial activities with a social mission.

What is a Social Entrepreneur?

Research on various topics

The role of Empathy in Corporate Social Initiatives

Research led by Marieke Huysentruyt, Paul Gouvard and Rodolphe Durand

Out of five children in France live below the poverty line, which means that a household with two children lives on a collective income of less that 1,700€ per month. When poverty strikes, it stirkes everywhere, ruthlessly so: higher instances of diabetis related to obesity; sleep deprivation due to threadbare matresses; lack of relaxing hobbies, noisier,more crowded, low quality housing conditions (or no home at all); academic failure; etc...


More on Knowledge@HEC


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How to Manage Teams and Nascent Entrepreneurs Innovating for the Public Good

Today’s major societal challenges – such as climate change, migration and inequality - urgently call for new ideas and approaches that can create both economic growth and social value. Recent years have seen a surge of support programs targeted specifically at nascent social entrepreneurs - new actors on the innovation scene -, widely thought to be invaluable for bringing forth and inspiring such ideas. It is essential, now more than ever, for organizations to understand how they can motivate and manage teams or nascent entrepreneurs to innovate for the public good.

More on Knowledge@HEC


Labor Market Polarization and the New Geography of Jobs

The labor market is strongly polarized. What consequences on the society? Based on their latest research, professors of Economics Tomasz Michaslki and Eric Mengus explain this "Great Divergence", and give insights on how to find new ways to create added value, both in bigger and smaller cities.

More on Knowledge@HEC

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The Influence of Pay Transparency on Inequity, Inequality, and the Performance-Basis of Pay

Recent decades have witnessed a growing focus on two distinct income patterns: persistent pay inequity, particularly a gender pay gap, and growing pay inequality. Pay transparency is widely advanced as a remedy for both. Yet we know little about the systemic influence of this policy on the evolution of pay practices within organizations. We find evidence that pay transparency causes significant increases in both the equity and equality of pay, and significant and sizeable reductions in the link between pay and individually-measured performance.

by Tomasz Obloj and Todd Zenger

Read the working paper


Consumers must be informed of the "social cost" of the goods and services on offer

To encourage companies to reduce income inequalities along the production chain, a "social cost" could appear on the label next to the purchase price, suggests Brian Hill, CNRS research at HEC, in a op-ed piece for "Le Monde".

Read the article [Fr]


Social Business: Why should firms tackle poverty issues?

by Frédéric Dalsace, HEC professor on sabbatical, co-founder of the Inclusive and Social Business Chair, now teaching at IMD Lausanne

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Case Studies

Combining Business and Societal Objectives at Danone
Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot and Frédéric Dalsace
How Social Innovation Can Help a Multinational Company Reinvent Itself - More on Knowledge@HEC

License to operate in developed countries: targeting both economic and social objectives with Eau du Grand Lyon (EGL)
Bertrand Quelin

The Mobilize Case with Renault Group
Olivier Chatain

Selection of pay-as-you-go solar home systems for the Schneider Electric Energy Access (SEEA) Fund in Kenya
Luc Paugam

Meals Vouchers in the Arab Spring with Sodexo
Eric Mengus and Paul Gouvard

ARES et La Petite Reine... de coeur ?
Laurence Lehmann Ortega and Julien Kleszczowski

S&O - social impact assessment report - lead content ©istock

Are your social initiatives making the right impact?

S&O has published a Social Impact Assessment Strategy Report, your toolkit for better social impact measurement.

Download the report
S&O - B4IG report on Inclusive Business

Inclusive Business Report: What it is and Why it matters

We explain what an inclusive economy means to us and detail barriers to inclusion and levers that businesses can use to remove these obstacles.

Read the report
Reaching the Rich World’s Poorest Consumers - ©

Reaching the rich world's poorest consumers

Harvard Business Review Article

Read the summary