TMCD wins funding to research new digital business model aimed at empowering poorest

The Technology and Management Centre for Development (TMCD) in collaboration with a team from the University of Birmingham have won funding for research into a new business model that seeks to enable the poorest people in developing countries to generate income and empower others by sharing their skills and experience using digital technology. 

The funding is awarded by the Economic and Social Research Council’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). The Principal Investigator is Professor Xiaolan Fu, Professor of Technology and International Development at ODID and TMCD Director. The Co-investigator is Professor Pervez Ghauri, Professor of International Business at the Department of Strategy and International Business at the University of Birmingham.



Total funding for the project is £772,815 at Full Economic Costing.

The Inclusive Digital Model (IDMODEL) project will be targeted in particular at young people and women, who are often marginalised and excluded from market participation due to unequal access to education, resources and information. Finding a way to help these groups develop income-generating activities is an important element in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals’ ambition of ‘leaving no-one behind’.

While digital business models have the potential to enhance the capabilities of small-business owners and drive economic growth, there are a number of gaps in our understanding of how this process works. The IDMODEL project will bring together research from the fields of technology, development studies and responsible business studies in an effort to fill these gaps. 

The IDMODEL will be unlike traditional e-commerce operations such as e-bay or Alibaba in that it will be content based rather than product based, empowering poorer people to create both economic value, by generating income, and social value, by sharing their skills and experience. It will also require minimum capital investment; users will just need a mobile phone.

“A teacher could teach knowledge using a video clip every day, a farmer share his skills on how to plant rice, a housewife could share her skills in housekeeping or handicrafts, a grandparent might share their life story, a village youth could share daily life in a remote mountain and start a business based on feedback from the online community”, Professor Fu explains.

The project will develop, test and finalise the model and explore what impact it has on jobs, income creation and building capabilities for poorer and neglected segments of societies.

It will examine what institutional and regulatory conditions the model needs to succeed, and how it can be scaled up and potentially replicated in other developing countries. It will also ask what role the state, multinational enterprises and civil society might play in the process.

The project will be supported by a multidisciplinary team of researchers from the universities of Oxford and Birmingham with collaborators in Bangladesh and China from both the private and public sectors.

Find out more about the IDMODEL Project here.