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This paper is part of a series collating literature, resources, and actions that have focused on efforts to create change in the aid sector, developed in support of systems change initiative, theRINGO Project(Reimagining the INGO). This paper considers the topic of ‘business operating models’ with the intent to help keep practitioners up to date with the evolving discussions in this area and promote awareness of initiatives among aid and development actors. It seeks to contribute to fostering a collaborative and reflective space, as a useful resource to invite discussion and contemplation, a ‘conversation starter’ as to what is defined as ‘disruptive’ transformational change and how the sector can work to meaningfully achieve this paradigm shift. 

Many transformative business efforts begin with `reinventing the operating model’, such as seeking to interconnect profit with purpose and tying returns to the impact. Consequently, across a range of sectors, including artificial intelligence (AI), digital, the Internet of Things (IoT), process automation, and others, it’s been recognised that businesses “are shifting value from manufacturers and distributors over to companies that operate end-to-end platforms and provide outcomes as-a- service”.

Since the early 2010s, the aid and development sector has been investing funding in ‘innovation practice’, such as establishing ‘innovation labs’ in efforts to accelerate impact, and borrowing initiatives from across business and technology sectors. While this has its challenges for application to the aid sector, there are informative and, in some cases, pioneering approaches to business operating models taking place across sectors, that offer interesting examples of operating differently that the humanitarian sector can take inspiration from. This section brings together some of these approaches, drawing from business, technology, and finance to human rights and development, sustainability, and climate change sectors.

‘Transformation in the aid and development sector?’ is proudly presented by Centre for Humanitarian Leadership and Rights CoLab as part of the RINGO project, with the generous support of the IKEA Foundation.
Learn more about the series and read the other papers here.


  • Business operating models