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Major corporations and multi-national companies have long struggled with how to connect with and include small-scale suppliers. Connecting these two groups – smallholder farms and emerging markets – requires creative solutions to allow benefits for both sides. The LINK Methodology has started to close the gap between companies (See the outcome story about Unilever’s international buyer guide) and these two groups but has immense room to grow to continue to impact emerging markets.

The LINK Methodology was developed as part of the New Business Models for Sustainable Trading Relationships Project, managed by the Sustainable Food Lab in collaboration with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) and Rainforest Alliance (RA) with support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets (PIM) has supported further development of the toolkit with international NGOs in Latin America, including CRS, VECO, and Heifer International.

This tool is mainly aimed at facilitators who mediate the processes previously mentioned between sellers and buyers. LINK can help your organisation facilitate a systematic learning process between actors from a selected value chain, and discover new opportunities for innovation, based on the application of a participatory toolkit, with four main tools:

1. The value chain map (used to understand the macro context of markets and the businesses which link rural producers with buyers).

2. The business model canvas (used to understand in more detail each business which links rural producers with buyers).

3. The New Business Model principles (used to determine whether each business which links rural producers with buyers is truly inclusive).

4. The prototype cycle (used to continuously improve the inclusivity of every business which links rural producers with buyers).

By the end of the process you will have understood the relationship between specific business models (buyer and seller) and the overall value chain; identified critical areas for improvement; designed, implemented, evaluated and improved on the innovation prototype for the business model you selected; and evaluated the effects of these changes on smallholder farmers and on the business itself.

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