Business Plans for Emerging Markets

Welcome to the Writing Guide for GenEd 1011! The purpose of this guide is to assist you through every stage of the process of creating a top-notch final project. It will point you to resources that will be of great help to you as you identify major problems, narrow your focus to particular cases of these problems, diagnose the specific causes of the particular problems, develop potential solutions, analyze pertinent risk factors, and finally communicate your findings and persuade your audience. The skills you develop in this process will be invaluable to you in all your future efforts at solving intractable problems in emerging markets.

Research Life Cycle

What questions should you ask at each stage? See below to find out.
Research Life Cycle
  • Getting Traction
    • Where do I start?
    • Who is most concerned with these problems?
    • What are the big issues?
    • What are the needs?
  • Understanding and Analyzing
    • How do I learn more about the market?
    • What do researchers say?
    • How do I dig deeper into the data?
    • How do I narrow my focus?
  • Proposing and Intervening
    • How can I solve this problem?
    • How can I measure the success of this solution?
    • What are the risks?
    • Will my solution scale?
  • Presenting a Compelling Business Plan
    • Who's my target audience?
    • What format is most persuasive (slide deck, policy paper, written document)?
    • What are the important components that go into a good business plan?

Getting Traction

Thinking like an entrepreneur means that you can spot needs and imagine opportunities which others have missed. It also means scoping out a project with its parts in proportion.

You may be a GenEd 1011 student still searching for the “intractable social problem” that resonates deeply with you. You might have a general sense of your interest--”child health in India” (for example) -- but haven’t identified a more specific aspect of the problem to zero in on. Perhaps you’ve done some narrowing and just need to anchor your research more narrowly by geography (choosing a region or city, for example).

In these situations and at this stage of your GenEd 1011 project, 5 strategies can help:

Scour News Sources to Identify a Social Problem or “Hot Spot”

  • Large Harvard library databases like Factiva and Nexis Uni compile content from both western and international media sources. You can view your results by date or (even better, sometimes) sort by relevance, and you’ll be offered useful ways to limit and refine if you get lots or results.
  • Search the leading English language newspapers from the region.

Combine Serendipity and Strategy by Searching HOLLIS

When you’re not sure how to proceed, a big broad search in HOLLIS--like ours on infant AND health AND India--can help to surface something. HOLLIS works by combing through our catalog and then combining what it finds there with lots of information drawn from magazines and journals. Once you get results, smarten them up, using one or more of the limit categories that display on the right side of your screen.


Think Through Images

If you are a visual learner, try the AP Multimedia Archive, a Harvard library database, or, on the web, Getty News Images or Magnum Photos. News photos are generally accompanied by explanatory and contextualizing text.

Rummage Around in NGO and IGO documents

IGO Custom Search Engine (WHO, UN, World Bank, etc.)  and  NGO Custom Search Engine (Amnesty International, Partners in Health, HRW, etc). These specially constructed databases scour the web pages of intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations and bring the materials they produce together in one place. You may find a direction for your GenEd 1011 in a case study of a social problem, field reports and analyses, or assessments of interventions already in place.

Find Your Inspiration on These Harvard Institute Sites:

Harvard South Asia Institute

Center for African Studies

Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies

David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies

Look at the project descriptions, scan the faculty publications lists or follow one of the links on their resources pages.

Understanding and Analyzing

Before you can propose any kind of solution and determine its viability, you should explore at least three different kinds of information: macroeconomic data; policy and research papers; and market conditions.


The success of your business venture will depend on your knowledge and understanding of the larger environment influencing it. External conditions that contribute to the macro environment include: economic factors; demographics; legal, political, and social conditions; technological changes; and natural forces.

Resources we recommend:
  • Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Country Profiles
    Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) Country Profiles
    View the macroeconomic and political landscape of market economies using the leading source for country data and analysis. Find descriptions of the politics, economy, risk, regulation, and business environment. Also included are reports and data for the automotive, consumer goods, energy, financial services, healthcare and telecommunications industries.

  • World Bank’s Doing Business
    World Bank’s Doing Business
    Use objective measures to make decisions about entering the markets of emerging economies. The resource includes the “Ease of Doing Business” ranking for each country with topical rankings that range from starting a business and getting construction permits to getting credit and paying taxes.

  • UNData
    Find a wealth of compelling data, collected by United Nations organizations, to support your analyses on health, education, human development, the environment, technology, labor and more for developing countries. You will find statistics ranging from literacy rate and number of newspapers produced by country to contraceptive prevalence method and antenatal care coverage.


Policy and Research Papers

Your thinking will also be shaped by the published academic research and public policy reports and studies that you find in Harvard library databases or on the Web. Articles in the industry, professional, and academic literature often provide social, economic and political contexts for your ideas/solutions.

Resources we recommend:
  • PolicyFile
    Learn what policy makers in think tanks, research institutes and NGOs are focusing on to solve the social problems in developing countries.

  • ProQuest Social Science Premium Collection
    ProQuest Social Science Premium Collection
    Find research papers in all areas of the social sciences, including politics, sociology, social services, anthropology, urban policy and education. How have scholars in healthcare, education, and the social sciences approached the social and economic challenges in developing countries?

  • HKS Public Policy & Administration and HLS Law & Public Policy Research Guides
    HKS Public Policy & Administration and HLS Law & Public Policy Research Guides
    Explore these research guides for more information on policy.


Market Conditions

To evaluate market conditions, use industry resources that can help you drill down to the sector level, highlight potential pitfalls, and determine competitors and/or collaborators.

Resources we recommend:
  • Business Monitor International (BMI)
    Business Monitor International (BMI)
    Use BMI to find SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analyses for markets in developing countries. Relevant sectors include (but are not limited to): banking, infrastructure, healthcare, insurance, information technology and telecommunications.

  • EMIS (Emerging Markets Information System)
    EMIS (Emerging Markets Information System)
    Find reports on financial markets, companies, and industries; statistics, forecasts and analysis; and news on companies and industries. The strongest coverage for countries in developing countries is India.

  • ABI Inform
    ABI Inform
    Access articles from academic and professional business journals as well as general business magazines, newspapers, trade publications and industry reports worldwide. Use “Advanced Search” to focus search by keywords in abstract, text, title or subject.

Proposing and Intervening

Once you have identified a crisply-stated and well-defined problem, you will then need to figure out ways to tackle it. Prof. Tarun Khanna has developed the “institutional voids” framework to help you recognize a wide range of problems in emerging markets and to devise ways around them. An institutional void is, quite simply, the absence in a particular context of an institution whose presence would be necessary to enable the exchange of goods and services.

The following diagram gives you a sense of the range of institutions and functions we take for granted in developed countries, one or more of which may be missing in the emerging markets of developing countries. More often than not, a particular problem you’re trying to solve can be traced back to a void in one or more of these areas.

Sometimes, the problem you’re trying to solve will be a mere symptom of a deeper institutional void—in which case you may well wish to consider if you should solve the deeper problem. (Incidentally, this is one reason why successful companies in these markets often seem to fulfill far more functions than their counterparts in developed markets.) It may also mean that you may have to revise your plans and find a different problem to solve, if the particular combination of institutional voids is too difficult for you to tackle initially.

Presenting a Compelling Business Plan

A business plan seeks to convince readers to invest in the solution the plan proposes. At first place the aim of a business plan might seem quite different from the aims of academic writing, but in fact the differences are not so great. Just as an academic paper makes an argument — that is, argues with evidence and analysis for the truth of a claim — so too business plans make arguments and attempt to persuade their readers. But instead of arguing for a claim, business plans argue for a particular course of action or entrepreneurial intervention.


Arguing for a course of action is different than arguing for a claim, since establishing the feasibility and desirability of a course of action requires the writer to consider issues not typically considered in an academic paper. These additional issues arise mainly because persuading a reader to do something (invest) involves pointing to different kinds of evidence than persuading a reader to believe something (a thesis). Such additional elements include a description of the social problem that requires entrepreneurial intervention, the context of the proposed intervention, how the intervention will work, the risks entailed, the scalability of the solution, how success will be measured, and the capacity of the team to carry out the plan. These elements are described in greater detail below. Some of these elements will be more familiar because they resemble the elements of a typical academic paper, while others will be new.


  • The Problem and Opportunity
  • In academic papers, the writer typically lays out in the introduction some sort of problem, puzzle, or research question that the paper will address along with an explanation of why the problem or puzzle is important and worth addressing.

    The introduction of business plan also lays out a problem, but in this case the problem is not an intellectual puzzle but rather a social problem or opportunity that the plan will address.

    It is important to remember that the problem or opportunity to be addressed by the plan should not be simply dropped in without context. Rather, the reader needs to know the origin of the problem (what causes it? how did it emerge?), the scale of the problem, the importance of addressing the problem, and why the problem is solvable. If others have tried to address the problem, the results of such efforts should be described.

    Describing the problem and its context fully and carefully is crucial to a successful business plan, since the solution or intervention will seem valuable only if it addresses a real and significant social problem. A common failing of business plans is that the do not describe problem or opportunity adequately.

  • Theory of Change
  • Simply put, the theory of change is the theoretical chain of causes that should take the organization from the current state of affairs to the desired end-state. At least some of these “causes” are the interventions that the organization plans to make.

    For example, consider a high school whose students are doing very poorly on standardized tests in mathematics. Your organization’s goal is to get the students’ grades to reach, and then exceed, the average math score on standardized tests. Your organization plans to do so by offering special weekend classes in mathematics (not tailored to any standardized test in particular) taught by local college students who have a passion for both math and teaching. Your theory of change may then be:

    Students’ math scores will rise on all standardized tests if they acquire general math problem-solving skills that are not tied to any particular test. The best way to acquire such skills is through the teaching efforts of highly talented and highly motivated instructors. Since it is hard to get high-school teachers to do this extra work, and since furthermore instructors who are able to relate to their students tend to have better teaching outcomes, the best instructors for such a program would be college students who have excelled in mathematics and who have a passion for teaching.

    Most, if not all, of these causal links should be backed up by evidence of their plausibility or demonstrated success. These may be academic research papers, experiments, or cases of previously successful interventions under broadly similar conditions (see library resources in Understanding and Analyzing).

  • Your Solution
  • The description of the proposed solution to the problem should be specific, detailed, and clear. The reader needs a concrete and vivid sense of what the program will look like, including a description of the beneficiaries and how they will be served. Try not to make too many assumptions about what the reader already knows or understands about the solution. This section should also provide information on the project’s management and governance structure and on any potential partnerships that may prove useful.

    The presentation of the solution is not complete without a careful and forthright assessment of the risks involved and how they might be mitigated. Addressing risks works in a business plan much like counterargument works in an academic paper. In an academic paper, entertaining counterarguments allows the writer to anticipate and address objections to his or her argument. In a business plan, acknowledging risks demonstrates that the writer is aware of potential pitfalls and will work to minimize them.

    Finally, the plan should address the scalability of the solution. As Allen Grossman has noted, scalability does not necessarily refer to the growth of your organization but rather to “the measurable increase in impact based on the spread of a practice, program or process.” On this view scalability can take several forms, including expansion of the organization, replicating the solution in other organizations, creating a social movement, and changing government policies or practices.

  • Business Plan Resources
  • From creating the plan to making the pitch, these resources will help you design your plan, create your financial budget, understand the VC process and finally make the pitch to potential investors.

    Business Plan Templates

    • Business Plans Handbook is a collection of actual business plans compiled from entrepreneurs seeking funding for small businesses throughout North America.

    Budgeting and Financials

    Venture Capital Primers


  • The Team
  • You must convince your reader that you and your colleagues are the right people to invest in. The means convincing the reader that your team has the necessary qualities to execute the business plan.

    Most importantly, the team must have the background, experience, and expertise required to execute the plan. If the team does not have some necessary expertise, the plan should indicate how such expertise will be obtained.

    If particular resources are required to complete the plan, they should be described here.

  • Measuring Results
  • Without measurements, there is absolutely no way to demonstrate that a particular intervention succeeded, or to determine what may be the best way to drive forward with an organization. The more carefully an organization decides what to measure and how to measure it, the more likely it is to succeed in fulfilling its purpose. There are two important distinctions that really matter when it comes to measurements:

    • Pre- versus post-intervention measurements It is critical to get measurements before beginning an intervention: that is the only way to determine the magnitude of the changes that may result from the intervention. These pre-intervention measurements may either be done by the organization itself or may rely on previous research done by others.
    • Types of metrics: input / output / impact There are three different types of metrics that every organization should consider when looking at what sorts of measurements to take. 
      • Input metrics examine the resources that the organization invests into the problem.
      • Output metrics measure the activities undertaken by the organization while trying to tackle the problem.
      • Impact metrics measure the actual progress made towards fulfilling the organization’s purpose.

    Building on the above example of the weekend math program, here is what some of these metrics may look like:

    • Input metrics: number of students enrolled in the program; number of college students teaching; etc.
    • Output metrics: number of weekend classes taught; amount of money spent on buying new textbooks; number of one-on-one coaching sessions offered to students, etc.
    • Impact metrics: changes in students’ math scores on standardized tests; changes in students’ passion for mathematics; correlation between these two changes, etc.


This website was conceptualized, designed and constructed by a team of people from across the Harvard University community. Acknowledgment and appreciation to:

Enrique Diaz, Designer/Multimedia Specialist, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard College Library

Sue Gilroy, Librarian for Undergraduate Programs for Writing, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard College Library

James Herron, Director of the Harvard Writing Project, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard College Writing Program

Gokul Madhavan, Teaching Fellow in General Education, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard College Program in General Education

Mallory Stark, Curriculum Services Specialist, Harvard Business School, Baker Library

Special thanks to Professor Tarun Khanna whose conception of GenEd 1011, (formerly SW 47) made this website possible.

All images used on the website are courtesy of AP Multimedia Archive.