Max Foundation: Saving Children’s Lives Through Business Model Innovation

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Professor Luk Van Wassenhove talks about his case series, co-written with Martijn Thierry, on Max Foundation.

Why Max Foundation?

At INSEAD's Social Innovation Centre, we are always looking for humanitarian organisations that are innovative and from which we can learn something, both academically and in terms of lessons to improve the impact of humanitarian organisations in the field. Max Foundation is a rare example of a social venture that excels in business model innovation. This is important as the potential of business model innovation in the humanitarian sector is very significant but often overlooked. In a period of 5 years, Steven and Joke Le Poole, the founders of Max Foundatixon, have created an effective, low-cost, social venture that has delivered clean water and sanitation to 200,000 people in rural Bangladesh, saving the lives of hundreds of children.

My co-author and former PhD student, Martijn Thierry, sits on the Board of Max Foundation so we had the benefit of a wealth of internal data, supplemented by various external sources. We interviewed all the key people in the Max Foundation. As Max Foundation's decision making is very much data-driven, we had access to all key materials and supporting data since it started in 2005.

The issues

Alt text The two cases have different focus areas but work very well together. Case A highlights how Steven and Joke Le Poole used business model innovation to create a social venture to maximise the (health) return per-euro-spent. The main focus is on business model innovation and on identifying innovative elements in the foundation's business model that can be adopted by other (humanitarian) organisations.

Case B is set in 2011 when Max Foundation is considering its future and contemplating the key strategic decisions for the next 3 to 5 years. The case focuses on these strategic decisions and examines the challenges and opportunities around up-scaling strategy, impact measurement, and marketing.

Using the cases

The cases can be taught in various courses related to social impact, including courses on non-profit and NGO management, policy making, international health care, and social entrepreneurship. They also cover topics relevant to classes on strategy, organisational behaviour and marketing and are particularly suitable for use as an integrative and inter-disciplinary exercise, bringing together the perspectives of different groups. In addition, they can be taught in courses outside the domain of social impact, particularly those related to business model innovation, organisational learning, and entrepreneurship. It is suitable for undergraduate, graduate, and executive audiences.

The case series can be used for virtually all types of audiences from undergraduates to MBAs and executives, and not in the least for programs with participants from NGOs or social entrepreneurs. It is sufficiently flexible to be used in different ways, from a short class (using only case A or case B) to a series of classes injecting supplementary materials.


Supporting material

In addition to a comprehensive teaching note, this suite of cases is richly documented with range of supplementary materials including:

  • a video showing Steven and Joke Le Poole in Bangladesh, explaining what they do and showing the results of their work
  • a video showing the speech made by HRH Prince Willem-Alexander, the Crown Prince of the Netherlands and Chair of the UN Secretary General's Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation, addressing Steven and Joke Le Poole in March 2011
  • Max Foundation Annual Report 2010
  • two UN reports on child mortality and water and sanitation.

These materials are accessible on a dedicated website, details of which are provided in the teaching note.

Case details

Max Foundation (A): Saving Children's Lives Through Business Model Innovation
Luk Van Wassenhove and Martijn Thierry
Ref 711-045-1

Max Foundation (B): What is the Best Route Forward?
Luk Van Wassenhove and Martijn Thierry
Ref 711-046-1

Also available
Teaching note

Ref 711-045-8

About the authors

Luk Van Wassenhove is Professor of Operations Management, INSEAD

Martijn Thierry is an independent strategy consultant for profit and non-profit organisations

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