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Can Pay-As-You-Go, Digitally Enabled Business Models Support Sustainability Transformations in Developing Countries? Outstanding Questions and a Theoretical Basis for Future Research

1
Department of Geography and ESRC STEPS Centre, School of Global Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9SJ, UK
2
African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), ICIPE Duduville Campus, Kasarani, P.O. Box 45917–00100, Nairobi, Kenya
3
SPRU (Science Policy Research Unit), Sussex Business School, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9SL, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Sustainability 2019, 11(7), 2105; https://doi.org/10.3390/su11072105
Received: 1 February 2019 / Revised: 18 March 2019 / Accepted: 26 March 2019 / Published: 9 April 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Low Carbon Innovation—Strategic Steps toward Deep Transition)
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Abstract

This paper examines the rapidly emerging and rapidly changing phenomenon of pay-as-you-go (PAYG), digitally enabled business models, which have had significant early success in providing poor people with access to technologies relevant to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (e.g., for electricity access, water and sanitation, and agricultural irrigation). Data are analysed based on literature review, two stakeholder workshops (or “transformation labs”), and stakeholder interviews (engaging 41 stakeholders in total). This demonstrates the existing literature on PAYG is patchy at best, with no comprehensive or longitudinal, and very little theoretically grounded, research to date. The paper contributes to existing research on PAYG, and sustainability transformations more broadly, in two key ways. Firstly, it articulates a range of questions that remain to be answered in order to understand and deliver against the current and potential contribution of PAYG in affecting sustainability transformations (the latter we define as achieving environmental sustainability and social justice). These questions focus at three levels: national contexts for fostering innovation and technology uptake, the daily lives of poor and marginalised women and men, and global political economies and value accumulation. Secondly, the paper articulates three areas of theory (based on emerging critical social science research on sustainable energy access) that have potential to support future research that might answer these questions, namely: socio-technical innovation system-building, social practice, and global political economy and value chain analysis. Whilst recognising existing tensions between these three areas of theory, we argue that rapid sustainability transformations demand a level of epistemic pragmatism. Such pragmatism, we argue, can be achieved by situating research using any of the above areas of theory within the broader context of Leach et al.’s (2010) Pathways Approach. This allows for exactly the kind of interdisciplinary approach, based on a commitment to pluralism and the co-production of knowledge, and firmly rooted commitment to environmental sustainability and social justice that the SDGs demand. View Full-Text
Keywords: Pay-As-You-Go; digitally enabled business models; sustainability transformations; energy access; energy for development; sustainable development goals Pay-As-You-Go; digitally enabled business models; sustainability transformations; energy access; energy for development; sustainable development goals
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).
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Ockwell, D.; Atela, J.; Mbeva, K.; Chengo, V.; Byrne, R.; Durrant, R.; Kasprowicz, V.; Ely, A. Can Pay-As-You-Go, Digitally Enabled Business Models Support Sustainability Transformations in Developing Countries? Outstanding Questions and a Theoretical Basis for Future Research. Sustainability 2019, 11, 2105.

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