Think outside the European box: Identifying sustainability competencies for a base of the pyramid context

Yared Nigussie Demssie*, Renate Wesselink, Harm J.A. Biemans, Martin Mulder, Y.N. Demssie

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


The complex and global nature of unsustainability requires concerted efforts of sustainability change agents from developed and developing countries all over the world. Various attempts have been made to define competencies needed for change agents to effectively contribute to sustainable development. However, most of the studies on sustainability competencies are Eurocentric in focus. Therefore, it is unclear if a base of the pyramid context would require a different set of competencies. This context is characterized by low per capita income, limited infrastructure, and rural population. To fill this gap, we conducted a Delphi study in two rounds in Ethiopia, as a country at the base of the pyramid. Experts (n = 33) from academia and the industry rated and confirmed seven competencies from the literature as being generally important for sustainable development. Additionally, they identified eight sustainability y competencies specifically important for the Ethiopian context, and thus potentially for other countries with the features of base of the pyramid context. Systems thinking and transdisciplinary competence gained the highest ratings. A subsequent specific literature search revealed that previous studies in contexts other than the base of the pyramid context also identified some of the eight additional sustainability competencies. This is important for future studies regarding the universal nature of certain sustainability competencies. The study brought together three fields of research: sustainability, competence, and base of the pyramid context. Our findings contribute to the theory of professional competence by showing that certain sustainability competencies can be of generic nature, independent of socioeconomic context, whereas others are context-specific. In addition, the sustainability competencies may serve as intended learning outcomes of education and training and development programs for sustainability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)828-838
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019


  • Base of the pyramid
  • Corporate social responsibility
  • Delphi
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainability competence
  • Sustainable development


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