What Combination of Features Are Associated With Scalable and Sustainable Last-Mile Service Delivery Models? A Qualitative Comparative Analysis

CID Faculty Working Paper No. 437

Ojas and Siddhant Gokhale

October 2023


This study explores the features of successful last-mile service delivery models for the poor. We define success in terms of two main outcomes — the scale of impact and the sustainability of the business model. Through a Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA) of 35 organizations across a variety of sectors, such as agriculture, health, education, finance, energy, and water and sanitation, we arrive at a two-fold conclusion about the most prevalent combination of business model features associated with scale and sustainability. For achieving scale, a combination of four features was sufficient (but not necessary) — a pull product, an asset-light capital investment strategy, a narrow customer base, and a vertically integrated business model. For achieving sustainability, a wide customer base was sufficient (but not necessary). Together, these reveal a tradeoff between sustainability and scaling, especially around customer segments. The QCA is supplemented by an in-depth qualitative case study analysis of three selected organizations to uncover additional factors behind the success of alternate models that deviate from the QCA results. We find that clarity in vision, blending technology with people, evidence-driven decision-making and adaptive learning, and strong value propositions for multiple stakeholders were key characteristics of successful last-mile delivery models with features different from the QCA conclusions.