Skip to main content

We believe that development intervention should be transformative. We focus on improving socio-economic systems that can enable disadvantaged people to get and retain what they need – goods, services, opportunities, resources – to improve their lives, without the need for perpetual development assistance.

We take a systemic approach to development, offering advice, training and research in line with the ‘Market Systems Development (MSD)’ approach, which is also sometimes called ‘Making Markets work for the Poor (M4P).

What is MSD?

The market systems development (MSD) approach is an increasingly recognised and widely applied guiding framework for development intervention aimed explicitly at realising lasting impact at scale. At its core MSD is a codification of good practice, grounded in the lessons learned across many and diverse technical fields in how to deliver development results that can both be sustained and that reach large numbers of poor and disadvantaged women and men.

MSD is an approach to development that provides guidance not only on understanding of the poor in systems (analysis) but on how to bring about effective and lasting change (action). The approach is defined by a number of important characteristics:

System change

MSD focuses on developing the ‘systems’ that affect the poor and their ability to lift themselves out of poverty. Its objective is to enable those systems to function in more inclusive, effective and efficient ways, providing the means by which poor women and men access social and economic benefits.

Rigorous analysis

MSD provides a versatile analytical lens through which programmes and practitioners interpret and understand the complex systems important to the poor and identify and prioritise the underlying constraints impinging upon the performance of those systems.

Facilitating role

MSD requires that (development) agencies, as external actors, play a facilitating role in catalysing behaviour change amongst actors in the system taking care not to become part of that system themselves. The approach emphasises explicitly that the role of intervention is temporary and catalytic.

You can find a glossary of some of the key words and phrases commonly used in the world of MSD using the link below.

Glossary of MSD Terms


Working with and through system actors requires that MSD programming is highly adaptive. The facilitative role means being ready and willing to adjust to how systems evolve over time and responsive to the actions and reactions of system actors.


MSD provides a practical, tangible definition of sustainability based on a realistic assessment of how critical system functions and actors can be better aligned so they can work more effectively and be sustained in the future, based on the incentives and capacities of actors to ‘do better’.

Large-scale impact

By addressing underlying causes (rather than symptoms) of weak performance, MSD aims to unleash large-scale change. Interventions seek explicitly to leverage the actions of key system actors to bring about extensive change that impacts the many not the few.

We start by analysing opportunities: how a system – made up of private, public, and civil society organisations – might work better. We then support local actors to innovate and invest in new solutions or ways of working that can benefit them and disadvantaged people. Building on the incentives of local actors is the key to sustainable outcomes.

The systemic perspective that we bring to our work sets a clear goal for more inclusive, resilient systems and explicitly defines a temporary or ‘facilitative’ role for development agencies. It is guided by a well-documented set of good development principles and practices.

Operational Guide for the M4P Approach
English EditionSpanish EditionFrench Edition
Perspectives on the M4P Approach
English EditionSpanish EditionFrench Edition
A Synthesis of the M4P Approach
English EditionSpanish EditionFrench Edition

Our Services

There are three mutually reinforcing elements to our work, Advisory, Research and Training – the ‘ART’ of systems development:


We provide high quality advisory services across the project cycle: programme scoping, design, implementation, performance management, review and evaluation.



We capture and share learning and innovation through a range of research-oriented products and media, including studies, surveys, articles, blogs and web events.



We provide internationally renowned training for MSD managers and practitioners, informed by our hands-on advisory expertise and research activities.