I’m Not A Producer Or A Consumer, I Am A Human Being! Another Picture Of The Base Of The Pyramid
Over the last couple of months I’ve written a number of postings alluding to the BOP (base of the pyramid) market of 4 billion citizens living in poverty, and how private sector business can not only profit from this huge market but help alleviate their poverty by assisting in economic development and providing a connection to the rest of the global economy. I came across a blog posting at NextBillion.net by Rob Katz entitled, “BusinessWeek On BOP-A False Dichotomy?”. Apparently he wasn’t impressed with the magazine’s simplistic portrayal, in the latest issue, of the BOP market using a definition similar to mine above. Nor was he impressed with the “false dichotomy” created by discussing the BOP market as a consumer market and then introducing the opinion of Arneel Karnani, associate professor of strategy at the Ross School Of Business, who believes it should be viewed as a market of producers. Katz has recommended in his posting that Business Week take a more “nuanced view of base of the pyramid strategy or practice” in the future. I suppose using the comment they used to illustrate disagreement wasn’t the best. Technically it does create a false dichotomy, but why not put a positive spin on the article rather than arguing logic and semantics?
In the BusinessWeek article, “On Campus, A Different Pyramid Scheme“, the magazine discusses the huge increase in both college classes offered relating to the BOP concept and student interest in the topic. Whether or not the BOP concept is valid (I think it is), in the next 10-15 years we are going to see an increasing number of sharp business students and MBAs coming out of their post-secondary years full of purpose and yearning to find meaning by focusing their lives on helping those at the base of the pyramid.
You must admit, all those flocking towards this idea are looking for more than money. The majority of this market earns less than $2 per day; obviously not a lot of money to spend. The aim of this generation of students is to help, to serve, and to assist others have better lives. It brings me back to the last aptitude in Dan Pink’s “A Whole New Mind”: meaning. Meaning will play a tremendous role in the lives of young people today. Not only because we search for products and experiences with some meaning central to our these days, but also because we all strive to find meaning and purpose in life and one of the best ways to find just that is to help others, to go beyond ourselves.
Forget about the logical failures in the article, and focus on the fact that there are more and more university and college students every year looking to spend their careers involved in one way or another with the BOP market. The best place to start for these students and for Business Week, Rob Katz, and even Stuart Hart and C. K. Prahalad is to see this “market” as a population of human beings with real feelings that suffer the same highs and lows as the lucky ones in the developed world and we must aim to serve them in some way. If that is through for-profit business, great. I believe that is ultimately going to be the only way to connect this population to the rest of the global economy thus allowing them to develop the infrastructure, health care system, educational system, etc. that they will need to be self-sustaining in meeting their basic needs.
Business Week did a great thing by alerting us to these business programs and their rising popularity. It’s just time that the 4 billion person, BOP market be viewed not as producers or consumer, but as human beings, real people. Objectifying people by applying some business-related label to them is not the way to either help them or “penetrate the BOP market” they supposedly comprise.