Base of the Pyramid: article series continues

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Pyramid shapesEarlier this week we sketched out the Base of the Pyramid protocols versions 1.0 and 2.0. Based on some comments I’ve received via email, today I want to delve a little deeper into version 2.0, and see how we can take this innovative idea, and make it practicable (after all, that’s one of the goals of the Inspired Economist, is it not?).

The protocol retains as one of its fundamental tenets that it is based on a participatory philosophy and process, whereby the multinational company works in partnership with its local partners in order to co-create a new model for doing business locally.According to the protocol, by working in partnership with the local community from the beginning, it is possible for corporations to develop a “native capability”, which consists of the ability to:

  1. Engage in deep listening and mutual dialogue with income-poor communities.
  2. Co-discover and co-create new business opportunities and business models embedded in the local cultural infrastructure.
  3. Co-design and launch BoP businesses that generate mutual value for all partners.

Currently, the Base of the Pyramid Protocol home sketches out (in greater detail in their BOP 2.0 document) a few examples of how engaging in deep listening (i.e. project team members having longer-term stays in the community) allowed for the beginning of the development of local models that incorporated both the multinational’s conceptions of success with that of the local community.

With the development of these local models, new business opportunities can be created (for example, S.C. Johnson’s partnership with Nairobi slum youth groups, and a local business partner have created “community cleaning services”. This business has also been allowed to evolve differently in different slums in Nairobi, depending on the needs and demands of the community).

While the success of version 2.0 remains to be seen (projects under its aegis began in 2004 and 2005), I think it is clear that there is still room for version 1.0. While the older version is not participatory and is not designed in a way that allows for co-creation, its strength lies in its ability to co-opt disruptive technologies and processes that emerge in non-traditional markets. I believe a recent comment sent to me by Yaron Vorona, an International Strategic Growth Consultant, who has done extensive work in South Africa, and specifically, in historically disenfranchised black neighbourhoods demonstrates this fairly articulately:

These innovations for the “base” may then create disruptive technologies in “high margin” areas. For example, black people had different electrical usage patterns and credit needs, and so ESKOM created prepaid electric metering, which is a great technology that may have applications in other parts of the world (electric car filling stations?)

Let’s hear from a few of our readers though: do you think that either version is realistic, or is this the sort of concept that will forever remain the purview of business schools, and corporate social responsibility pilot projects?

For More on the Base of the Pyramid:

  1. The Base of the Pyramid 2.0: A Review (pt. 1)
  2. The Base of the Pyramid 2.0: A Review (pt. 2)

Photo Credit: GO Media archives

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