Editor’s Note: This post was originally an email follow-up to an interview Pete had with a freelance journalist. I recommended that he share his thoughts with you all.
While we at AIDG are drinking the social entrepreneurship Kool-aid like everyone else, we know that the reason we’re needed at all is due to the failure of the private sector and governments to step up.
If you know of any companies who are getting their people out into the field to see how they can serve emerging markets, post their stories in the comments. The World Resources Institute’s Next 4 Billion report lists many corporate efforts, but I’m up for hearing more. Be warned. If you mention, Unilever’s Fair and Lovely, I will chew off my own leg in protest.
My group and the University groups that are doing design and services for the bottom of the pyramid should not exist. We should not be the ones developing products and services to help the poor because frankly groups as small as we are are horribly ill-suited to have a massive impact.
Major corporations should be sending people deep into the trenches to figure out what will sell in micro-payments to people with hyper limited incomes. They should get their reps out of the hotels and into the slums and villages, to learn what people need and will pay for.
If corporations throw people at the BOP a rope by developing extremely high quality, low cost products with razor thin margins they will be heavily rewarded as those customers climb out of poverty and up the consumer ladder. A good product in a hard situation can elicit a level of brand loyalty that is really unheard of amongst people with greater purchasing power and economic choices. I have seen it time and again in villages. The people who get hooked on Stanley Tools because of that one Stanley screwdriver they could afford that didn’t break like the knock off brand did. Honda generators, which I swear are treated with an unparalleled reverence.
In the realm of green or eco-products, the future of the world rests with the poor. No matter how green we get up here it will do no good if the only technology the rest of the world can afford is straight out of 19th century Pittsburgh. Companies need to learn from Tata and the cell phone companies.
You can get modern products to people at the bottom, they are clamoring for options, you just need to do it at a price point they can afford.