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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Eco-Friendly Innovations at the Base of the Pyramid

By Rob Katz

Q: What's yellow, green and seen all over?

A: The bright yellow, solar-powered ambulances of Ziqitza Healthcare (1298), an ambulance company serving low-income customers in Mumbai and Kerala, India.

The solar ambulances are one of ten "Eco-Friendly Innovations" featured in a new photo essay on Forbes.com.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the essay stocked with stories of BoP technical (and business) innovation.  Also included:

  • The Mighty Mitad, a durable $6 cooking disc used to make injera, the staple bread of an Ethiopian diet.  Reinforced with a steel band, the clay disc lasts years - a non-reinforced mitad often breaks after weeks or months.
  • High-efficiency Rocket Box stoves, manufactured locally in Guatemala and sold for $150.  Sounds expensive, but a family Rocket Box pays for itself in less than a year, thanks to the wood ($25/month) saved.  Manufactured by XelaTeco with design assistance from NextBillion allies Appropriate Infrastructure Development Group.
  • 3 drip-irrigation companies (Driptech, GEWP and Micro Drip) plus a super-efficient treadle pump (made by IDE-Myanmar), all of which help low-income farmers increase yields and bump up sales.

I'm often skeptical of media coverage with titles like "10 Eco-Friendly Innovations!" because too often, the reporters are sucked in by technical accomplishments and gloss over or ignore the business model (or lack thereof).  In this case, I was pleasantly surprised by the coverage - perhaps I should read Forbes.com more often - but only one or two of the ten in this photo essay seem to fall into the environmentally successful but commercially questionable camp.

Can you be green AND serve base of the pyramid markets?  If this photo essay is any indication, the answer is yes.

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