Scott Anderson

Congratulations to the 2014 NextBillion Case Writing Competition Winners

For many social entrepreneurs and nonprofits with a distinct market focus, the following real-world scenario will be tinged with deja vu.

African Solar Rise (ASR) is a German NGO that partners with rural entrepreneurs concerned with selling renewable energy products to the base of the pyramid. ASR provides these business people with access to capital for solar products, business plan development and other services to help them grow. ASR works in rural and off-grid communities, mainly in Tanzania.

ASR Founder and CEO Daniel Uphaus wants to scale up the NGO, in turn expanding the community of entrepreneurs it supports. But he and his team face two key questions:

How can ASR improve the supply chain operations and last-mile distribution across rural Tanzania? (More than two thirds of the country is without reliable access to power).

How do managers solve the financial crunch faced by the company and its potential customers? If ASR doesn’t expand operations and grow its revenue base, the organization will be reliant on fluctuating donor contributions.

This case, “African Solar Rise: Electrifying Rural Tanzania,” is the winner of the 2014 NextBillion Case Writing Competition, sponsored by The Citi Foundation. Authors Sam Aflaki, assistant professor of operations management and information technology, and Andrea Masini, associate professor of operations management and information technology, both at HEC Paris, will receive the top prize of $3,500.

The case is inspiring, but so too is what Aflaki and Masini plan to do with the prize money. The professors say they will donate it to ASR to buy solar products for people the organization serves in Tanzania.

This is the fourth edition of NextBillion’s Case Writing Competition, which recognizes and publishes the year’s best-written case studies about business strategies aimed at alleviating poverty. This year’s competition attracted 52 entries representing 34 universities and 15 countries. There were more submissions about businesses and organizations operating in Africa than in previous years, as well as some of the first entries focused on Pakistan and China.

The competition was supported by The Citi Foundation for the second year running. Each of the cases, including two honorable mentions, have been edited and published by GlobaLens, which is part of the William Davidson Institute. (WDI is the parent organization of NextBillion). All 2014 winning cases, including the two honorable mentions (listed below), have been added to the Base of the Pyramid Collection on GlobaLens. Each will be marketed to business schools worldwide for adoption in business and sector-related courses.

Second place ($2,500) went to G Shainesh, professor of marketing and chairperson of the executive post-graduate program at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, and case writer Suhruta Kulkarni for “Narayana Nethralaya: Expanding Affordable Eye Care.” It focuses on the work of Dr. Anand Vinekar, who started the Karnataka Internet-assisted Diagnosis of Retinopathy of Prematurity (KIDROP) initiative at Narayana Nethralaya to prevent blindness among newborn babies. KIDROP provides free or low-cost diagnosis and treatment services for retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), which can lead to irreversible blindness in babies if left untreated. Over the last two decades, improved neonatal care has increased survival rates from premature babies and has led to increased incidents of ROP. In an effort to scale up the initiative to ultimately reach the most infants, Dr. Anand evaluates self-sustainable service models that aim to preserve quality.

Third place ($1,000) went to Mary Conway Dato-on, associate professor at Rollins College in Florida and Silvia Cacho Elizondo, assistant professor at Universidad Panamericana IPADE Business School in Mexico City for their case: “Genesis of a Green Brand in the Mayan Rainforest.” They detail how Omar Roquet, a consultant to the Mayan gum growers consortium, has just three months to prepare the launch of the first organic biodegradable gum at BIOFach, the world’s largest organic trade show in Germany. Roquet and his small team must build a brand story and identity (i.e. name, logo, slogan, packaging, certifications, colors, etc.) and devise the right strategy to connect the producers to the best target market. The goal is to achieve margins large enough to improve producer living conditions and reinforce the long-term sustainability of the community. The authors also plan to donate the contest prize money and the proceeds from the sale of the case to the Montefalco school located in Morales, Mexico, which has a mission of improving the lives of women and girls.

The judges for this year’s competition were: Álvaro Rodríguez Arregui, co-founder and managing partner of IGNIA, based in Monterrey, Mexico; Hui Wen Chan, impact analytics and planning officer at the Citi Foundation; William N. Lanen, associate dean of global initiatives, KPMG Professor of Accounting at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, and interim president of WDI; Paul Godfrey, professor of business strategy at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management.

I want to thank them for their hard work in reviewing the many worthy entries. Also deserving of many thanks are my colleagues at GlobaLens, who do the hard work of managing the contest, reviewing the submissions, providing training workshops for casewriters and ultimately publishing the cases. Thanks to their efforts, professors, students, and indeed anyone with an interest, may purchase these cases, each of which advances the cause of business solutions to poverty and adds to the broader canon of understanding.

NextBillion Case Writing Competition 2014 Winners

First Place – $3,500

“African Solar Rise: Electrifying Rural Tanzania”

School: HEC Paris/School of Management/ Paris, France


• Sam Aflaki, assistant professor of operations management and information technology

• Andrea Masini, associate professor of operations management and information technology

Second Place: $2,500

“Narayana Nethralaya: Expanding Affordable Eye Care”

School: Indian Institute of Management/Bangalore, India


• G Shainesh, professor of marketing and chairman of the executive post-graduate program

• Suhruta Kulkarni, case writer

Third Place: $1,000

“Genesis of a Green Brand in the Mayan Rainforest”

School: Rollins College/Winter Park, Fla./Universidad Panamericana IPADE business school/Mexico City, Mexico


• Mary Conway Dato-on, associate professor, Rollins College

• Silvia Cacho Elizondo, assistant professor, IPADE

Honorable Mention:

“Healthy City: Fostering Entrepreneurship at the Base of the Pyramid. A Peruvian Experience”

School: INCAE Business School/Managua, Nicaragua


• Carlos Romero Martinez, research assistant

• Felipe Perez Pineda, professor

Case Summary: Albina Ruiz, president and founder of Healthy City, contemplated the organization’s future. Since 2001, the Peruvian NGO has been addressing the country’s solid waste problem through three programs: developing comprehensive sanitation projects alongside municipalities; empowering and funding small recycling businesses; and training students in best environmental practices. Healthy City had received support from various international organizations to finance its projects. However, Ruiz wanted the organization to become financially independent. She had created two related entities (PWI and HCI) that offered consulting services both locally and internationally, although their financial contributions were marginal and conflicts had emerged between them because of overlapping functions. Ruiz wondered what should be done to strengthen the overall organization and also what her role should be within it.

Honorable Mention:

“The Jaipur Foot: Challenges in Leading a Free Service Organization”

School: Indian Institute of Management/Bangalore, India


• Menaka Rao, case writer

• U Dinesh Kumar, professor

Case Summary: The Jaipur Foot is an artificial prosthetic, given free of cost to the underprivileged and base of the pyramid disabled people by the nonprofit organization BMVSS. When D. R. Mehta, the chief patron, established BMVSS in 1975 he was responding to a humanitarian imperative for the limbless. Mehta has run the organization for 37 years, more or less as a one-man show. The organization now needs a successor. With Mehta leaving, would the sustainability of the organization be at stake? At the same time, the organization was in an expansion mode. Was it the right time? The organization was largely donor dependent. Without Mehta, would there be financial sustainability for its long-term existence? Donor dependency also brought with it the deeper issue of donor fatigue, especially in India, where there are a growing number of nonprofit organizations but a constant number of donors. How should the organization battle this issue?

research, William Davidson Institute