Pablo Sanchez

Notes from the Recent Meeting of Base of the Pyramid Experts in Barcelona (Part 1)

Editor’s note: The original version of this article appeared on NextBillion en Español.

Last November, a group of professionals who work in the domain of inclusive businesses and Base of the Pyramid (BoP) met in Barcelona. We presented various members of the European network of Laboratories –ESSEC-IIES (France), Endeva (Germany), Confederation of Industries of Denmark and the Base of the Pyramid of Spain Laboratory. In addition, there were managers of companies operating in the BoP such as Essilor, Veolia Water Grameen or Lafarge.

Representatives of organizations like UNDP’s Growing Inclusive Markets Initiative and other academic centers that presented inspiring business initiatives, like that of Edipack in Albania, also participated.

The purpose of the summit was to share experiences and methodologies that let us better understand how to integrate the perspective of sustainability into inclusive businesses. Many questions rose during an intense day of debate, but three key themes stood out as key success factors for the future sustainability of any project involving low income populations in business ventures.

1. Obtaining information at the base of the pyramid. Before the provocative question of whether the base of the pyramid really was a market, the question of how to obtain information to develop a business initiative in the BoP arose. Even more important than obtaining the information is making sure that this information is useful and valuable. In other words, how do we ensure the quality of the information collected? There was some consensus that the local partners such as NGOs, entrepreneurs, civil organizations, etc. are a means of obtaining greatly appreciated information. The business case should provide incentives necessary to get these actors involved in the process, although they cannot depend exclusively on them.

2. The key role of partnerships in inclusive businesses. It is nothing new to say that the cross-sector alliances between public, social, and private partners are an essential part of inclusive businesses. The big issue is knowing with certainty what alliances are necessary, when and why. It was recognized that the research should advance further in this aspect in order to understand what advantages and capacities are contributed by the diverse members of inclusive businesses during the distinct phases of development and growth of the business.

3. The creation of value is not the same as the perception of value. All of the initiatives directed by the BoP have a clear proposition of value for this segment of the population. However, low-income populations do not always perceive this value equally, either from lack of knowledge, habits or cultural nuances. Making sure that the low-income population perceives and values the benefits that are offered by the products and services designed to satisfy their needs is fundamental. It is not just essential that the efforts of communication and training are realized, but also that they are easily understood and that the benefit is tangible in a short period of time.

The second part of this summary will offer a more detailed list of key ideas that emerged during this meeting.