Scott Anderson

Much More than Disruption: Video Q&As with the CEOs of DataWind, NOTS Impact Enterprises from BCTA’s Forum 2014

Editor’s note: These video interviews are part of a series of dicussions from last month’s Business Call to Action Forum 2014. The first interview, with Raman Ramachandran, chairman of BASF Companies in India, can be found here.

“Disruption” is a favorite word of technology entrepreneurs, particularly those who reside in Silicon Valley. It’s a word that can be wildly overused and/or overstated, especially when it comes to things like a new mobile app that will deliver your groceries, for example.

But at this fall’s Business Call to Action Forum 2014, I had the chance to interview more than a few companies with leaders who not only want to disrupt industry sectors, but in some cases, even country econecomic models – especially those that contribute to cycles of poverty. For instance, Bart Hartman, CEO of NOTS Impact Enterprises, aims to completely overhaul the process of charcoal production, which is dirty, time consuming and adds to deforestation across sub-Saharan Africa.

Hartman explained that the company’s solution, which involves a low-cost and highly efficient oven – as well as planting trees to offset those lost in the production of coal – has been tested and proven to reduce carbon emissions by 75 percent while reducing charcoal production to a three-day process instead of the typical 11-day cycle. It could also shift the balance of power in the business relationship of charcoal production.

Click here to see a video on the process.

“Traders currently earn a disproportionately greater share than producers … what we want to do is to help charcoal producers get a larger stake,” Hartman said.

Some 75 percent of production and consumption of charcoal is happening in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa, where the majority of people use charcoal for cooking. Hartman stated that with proper investment (which he estimated at €100 million), charcoal production will be sustainable by 2025. Check out our interview below:

For some other companies at the forum, the social mission has migrated from the back burner to front and center of their business operations. DataWind Ltd., which makes a $35 tablet for low-income markets, is one such firm. CEO Suneet Singh Tuli said that DataWind is competing “neck and neck in India” with Samsung for low-income customers.

Tuli said that DataWind determined the price point for the tablet because it represents roughly a week’s salary for low-income Indians, proportionately the same as a tablet costs a typical worker in a developed economy.

“The 4.5 billion people worldwide without Internet will evaporate in three to five years,” he stated. “We hope to create price pressure on hardware, but also start new business models.”

One such business model is delivering faster processing speeds despite the fact that most customers in India are only able to access slower 2G networks. DataWind, which is traded publicly on the Toronto Stock Exchange, also plans to field web-based ads, using that revenue to offset the cost of providing internet services to its devices. Check out our interview below.

Scott Anderson is the managing editor of NextBillion.

Base of the Pyramid