Al Hammond

Behind the Scenes at “The Next 4 Billion” Yesterday

TN4B Launch PanelThe launch of our The Next 4 Billion: Market Size and Business Strategy at the Base of the Pyramid report yesterday triggered a number of thoughts and conversations about how forces are starting to align in support of market-based approaches to alleviating poverty. First, the standing room only crowd in the large auditorium of the International Finance Corporation (private sector arm of the World Bank), largely from NGOs and development agencies, says something about the appeal of finding private sector ?solutions? to improve conditions at the base of the pyramid.

Second, the hunger for hard data on BOP markets and opportunities?the essence of the report?among both large agencies and large companies was palpable. As Nariman Behravesh of Global Insight put it, there is a market for the data, because no one has had any comprehensive picture of the BOP until now. Over lunch, Mattia Romani of the Shell strategy group explained that, to a senior manager trying to decide which projects to green light for capital investment, the existence of data such as that in The Next 4 Billion could make all the difference. Jonathan Lash, WRI’s president, shared a similar experience from a recent Board of Directors meeting of an investment company?who, hearing about the report, were almost desperate to get copies. Our corporate underwriters are also anticipating the detailed briefings we have promised them on the data.At the briefing, C.K. Prahalad was in his usual good form, using an array of stories sourced from his fieldwork to bring these numbers to life. He suggested that the BOP is a system of unorganized monopolies, and that data would help companies identify areas where they could bring lower prices and more order to the market.

For WRI, the report is a foundation for plans to expand our enterprise development work with small and medium enterprises and with the value chains of larger companies in Latin America and in Asia?to expand services to BOP populations. The launch helped to solidify relationships with the IFC SME group, which is doing similar work, and the UNDP private sector group, which is marshalling larger companies to address the Millennium Development Goals. There was a sense that the report could serve as a common platform for many groups interested in expanding the private sector role in BOP markets?which would be great, as far as we are concerned. If it catalyzes new business formation and additional private sector investment, it will have been worth the year’s effort to create it.

We are already starting to think in detail about additional data gathering and market research in BOP markets that could further the effort, and will be discussing these ideas with all who are interested as we move forward.