Tayo Akinyemi

BoP, Geopolitics, and Giving the People What They Need

Editor’s note: Tayo Akinyemi will be starting the MBA program at Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management this fall.

question markI?m leaving for business school today, so this will be my last post on nextbillion.net for awhile. Although I didn?t answer all of my twenty questions (and attempted to answer questions that I hadn?t posed originally), I truly enjoyed blogging and expanding my knowledge about all things BoP. Needless to say, I will take the remaining questions with me to business school; I have no doubt that I?ll gain valuable insight there. In the meantime, I?ll apply a very quick and dirty analysis to what remains. Also, in keeping with the inquisitive nature of this blog, I?ll throw out a few more questions and food for thought.

Is “Base of the Pyramid” just MNC neocolonialism all over again? Will MNCs behave differently in this space than they have in the past? Can power be successfully decentralized and distributed?

Potentially yes, but the concept of BoP as nouveau neocolonialism runs contrary to what BoP business development is about. Frameworks like the BoP protocol have been designed to view MNCs and BoP communities as partners co-creating mutually beneficial business opportunities. Additionally, systems and institutions are created and implemented by people, so naivet? notwithstanding; we can influence how these entities perform. As long as the basic principles are respected, it is possible that the worst case scenario may be avoided.

Must there be a trade-off between doing well and ?doing good??

How close does BoP come to closing that gap? Where does BoP fit along the public/private sector continuum?

Does CSR, Public-Private Partnership, social enterprise, social entrepreneurship, venture philanthropy = BOP?

Is this really about devising a hybrid system that works better for everyone?

Certainly there are trade-offs, but it appears that the gap is closing. Pushing that boundary is the reason why I’ve chosen to focus on BoP and pursue a business degree. To me, BoP is the counterpoint in the balance between social and financial profit and promotes the notion that the pursuit of social good can be a core, not ancillary, function of business. Superficially speaking, social enterprise, social entrepreneurship, and venture philanthropy seem to focus on ?entrepreneurializing? socially-focused organizations and pursuits; while corporate social responsibility (CSR), public private partnerships and BoP aim to leverage private enterprise for social good. Clearly, these are only the broad strokes, and don?t capture the complexity of the similarities and differences.On a completely different note, in thinking about poverty and poverty alleviation, I often wonder (unless I?m missing something) why there isn?t more discussion and analysis about what strategies work best for whom. Are there layers of poverty defined by income or other criteria that may help define what interventions will be most effective? For example, in his book The End of Poverty, Jeffrey Sachs seems to suggest that the poorest of the poor need development aid in order to reach the critical first “rung” of the ladder of development.? Perhaps another group, inclusive of the BoP, needs business opportunities co-created with multinationals, microfinance, and other entrepreneurial opportunities.

Lastly, a segment of higher earners may benefit from different investment mechanisms like private equity. This may not be right framework, but the point is that more focus should be placed on tailored strategies to address specific audiences.

Finally, I am intrigued by the notion, posited by Tom Friedman in his book The World is Flat, of the expansion of enterprise as a security strategy. In the June 2007 issue of The Aspen’s Institute’s ?A Closer Look?, Stuart Hart [] pushes this idea a step further by exploring the creation of inclusive capitalism as a response to terrorism.

I?m thinking about adopting BOP in its biggest sense and empowering those at the bottom by providing new options that wouldn?t otherwise exist as a vehicle for addressing the root causes of terrorism. Many are quite actively engaged in this; there’s especially a growing interest in this line of thinking in the military and in counterterrorism efforts. I?m currently working with a new State Department division on this front.

Well folks, that’s all she wrote, but I will do my best to keep with NextBillion and to contribute when I can.

?Bye for now!