Bringing Talent to the BoP Sector
Last summer, while writing case studies for the William Davidson Institute on base of the pyramid (BoP) related organizations, I had the opportunity to meet and interview a number of practitioners to discuss their approaches towards using market-based solutions to address poverty.
The conversations were highly stimulating and insightful, giving me much to mull over. After taking time to reflect on all that was said, I observed this reoccurring theme: outside of financial resources, one of the greatest needs in the BoP sector, at both the intermediary and venture level, is talent.
A great challenge for BoP intermediaries and the ventures that they support is making themselves a place of choice for professionals from the developed world. From interviews and my own personal experiences, I believe that the greatest barrier to accomplishing this goal is career development. For many professionals who are considering a career in the BoP sector, it is not compensation that deters them, but the lack of training and development.
Currently, there are very few BoP organizations that are heavily investing in training programs for their personnel; this primarily because of limited time and financial resources. As a result, in many cases, once a professional joins a BoP organization, there is limited to no career path. If BoP organizations can find ways to work together to develop professional training and career paths for their personnel, this will significantly help in attracting and retaining professionals to the field and making it a place of choice for the best and the brightest.
The talent challenge, however, is not only about helping professionals from the developed world choose careers in BoP work, but also building the talent base of local entrepreneurs and managers. Jacqueline Novogratz, founder and CEO of Acumen Fund, made the following comment in her Spring 2007 letter to partners and investors:
“I have spoken with entrepreneurs and local business leaders in the countries in which we work and hear the same phrase repeated: ’We need skilled managers who have experience in growing companies, managing supply chains, marketing, and managing manufacturing plants. Their needs are specific and often sophisticated.’”
A lot of investment still needs to be made in providing access to high impact training and education for those living at the BoP who would be capable of running a BoP venture. Unfortunately, most of the high publicity training programs are targeted only towards professionals from the developed world who already have significant amounts of education.
To bring about long lasting impact, local entrepreneurs and laborers need to be engaged and invested in as well. Part of the hurdle that needs to be overcome with the talent challenge is the focus on management training and education as non-revenue generating. This makes funding for such initiatives hard to come by. But patient “investing” in such initiatives could bear significant long-run fruit in poverty alleviation.
We are perhaps at a great moment in history. There is significant amount of energy, financial resources, research, and publicity on market-based approaches towards poverty alleviation. If we can develop a scalable solution to bringing ongoing talent to both BoP intermediaries and ventures, tapping professionals from the developed world and engaging and investing in local entrepreneurs and managers, perhaps we will truly be able to, as in the words of Muhammad Yunus, work together in “creating a world without poverty.”