Essays Show Innovative Business Solutions for Low-Income Markets Continue to Evolve
Are businesses continuing to innovate successfully at the base of the pyramid? Are new business opportunities being created in poor communities? Are businesses able to provide viable solutions to challenges facing low-income communities?
The BoP Short Essay Competition organized by the Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at the Johnson School at Cornell University provides numerous examples of answers to all of these questions and more. With continued support from USAID and International Finance Corporation (IFC), this year’s competition attracted more than 100 submissions from 27 countries, illustrating a diverse array of business ideas and solutions in 36 different countries.
In previous years, the entries were overwhelmingly dominated by essays describing businesses in India. While India is still a hotbed for BoP business development and experimentation, this year’s essay submissions illustrate a growing interest in opportunities elsewhere. Although entries about India were still numerous, there was a noticeable increase in essays about opportunities in Africa. Surprisingly, entries about activities in South America were still low.
There was still great diversity in the industries described in the essays, demonstrating that opportunities for business development for low-income markets exist in virtually all sectors.
The winning submissions were selected through a double-blind review by judges with expertise working and investing in businesses in low-income communities. The finalists were able to clearly articulate a business challenge that an organization is, either a non-profit or for-profit enterprise, working in low-income communities is striving to overcome.
First place with a prize of $4,000 was awarded to Reshma Kamath a graduate student in International Cooperation at the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS) at Seoul National University (S.N.U), South Korea. She is deeply interested in issues at the intersection of corporate social responsibility and law, and wants to enhance productive capacities in developing countries through public private partnerships. Her interest in this field prompted her to write her winning essay titled, “Jayaashree Industries: The Low Cost Sanitary Napkin Maker,” which she hopes will shed light on an often neglected issue of women’s reproductive and menstrual health.
Second place went to Khuram Hussain, an Acumen Fellow implementing operational improvements at Ecotact, a pay-per-use toilet business in Nairobi, Kenya. Based on his experience at Ecotact, this essay highlights the importance of creating novel business models to address the complex problem of inadequate sanitation and provides lessons for enterprises targeting BoP customers.
Third place went to a three-person team that included Diana Jue, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, International Development Group; Ashutosh Sinha, CEO of Villgro Stores; and Suresh Shanmugam, Head of Operations of Villgro Stores. Their paper about Villgro Stores explores the challenges of disseminating innovative livelihood-enhancing products and services throughout rural India.
All of the winning and honorable mention essays can be read in their entirety here.