Greater Social Role for Business than Just Selling to the Poor

BOP-oriented businesses have the potential to become a powerfultransformative force in low-income countries, but businesses have other rolesto perform that could both solve social problems and serve their self-interest.

Consider this article from The Economist, ?Business and AIDS.? It describes how a civil society organization,Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS (GBC), and its local chapters have workedto convince South African businesses to join the fight against the disease. GBCadvocates that businesses monitor their workers and provide them withtreatment. Initially resistant, because of the time and monetary costs thatworker support entails, some South African firms have begun to adopt GBC?ssuggestions. This progress appears to result from GBC’s strategies that distributefree treatment kits to South African businesses, and that articulate tobusinesses how HIV/AIDS treatment improves their bottom line by prolongingthe lifespan of infected workers.

From a public health perspective, GBC’s focus on South African businesses makessense, because businesses have an important leverage point in fighting the HIV/AIDSepidemic: an established infrastructure that employees visit everyday. Thisgreatly simplifies the necessary process to educate workers, to diagnose theinfected, and to treat the disease. As a consequence, anti-HIV/AIDS programsthat businesses sponsor more easily reach their employees as compared to somepublic sector programs that lack an established, institutional connection withtheir target population to administer assistance.

Building entire business models directly oriented to fighting poverty shouldnot limit our thinking about the full social potential of the private sector.BOP-oriented businesses should be only one strategy in a portfolio ofapproaches that uses the private sector as a force to fight social problems.