Rob Katz

Guest Post: Data That Count

Guest blogger Bill Kramer is principal of The Global Challenge Network, LLC, an executive education and training company. From 2001 through mid-2007, he worked on pro-poor business strategies with WRI. Previously, Bill founded a non-profit focusing on the relationship of knowledge to economic development and enjoyed a long career in the private sector, founding a dozen companies, most of which were in the book business.

By Bill Kramer

Guatemala heat mapSince the publication of The Next 4 Billion: Market Size and Business Strategy at the Base of the Pyramid, a number of others have taken up the challenge of better defining the poor and their needs.? Their findings are based not on theory handed down from above, but rather on hard data developed from below, in low-income communities themselves.? I point to two here: Mobile Metrix and heat maps that inform a new UNDP program and study. Accurately characterizing the BoP has proved to be a slow and difficult process, and these efforts are worth noting, both for their contributions to the field and for a reason I put forth at the end of this post.Mobile Metrix has shown up on before – and again today.? Founded by Melanie Edwards, now at Stanford University, Mobile Metrix is organized as a NGO.? The founding principle is straightforward:? “Accurate information is the first step to solving poverty.”? They believe, as we did in the Next 4 Billion team, that “poverty can be eliminated by the more effective allocation of resources and local economic development. But how can resources be allocated effectively if we don’t know who needs what?” ?

Mobile Metrix performs data collection, analysis, and community mapping, using employees found within the local communities (similar to Wizzit’s model).? “Community-based digital data collection is the cornerstone of Mobile Metrix’s value and success,” they say, and this belief is one that ought to inform more BoP efforts.?? They believe, as we did (and do, although we are all dispersed now), that data matter: they create not just knowledge, but transparency and accountability. As Mobile Metrix puts it, “the simple act of counting allows the uncounted poor to step into their rights as citizens: voting, legally working, access to schools, healthcare and other social services.”? And, once individuals are accurately characterized, their needs can be more accurately targeted through better-informed government services and/or more knowledgeably developed private sector-provided goods and services.? Mobile Metrix is an important new player, and it deserves attention.

While still at World Resources Institute, I participated as a member of the advisory board for a UNDP project that has now yielded a report: Creating value for all: strategies for doing business with the poor.? The report makes use of an analytical framework utilizing what the UNDP calls “heat maps” – geographical representations of the conditions and needs of low-income communities residing therein.? While still a relatively crude tool — it uses some of the same household surveys that were employed in TN4B, and these surveys fall short in many aspects — the heat maps do represent a significant step forward in efforts to better characterize the BoP.? The theory and methodology of heat maps is described in a UNDP paper here.? The heat maps attempt to move the reasonably well-developed field of poverty mapping beyond its former boundaries – a tool used largely for poverty economists and statisticians -and into the real world of markets and business enterprise. ?

So, what’s my other reason for this blog post, besides a bias toward others moving ahead with what we previously started? Well, it’s my belief that the advanced industrial countries will suffer for years to come from the catastrophic collision of the “financial” economy with the “real” economy.? Emerging markets will take on increasing importance to the private sector because their economies are more real than financial.? And while developing economies surely will suffer (especially those that are export-led), they may suffer less in relative terms, and the demands of their own (BoP) populations – that is, domestic markets — will take on new importance for enterprises. Accordingly, the more businesses know about these new markets, the sooner they can do well, and do good.??