Rob Katz

Guest Post: Niti Bhan from the Helsinki Bottom of the Pyramid Conference

Niti BhanGuest blogger Niti Bhan has been developing and implementing new market strategies for both the developed and developing world for almost two decades. An established author and speaker, her research interests include the challenge of designing effective business and transaction models intended for those with irregular and unpredictable incomes.

The Emerging Futures Lab is a small, multidisciplinary team that aims to increase the understanding the people at the base of the pyramid across the developing world in order to improve the success rate of new ventures, products and services intended to serve this market in a holistically beneficial manner.?

By Niti BhanThe Sustainable Innovations at the Base of the Pyramid conference at the Helsinki School of Economics has just concluded this afternoon on a very uplifting note. Dr. Minna Halme of the HSE, co-chair along with Dr. Prabhu Kandachar of TU Delft, made some closing remarks that reminded us all why exactly we were focusing on those who are underserved and overlooked at the base of the pyramid – to improve their wellbeing. Halme pointed out that it was far more important to listen to those at the BoP and focus on improving their well being in a sustainable manner than to get diverted by debates on increasing consumerism, scarcer resources and the umpteen billions who all wanted the good life.

Helsinki BoP graphic

It was an unusual conference experience, one where every speaker, every delegate who asked questions and the majority of the conversations centered on putting people first. The needs of the ’users’ that is, those at the BoP whom these programs and products, services and schemes are meant to serve were paramount; it was felt that any activity planned or intended for this audience must be founded on ethics and integrity.

A number of speakers criticized C.K. Prahalad’s focus on the fortune, even as they acknowledged their debt to him for highlighting this hitherto unnoticed, yet significant segment of the world’s population. They felt that business models and approaches needed to be sustainable – not simply in terms of the environment and waste but also in that they were able to continue without the need for aid or funding. However, the criticism was directed at the fact that Prahalad’s emphasis on the fortune itself was rarely questioned thus giving rise to concepts of “millions sold” or “high volumes, low margins” – valid, in and of themselves – but rarely considered in the context of what it actually meant in terms of natural resources and environmental conditions when you set out to create another 4 billion consumers.

The most balanced approach to this conflict between resource minimization and benefit maximization came from the presentation by Burcu Tuncer of the UNEP/ Wuppertal Institute Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP) who spoke on Human Development through the Market Approach.

A summary of insightful observations on the BoP market and consumer from the various companies and speakers will follow in future posts.