Rob Katz

Immune to Criticism? Hawken and Elkington on the BOP

John’s discovery of Value and subsequent post prompted me to probe a bit deeper into the site. First of all, it’s nice to see a business magazine that has the phrase ?Tomorrow’s Markets? in the sub-title. Nicer still is that Value provides content of…well, value. Take for instance this excellent interview, The Global Economy’s Immune System, conducted by John Elkington with Paul Hawken, the noted environmentalist and businessman.

Their conversation gets right to the point, and Hawken expresses some serious criticism of the bottom of the pyramid hypothesis. Excerpts:

I?m also more than a little concerned about the thinking that there are three billion new consumers out there, that the next big thing is the ?bottom of the pyramid.? From the view of the global south that is not trained in corporations and business schools, it smacks of colonialism and imperialism all over again… It is about this idea that we can open up the bottom of the pyramid to a flood of Western-made goods that will vault them into the lower to middle classes. But then what? What the poor want are rights, not foil packets. I hope that you take these issues head on.

Strong words from a well-respected author. Is Hawken missing some key insights into the BOP, or is he latching onto the tired criticism of Prahalad’s work? I think that it’s easy to take the HLL example out of context, but would agree that capitalism for capitalism’s sake isn?t going to alleviate poverty or help us live more sustainably. I suppose I fall somewhere in the center: we can?t ignore business but to champion the cause of capitalism all the time ignores key issues around sustainability. I think Stuart Hart does an admirable job trying to tie these seemingly contrasting themes together in Capitalism in the Crossroads, which Hawken doesn?t mention. What else has he hit on, and where else has he missed?