Rob Katz

Is Base of the Pyramid Mainstream? Two Sites Suggest Yes

Sara’s recent post about the mainstreaming of green investment got me thinking about the mainstreaming of base of the pyramid (BOP) trends. Is it fair to use that word for such a niche hypothesis? Two projects, both with new web sites, suggest that it may be.

Enterprise for a Sustainable World and the BOP Protocol are both outgrowths of Stuart Hart’s BOP center of excellence based at Cornell University. (Full disclosure: World Resources Institute is an institutional partner in both projects.) E4SW, as the first is called, is a recently-formed non-profit group headed up by Stu to undertake ?action research, education, and organizational change for corporations (as well as governments and NGOs) interested in transformation toward sustainability.? They?re not the first group to do this, but an excerpt of their mission statement leads me to believe that they might be onto something bigger and better:

We believe that leapfrogging to inherently clean technologies through disruptive business models at the base of the pyramid can enable companies to confront directly the two biggest problems facing humanity: poverty and global-scale environmental degradation. These also provide the basis for the repositioning and growth that will be needed for companies to thrive in the future.

This two-sentence excerpt effectively sums up much of Hart’s research and writing–some of which can be found in the E4SW Papers section. His staff includes NextBillion members/allies Patrick Donohue and Justin DeKoszmovszky, both of whom have a wealth of on-the-ground BOP experience. Keep an eye on these guys–they?re doing great things. (Patrick’s off to India shortly to work with Solae’s BOP project).

The other site I think of when ?mainstream? comes up is the BOP Protocol. For a long time, the Protocol had a bare-bones web site, but it’s recently been re-launched and is a good bookmark for those interested in BOP strategy. While E4SW is more general in tone, the Protocol helps companies build ?native capability?–the ability to work in local BOP settings. How? Using social anthropology and something called Participatory Rural Appraisal, it seeks out new business opportunities and models already embedded in the local cultural infrastructure through ?co-creation.? The key to co-creation is, according to the Protocol, listening and two-way value creation. This all sounds mighty soft for a multinational’s ears, but a quick peek at the Partners section shows that some big firms are already listening.

Is BOP mainstream? Not yet–a quick look at the Wikipedia definition shows us just how far we have to go. But what E4SW and the BOP Protocol show us is that individuals and companies are carving out space where profit and poverty alleviation meet. There’s a lot of new research, education, and action going on out there. The momentum’s building, but there’s much yet left undone. Exciting times…

(For a more complete list of BOP initiatives, blogs, links, consulting firms, and other resources, check out the Links section)