Scott Anderson

IDB Launches First of its Kind BoP LA, Caribbean Forum

BASE: The 1st Forum for the Development of the Base of the Pyramid in Latin America and the Caribbean, is set for June 27-28 in Sao Paulo Brazil. It’s the first such forum of its kind from the Inter-American Development Bank. I caught up with Luiz Ros, manager for Opportunities for the Majority at the IDB (and a member of the NextBillion Advisory Board), to talk about the conference and the explosive growth throughout Latin America in BoP ventures and opportunities. This is IDB’s first forum on the Base of the Pyramid (BOP) in Latin America and the Caribbean. What factors led IDB to decide now was a good time to host such a conference?

Ros: When the IDB launched the Opportunities for the Majority initiative, base of the pyramid business models were just barely getting started in Latin America. Our mandate was to determine whether the private sector could in fact play a significant role in development if they launched BOP business models. Now, just a few years later, we’ve built up a diverse and innovative portfolio, having invested some $160 million in 24 projects in a variety of sectors. We’re at the point where we are starting to be able to measure impact, and within the next year we expect to have returns on our investments that will make our work self-sustaining. We’re taking on larger projects, with multinational companies like PepsiCo and CEMEX. So the time seemed right to share the lessons we’ve learned in our work so far, introduce some other leaders in the field we’ve come to know, and recommit ourselves to being even more ambitious and innovative in the years to come. Additionally why is Sao Paulo, Brazil an appropriate location for a conference about developing BOP companies and markets?

Ros: I’m a proud Brazilian who is very excited to bring this first BASE Forum to my home country, but that’s not the only reason. Brazil has all the conditions you find elsewhere in Latin America-we have urban favelas, rural agricultural areas, remote indigenous communities. With our history of inequality, recent economic growth and presidential commitment to addressing the problems of poverty, Brazil is an ideal example of why this work is so important. For one thing, Brazilian government programs like the “Bolsa Familia” have helped millions of Brazilians move out of extreme poverty and start to enter the middle classes. So the question now is: what can the private sector do to help sustain that upward mobility? And, how can this be done in a way that benefits both the companies and the people at the base of the pyramid?

Also, our private sector is growing so fast there are not enough qualified workers to fill the jobs being created-and I mean on all levels, from construction workers to middle managers to CEOs. We’ll have a panel focusing on what we call “the talent blackout” and how some companies are responding with really interesting training programs. Of course, all of these questions are not unique to Brazil, they apply to our entire region, and indeed to the whole world. The panelists announced for the conference represent banking, investment and various industry communities. What issues relevant to BOP markets throughout Latin America will these speakers be addressing?

Ros: Our panels will examine all the issues that are most important to the base of the pyramid throughout the region, including housing, educational opportunities, health care, financial inclusion, closing the digital divide and more. In some areas, Latin America is leading the way in developing private sector solutions, in others we have a lot to learn from successful projects in Africa and Asia. We designed this conference to have a broad scope and both showcase things we are doing well in Latin America, and shed some light on places where we need to do better. Who should attend this conference and why?

Ros: Anyone interested in learning more about BOP business models, whether they are corporate executives, social entrepreneurs, impact investors, nonprofit leaders, international development experts or government officials. One of the most exciting things about this field is that it brings together all these sectors. We are still building the “ecosystem” that will help these business models thrive, and everyone is welcome. The main thing we hope to show through the BASE Forum is that BOP business models are not abstract ideas in academic journals-there are companies throughout the world who are already making them part of their core business practices, and are finding great success in doing so. Companies that don’t follow suit are missing out on the opportunity to grow their businesses by helping change lives. There is nothing else like it.

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Base of the Pyramid