Martin Herrndorf

Mastering the Inclusive Markets Research Challenge

There is big excitement and delight in studying businesses targeting the “Base of the Pyramid”. Still, while thousands of researchers spend their time in dusty academic offices thinking how traditional business can be best run, the number of researchers probing their skills of inquiry, analysis and theory building in this field is rather small. Does the lack of acceptance for new topics in mainstream academia, or the challenging conditions for gathering data in developing economies hold the field back?

To explore these issues, fifteen PhD students and recent PhD graduates that target the “next billion” as a research challenge gathered for the one-week oikos UNDP Young Scholars Development Academy 2009 in Kaubad, Switzerland from the 6th to the 11th of December, 2009. They were brought together by the oikos Foundation and UNDP’s Growing Inclusive Markets initiative to discuss the state of their research and avenues to move forward. The Mercator Foundation Switzerland also sponsored the event.

As they key part of the academy, participants presented study proposals and first research results that were extensively discussed. Examples include

  • Kevin McKague, from the Schulich School of Business in Canada, who explores the “dominant logics” in developing and developed markets, by taking a look at interactions in value chains. Similarly, Myrtille Danse, from the Rotterdam School of Management, explores how business can become “locally embedded” to link up with entrepreneurs in poor environments.
  • Markus Taussig from the Harvard Business School, asks how equity investors in developing countries shall specialise in industries and countries – or build a broad portfolio
  • Sourav Mukherji, from the IIM Bangalore, explores how health care can best be delivered to the poor – making it not only available, but also accessible and affordable.

Other participants focused on corporate strategies to reach the BoP (François Perrot, Misagh Tasavori, Paula Linna and Martin Herrndorf), entrepreneurship (Sulaman Hafeez Siddiqui, Ulf Richter, Sacha Lawrence, Tobias Lorenz), cross-sectoral partnerships (Jacob Ravn) or evaluation (Saurabh Lall).

Four faculty members attended the event to provide feedback and engage in discussions. Both anthropologist and business school professor, Ana Maria Peredo provided insights based on her extensive work with local cooperatives and community-based enterprises across developing countries. Jonathan Doh, a professor in international business, provided input on how to anchor new and innovative research in classic theory and research. Ashok Som, teaching international business at the ESSEC in Paris, provided his insights into cross-cultural international business research. And Murdith McLean, a philosophy professor with broad interest in development theorising and research, helped the participants dive deeper into the assumptions underlying their research.

Notable was the broad range of experiences of the participants. Some have spent years living and working in developing countries. Even today, few are “pure academics” – but involved in BoP through working with leading players like New Ventures, being employed by large private companies or by starting up their own initiatives. While being heavily involved with your research topic can lead to hands-on experience, participants also critically discussed conflicting roles and expectations, and how to deal with them.

Academics like CK Prahalad or Stuart Hart have played leading roles in stimulating the “BoP Movement” – which role can the next academic generation play to push the sector forward? oikos and UNDP are looking forward to run a joint young scholars academy in 2010. A Call for Paper will be revealed on NextBillion, so stay tuned!