Base of the Pyramid: Sustainable Business from the Bottom up

Thursday, March 2, 2006

Martin Fisher and Upendra Bhatt are two of the most important people you’ve never heard of. And that’s fine by them. They would rather be popular among poor Kenyans and Indians than featured in the Western press. What do they do that’s so important? They are social entrepreneurs: Fisher’s KickStart and Bhatt’s Aavishkaar harness the poor’s ingenuity and entrepreneurship to build profitable businesses serving basic needs; from efficient irrigation and kerosene stoves to IT-enabled dairy cooperatives, they work with poor communities to generate needed incomes without sacrificing social and environmental considerations along the way.

Fisher and Bhatt are part of a growing BOP (base or bottom of the economic pyramid) movement, whose common call is to alleviate poverty while generating sustainable profits for companies large and small. Poverty alleviation and profit making are rarely considered complementary activities. BOP practitioners — social entrepreneurs such as Fisher and Bhatt — seek a middle ground where the private sector’s power is brought to bear on persistent social, economic, and environmental problems.

Social entrepreneurs must be grounded in reality. The reality of rural Africa and India is that people need money to send their kids to school, buy medicines, and put food on the table. Poverty alleviation starts with income generation. And pollution-neutral income generation is the building block on which social entrepreneur-led organizations like KickStart and Aavishkaar operate.

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