Want to Help Developing Countries? Sell Them Good Stuff ? Cheap
Monday, October 4, 2010
The Tata Group, India’s version of Acme and maker of the supercheap Nano automobile, recently introduced a $22 water purifier that works without electricity or running water. (Every few months it needs a new $6 filter.) A big-hearted, philanthropic, and important effort? You bet—cue the somber stats about preventable waterborne diseases. But check out the size of the market for a product like that: Some 900 million people worldwide lack access to clean water, 200 million of them in India alone. Tata is saving lives and making a killing.
That’s why, at next year’s G-whatever meeting in France, world leaders would do well to rip up those big checks to tin-pot autocrats and channel the cash to startup companies instead. Help those companies make cheap, useful products to sell to the world’s poor, who will use them to become less poor, and everybody wins. Management guru C. K. Prahalad advocated this very idea six years ago inThe Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits, and now a few companies like Tata are putting it into action.