Jenara Nerenberg

President Obama and the Agenda for the Base of the Pyramid

ObamaNot much has been written here on about the election of Barack Obama to the American Presidency, as our news scope centers on base of the pyramid approaches to development in developing countries. However, I felt compelled to link the two together as we near Inauguration day tomorrow, January 20th, so here it goes.

Obama has a huge opportunity to transform how international aid is designated and distributed and I hope that he will convene a dedicated and experienced team to re-think and re-do the United States’ current model of foreign aid. The most recent statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) indicate that in 2005 the United States issued 27.6 billion dollars in official development assistance. While the U.S. funnels much-needed money into developing countries to assist with meeting basic needs such as water sanitation, education, and healthcare services, I’m always left wondering how we can better direct funds. What would happen if the U.S. channeled more funds into microfinance initiatives and small and medium enterprises and made BoP economies more attractive to multinational companies? Wouldn’t our stated goals of helping developing countries develop be better achieved by adjusting how and to which agencies we distribute funds? Meeting basic needs is undoubtedly important and should remain, but for countries to develop beyond meeting basic needs, or to empower local people to help meet those basic needs sustainably and profitably, a shift in paradigm is needed.

With this in mind, I wanted to highlight a few developments as well as resources available to help you make your “development through enterprise” voices heard. The link between Obama’s administration, international development, social innovation, and business at the base of the pyramid is thus a fitting topic to discuss here at

First, I want to point out the proposed Social Investment Fund Network and Social Entrepreneurship Agency for Non-Profits as described on the official transition website for Obama and Biden, While the latter clearly focuses on non-profits, the first is described as using “federal seed money to leverage private sector funding to improve local innovation, test the impact of new ideas, and expand successful programs to scale.” While much of the language and initiatives may be geared toward domestic issues, I’m optimistic that the mere presence of ideas about social entrepreneurship and private sector-led innovation is a good start for such ideas to spread into other offices in the Obama Administration, particularly those dealing with foreign aid and foreign policy.

Also on is the newly-created Citizens Briefing Book (CBB), a social media platform for people to present their ideas for change to Obama. The CBB is an interactive platform where the top-rated ideas get presented to President Obama. If you want to see international aid more effectively distributed to help countries develop sustainably, go to and write to Obama about your idea. Then, rally people behind your cause and get them to vote!

Another development is (not, a site dedicated to helping launch American and global causes and new non-profits. recently launched an “Ideas for Change” competition, of which “global poverty” was a core category. Similar but unrelated to the competition, the competition was about getting people to submit their top priorities to Obama on day one in office, get people to vote on the ideas, and the top ten would be launched as full-fledged media campaigns with the support of MySpace and other social media websites.

One of the primary bloggers on is 24-year old Nathaniel Whittemore, who is also the Founding Director of the Center for Global Engagement at Northwestern University. He has blogged on about the need to make social entrepreneurship a core office and core priority in Obama’s administration.

Interested in getting involved and learning more about Obama’s plans for social entrepreneurs? Check out Patrick O’Heffeman’s post on Socialedge from November 2008. Also, NextBillion allies Paul Hudnut and Zahid Torres-Rahman have blogged about the link between Obama and effective action against global poverty and both present interesting ideas for better use of foreign aid funds.

With the above sites and resources in mind, I hope I’ve successfully made the case for the immense relevancy of the new United States President, Barack Obama, to agenda and community. Let’s not only recognize the historic moment we are in, but also take an active role in encouraging the Obama-Biden Administration to re-consider the American model of international aid and focus more on efforts that move beyond meeting basic needs to helping countries thrive and develop sustainably through business and innovation at the base of the pyramid.