Sphere of Influence: BOP Circle Mexico Launches

BOP Circle LogoAmy Sprague joined WRI’s Sustainable Enterprise Program in August 2000. She is the Manager for Mexico, India, and the Andes in the New Ventures project and coordinates the New Ventures Mentoring Program.

The launch of the BOP Circle in Mexico City last week presented a window into the BOP. In the first presentation, Mauricio del Villar showed us a slice of the remote Indian villages in the Mexican State of Chihuahua where he has been living for about two years. The village does not readily accept outsiders, so Mauricio had to earn their respect and acceptance over several months. He presented many of their customs and views, showing the differences between our “Western” goals, expectations, beliefs, and timelines, and the villagers’. The effect of this presentation on the audience was clear: We have no business even getting near these villages with the products we think could improve their lives. To me, BOP initiatives belong where the market has already penetrated. Villages that are virtually removed from the market and who have a healthy distrust of outsiders would not be the place to start market-based BOP initiatives.

Next, the workshop featured three panels that included members of the BOP. This was a first for all of the attendees. Two or three people from poor communities from in or surrounding Mexico City sat with BOP “experts” and answered questions about their daily lives. Many traveled three or more hours to arrive at the venue and would have to leave early to make sure they would reach the final bus connections to their communities.In the financial services panel, neither of the two BOP participants had any financial services or knew anyone in their communities that used any. They did express a desire to have access to credit to ramp up business activity, but they were unsure what amount would be needed. In an exchange on health services, a representative from Philips asked if the communities could benefit from a mobile diagnostic health service. The answer was that it would be great, but that you won’t be able to get a truck through the streets of her community. In a reference to having access to markets, a woman gave us her take on the old adage about giving a man a fish versus teaching a man to fish; she said, “I already know how to fish. I want to fish. All I need is for you all to let me fish.

These sessions worked remarkably well. There were some very nervous participants and glitches with microphones, but some really opened up to the audience with precise deliveries of their perspectives and experiences. There were some leading questions from the other panelists (for instance, “Do you think you would like local health services“), and while some of the participants answered an expected “Yes” to these questions, others went further and gave specific points about how the additional services would revolutionize their routines.

The BOP Circle in Mexico has grown out of WRI’s New Ventures Mexico and WRI’s BOP work. The initiative recently started its own Spanish-language weblog.