Guy Pfeffermann

Tools for Teaching About Business at the BoP: Initiative seen as a way to raise students’ awareness of the potential in developing countries

A few years back I was fortunate to sit in on a presentation by the late C.K. Prahalad who, together with Stuart L. Hart, published the seminal 2002 article “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.” Professor Prahalad put a slide on the screen of a typical Indian village. It looked somewhat like the photo accompanying this post.

As Professor Prahalad intended, the word “poverty” flashed through our minds. He then pointed to the calf, to the metal pot, to the woven materials drying in the sun, the tire, the discarded plastic bottles – all evidence that this village was not without purchasing power.

Since then the base – or bottom – of the pyramid (BoP) has become a familiar concept. As NextBillion readers are well aware, it refers to the fact that while people at the bottom of the income scale have little purchasing power, they are in most developing countries so numerous that, together, they represent a sizable market, hence opportunities for imaginative companies and entrepreneurs.

Last October the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) convened government officials, business school deans and senior faculty, as well as representatives of civil society, business and philanthropy, on the occasion of their biannual World Investment Forum, and launched the Business Schools for Impact (BSI) initiative. The Global Business School Network (GBSN) is partnering with UNCTAD in the BSI initiative.

While UNCTAD’s mandate includes investment and sustainable development, BSI focuses particularly on teaching skills to build businesses at the BoP. BSI is a platform for business schools worldwide to develop and share teaching materials, experience and ideas.

The site is up and running, and offers a growing body of course materials and case studies from top institutions. BSI also offers internship opportunities, thanks notably to partnership with EMPRETEC, an UNCTAD program that has trained more than 300,000 aspiring entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs, small businesses, young people and employees of large public or private firms in 34 countries. It is one of the aims of the initiative eventually to build a full-fledged integrated Global Impact Master program.

BSI’s other partners include CEMS; The Case Center; OIKOS International; University of St. Gallen, a member of GBSN’s Executive Board; ISEA; Essex Business School; UNIL, Université de Lausanne; Riara University, Kenya; ALTIS, a GBSN member school; Tata Institute of Social Sciences; and Universidad del Pacifico, Peru.

I find it exciting that in the few months since launch, the initiative has spawned a growing community. More than 450 people from more than 170 business schools have signed up to date. Mentioning some of the teaching materials that populate the site gives a vivid idea of the quality, depth and breadth of contributions:

The site already offers more than 40 case studies that can be used in courses about BoP opportunities and challenges. I hope that BSI will encourage students and faculty of business schools around the world to show increasing interest in the intersection of business and development, and notably fascinating base of the pyramid research, cases and sharing of best practices. Anyone who doubts the power of business education for the base of the pyramid might want to look at GBSN’s 6-minute “Impact Video.”

Last but not least, I was struck by an observation at the BSI launch event. The representative of UNIL/Université de Lausanne said that besides the “BRIC countries” (Brazil, Russia, India and China), developing-world economies hardly registered at all on MBA students’ radar screens. Very few of them thought of the very real business and career opportunities that existed in the developing world. He thought that BSI would be a valuable way to raise students’ awareness of the potential and some success stories.

The initiative will be formally presented in November at GBSN’s 2016 annual conference in Manila. I am pleased that GBSN has been part of this initiative from its early stages.

Guy Pfeffermann is the founder and CEO of the Global Business School Network.

A version of this post was first published on GBSN’s Blog.

Base of the Pyramid, skill development