After more than two years of planning, writing, and editing, the new base of the pyramid (BoP) book spearheaded by WDI’s Ted London and Stuart Hart is in bookstores. Click here to visit the book website.
“Next Generation Business Strategies for the Base of the Pyramid: New Approaches for Mutual Value” features chapters written by some of the top thought and practice leaders in the BoP space – “true pioneers in the field,” as Hart called them. In all, the book is a collection of the latest strategies and research in the field to spur new thinking about market development and innovation.
The book is a “really coherent package that helps advance this whole story ,” Hart said. “It’s exciting because it takes the whole discussion to a new level.”
London said it has been 10 years since C.K. Prahalad’s book “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” generated enthusiasm from the business and poverty alleviation sectors interested in building viable and scalable ventures to serve the four billion consumers, producers, and entrepreneurs who make up the poorest people in the world.
“We thought it was time for a rethink or a reset,” he said. “The focus has been on, ‘How do we find a fortune at the base of the pyramid?’ That led the debate down to some increasingly unproductive questions like, ‘How big is this fortune?’ and ‘Are businesses good or bad for the poor?’
“We think that’s not where the domain needs to go,” London said. “We thought it’s much better to think about, ‘How do we create a fortune with the base of the pyramid?’”
A Long Journey
London and Hart sent out an exploratory email to a group of peers and colleagues to gauge interest in writing a new BoP book in early fall 2008 and received unanimous support.
In May 2009, the authors convened in Ann Arbor and engaged in spirited discussions about various BoP topics and developed a set of central themes for the book. They also came to a shared agreement on the mapping of the book chapters.
After a few months of writing, the authors returned to Ann Arbor in October. There, 100 leaders from the private, non-profit, development, foundation, and academic sectors listened as the authors presented their collective thinking. The attendees provided feedback to the authors.
In addition to London and Hart, the authors are: Allen Hammond (Ashoka); Jacqueline Novogratz (Acumen Fund); Robert Kennedy (WDI); Erik Simanis (Cornell Univ.); Madhu Viswanathan (Univ. of Illinois); and Patrick Whitney (Illinois Institute of Technology).
The book is dedicated to Prahalad, who was part of the book project but died before completing his chapter.
“What’s important for me around this book particularly is that in many ways it’s an homage to C.K. Prahalad, who has had such an enormous impact on so many of us, including me,” Novogratz said. “So there’s a lot of thought and a lot of him in this book.”
Co-Creating At The BoP
The book’s ideas of mutual value creation and best approaches frame the discussion around not whether businesses are good or bad for the poor, but how to make them better for the poor.
“Next Generation Business Strategies for the Base of the Pyramid” shows how to create a fortune with strategies for building successful business ventures, creating sustainable business ecosystems, designing new technologies with the BoP in mind, and even transforming entire sectors with collaborative entrepreneurship. These new tactics also will open doors for poverty-alleviation and green technology implementation. The book advises business leaders, entrepreneurs, and policy-makers in creative and strategic thinking, mapped out through the three core concepts: Roadmaps for Success; Strategic Opportunities; and Effective Implementation.
The “roadmaps” section focuses on the different steps ventures need to take as they move through the design, implementation, and sustainability aspects. These include cross-sector partnerships, the capabilities needed for these partnerships, and how to create competitive advantage. The section also looks at what innovation at the BoP means, and how it differs from innovation at the top of the pyramid markets.
The second section looks at strategic challenges and opportunities. These include co-generating businesses effectively with the communities ventures are looking to serve, as opposed to “air-dropping” in solutions. Another is how to create new markets rather than assuming a venture is entering an existing one, “because the BoP is more an act of market creation,” Hart said.
Another challenge is environmental.
“If we generate all this new economic activity at the BoP, how do we ensure that we leap to the inherently clean and environmentally-sustainable technology of tomorrow rather than taking ourselves down the path to environmental oblivion?” Hart said.
The final section answers “three vexing questions” for BoP entrepreneurs, London said.
One is what strategies are needed to gain a deep understanding of this BoP context. Another is what is needed to design for a marketplace that may not be understood and doesn’t look like the markets that an entrepreneur has served previously.
The third centers on sustainability and scalability.
“How do we take ideas and make them sustainable and then think about scalability on a regional, national, and transnational approach?” London said.
The end of the book looks at potential future obstacles, including how to equip existing organizations to launch BoP ventures, and how to encourage and incent this type of venture.
Hart said he and London “fully recognize” that the book “is an important next step forward but it’s not the end of the road.”
“We think the base of the pyramid domain has immense possibilities for both the business and poverty alleviation sectors,” London said. “We hope people enjoy this book and join us on this journey as we think about what the next generation strategies are for base of the pyramid.”
The book is available at bookstores and online at Amazon.