Money to be made at the bottom of the pyramid
Those 50 ml sachets of shampoos make an excellent business model, as Indian consumer goods companies would readily attest to. Prahalad argues how a low-cost high-volume business model allows capitalism to solve the problem of global poverty.
He is a fierce critic of traditional top-down thinking on aid, by governments and non-governmental organisations alike. They tend to see the poor as victims to be helped, he says, not as people who can be part of the solutionâ€”and so their help often creates dependency. Nor does he pin much hope on the â€œcorporate social responsibilityâ€ (CSR) programmes of many large companies. If you want serious commitment from a firm, he says, its involvement with the poor â€œcan’t be based on philanthropy or CSRâ€. The involvement of big business is crucial to eradicating poverty, he believes, but BOP markets must â€œbecome integral to the success of the firm in order to command senior management attention and sustained resource allocation.â€
Mr Prahalad reckons that there are huge potential profits to be made from serving the 4 billion-5 billion people on under $2 a dayâ€”an economic opportunity he values globally at $13 trillion a year. The win for the poor of being served by big business includes, he says, being empowered by choice and being freed from having to pay the currently widespread â€œpoverty penaltyâ€. In shanty towns near Mumbai, for example, the poor pay a premium on everything from rice to creditâ€”often five to 25 times what the rich pay for the same services. Driving down these premiums can make serving the BOP more profitable than serving the top, he argues, and points to a growing number of leading firmsâ€”from Unilever in India to Cemex in Mexico and Casas Bahia in Brazilâ€”that are profiting by doing precisely that…
Another challenge will be to persuade development experts to support a profit-driven strategy. Mr Prahalad worries that firms may be deterred from BOP strategies by fear of attracting criticism from activists. If a large international bank were to start lending to the poor at interest rates, reflecting higher risks and start-up costs, of say 20% (compared with around 10% in rich countries), â€œthe whole anti-globalisation lobby would probably be against it. Yet the alternative is for the poor to borrow at 500% from a money lender. Whose side are the activists on?â€ If you are on the side of the poor, he says, â€œsurely you need to help get rates down from 500% to 20%. After that, you can work on getting them from 20% to 10% like in the rich world.â€ [The Economist]