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17 avr. 2010
A summary of thoughts around BoP concept by the likes of CK Prahalad/Aneel Karnani & AK Jaiswal (2007)
Bottom of Pyramid
The First Five Years
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• Bottom of Pyramid 2002
• Prahalad & Hart’s initial concept
• Criticism on Prahalad & Hart’s concept
• Karnani’s Base of Pyramid
• Prahalad’s response to Karnani
• Advancing the debate: reaching middle ground
• What happens next?
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Bottom of Pyramid 2002
• Prahalad & Hart faced several rejections before their paper was first published in
• The Fortune at the Bottom of Pyramid was published as a book in 2004
• In the last five years, thanks to open information access enabled by the Internet,
there are dedicated blogs, websites, research centres focusing on Bottom of
Pyramid strategies and concepts
• Open information exchange has also enabled active debates, the most high
profile one being Prahalad vs Karnani
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Bottom of Pyramid: Prahalad 2004
• 4-5 billion people live for <2$ (PPP rates) per day, and they constitute the Bottom
of the Pyramid and bear the “Poverty Penalty”
• Private Public Partnership focussed at the BoP will lead towards economic
development and poverty alleviation
• The BoP potential market is 13 trillion dollars at PPP terms
• It is possible for corporations to find innovative ways to tap into this BoP market
to increase their profits while simultaneously eradicating world poverty
• There are 12 principles for innovation which are necessary to operate within BoP
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Criticism on Prahalad’s concept
• Size of the market: The figures vary from 13 trillion $ (Prahalad) to 0.3 trillion $
• Are MNCs suited for BoP markets? (Prahalad’s most successful examples are
not for profit organisations & some SMEs
• Does simply selling to the poor reduce poverty?
• Prahalad & Hart’s BoP opportunity sees the poor as consumers only
• Assumption fallacy: MNCs can determine what BoP consumers want, they just
have to figure out a profitable way of providing it
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Amidst all of this, in 2006, a subtle shift occurred:
BoP moved from Bottom of Pyramid to Base of Pyramid
Enterprise for a Sustainable World, 2006, launched the Base of Pyramid Protocol
that advocated “deep listening & mutual dialogue” with the BoP consumers to find
out what best suits their need
As per Webster,
Bottom is the underside, the lowest part or place
Base is something that is a starting point, it supports that which is on top
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Karnani’s views on BoP
• Aneel Karnani, professor at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan
published “ Fortune at the Bottom of Pyramid: A Mirage” in April 2007 here
• Questions case studies quoted by Prahalad:
• HLL shampoo sachet: was not a BoP strategy by design, but a counter attack to reverse
• Aravind eye hospitals: Not for profit group, serviced by highly motivated team working at
much lesser salaries by choice, cross subsidises the BoP customers
• Annapurna salt: Sells at a premium of 275%, not targeted at BoP
• A poor sweeper woman “has a choice and feels empowered” because she uses Fair &
• Questions Prahalad’s estimate of BoP market and revises it to 0.3 trillion $ at
• Will selling to the poor alleviate poverty?
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Karnani’s views on BoP
• The only way to alleviate poverty is to raise the real income of the poor by :
• Lowering the prices of the goods that the poor buy
• Raise the income that the poor earn
• How do you lower/reduce prices of goods?
• Reduce profits
• Reduce costs without lowering quality
• Reduce costs by reducing quality
• Shared access of products/services
• At current levels of efficiency, business process redesign will not lead to dramatic
cost reductions without impacting quality
• Technology shifts are the only way to significantly reduce costs, but these are
limited to consumer durables and communications field, where the poor spend
only a fraction of their income
• 80% of the poor’s income is spent on food, clothing and fuel- products which
have not seen fundamental technology shift leading to huge cost reductions
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Karnani’s views on BoP
• Prahalad argues that the poor cannot be given low quality low cost products,
simply because they are poor
• What is low quality? Is it the same as poor quality?
• Can cost reduction be achieved by making the same product as low quality
Nirma was launched by an entreprenuer as a cheap (low quality) alternative to market leader Surf.
Nirma contained no active detergent, perfume or softener & was harsh to skin, but sold at one third
the price of Surf. It soon overtook Surf as the leading detergent
• Quality is a relative concept. The “Pay less get less” thought works on low quality
options as well
• Karnani advocates the need to view the poor primarily as producers, echoing
Amartya Sen’s view on improving the capacities of the poor
• If you buy from the poor rather than sell to them, income of the poor will be
raised: Amul & ITC e-choupal
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Prahalad’s Response to Karnani
• Prahalad wrote an open letter to Karnani here highlighting:
• The purpose of the BoP paper was never to accurately estimate the BoP market size
• BoP looks at both consumption and production
• Annapurna example is about difficulty of educating the poor on health benefits
• Consumption can and does increase income.
• If Aravind Hospital cures one person of blindness even by not for profit objectives, the
process releases one additional person to start working, as he was earlier confined to
taking care of the blind person. Does this lead to income generation?
Creating the capacity to consume is different from serving an existing market. Creating the
capacity to consume can increase disposable income (no different from income generation).
The debate is not about how many are really poor. It is about how to bring the benefits of global
standards at affordable prices and increase access
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Advancing the debate: Reaching Middle Ground
• Instead of treating poor as primarily consumers or primarily producers, treat them
as primary producers and selective consumers
• What is selective consumption?
• Unethical inclusion: selling tobacco to the poor because the tobacco company sees the
BoP market as a profitable market. Misplaced priorities in scarce resource allocation
(money) may lead to long term problems like lack of education, health care
• Unfortunate exclusion: Not offering medicines to a BoP customer because of the inability
of the customer to pay the price. Can you serve a BoP TB patient a sachet serving of
medicine because he cannot afford the entire medicine course?
Source: Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: An alternate perspective, IIM Ahmedabad working paper by AK Jaiswal
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What Happens Next?
• How does a corporation decide whether its participation in BoP market will be
appropriate and successful?
• Does the product serve basic needs such as health, nutrition, education etc?
• Whether the marketing communication creates platform for progressive ideas or just
complicates the priority allocation of scarce resource like disposable income
• Whether the product enhances the customer’s well being?
• Whether the product is developed keeping in mind the special needs of BoP
• Whether the product/sector creates additional jobs?
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