Midday Newsfeed

  • BoP Energy and beyond: BP has built a new stove for the BoP market that produces much fewer emissions than the typical wood burning stoves. Scaling up, the government predicts that by 2017, 10% of total transport fuel will come from biofuels. In order to improve public transportation in Hyderbad and the surrounding area, the World Bank has decided to fund a new bus rapid transit system.
  • Microfinance: Growth of microfinance has been shown to be fastest in the Eastern part of the country while it has the strongest presence in the South. We wrote about it already here, but ACCESS’ partnership with Hindustan Unilever to provide potable water has been picked up by Microcapital.org.
  • Education 2.0: Shital spoke before on the use of technology to democratize education. Now the CEO of Digital Media Convergence Ltd has said that education will be the driving force behind the adoption of IPTV.
  • Healthcare: Despite efforts by government to help communities defray the cost of healthcare, most people still find themselves fronting the costs of such procedures and tests. The central government has amended the law regarding organs transplanted from cadavers.
  • Culture: A small, indigenous group in Maharashtra continues to fight to preserve their mother tongue and heritage. In another story, one of the poorest communities in Assam has taken to international standards to help them emerge from poverty.

InternetSpeech – The New Digital Genie?

In a recent interview with Fortune Magazine, Muhammad Yunus beautifully articulated his dream of a “Digital Aladdin’s Lamp”, which would provide poor women around the world with access to global markets and trends for local benefit:

“A genie comes out of it and asks, ‘What can I do for you, ma’am?’ And she says ‘I make these baskets but nobody buys them.’ And the lamp says ‘I will find somebody to buy it.’ And the lamp comes back with buyers. She doesn’t know about a keyboard or a computer. She just asks questions of the genie.”

Sound like a fantasy?  Well, it seems we aren’t so far from realizing Yunus’ dream.  How?

Previously, we wrote about the “Question Box,” which aims to “bring some of the benefits of the information on the Internet to places that are too remote or poor to sustain a live Internet link.”  Now, there is another access point for the BoP – audible internet accessible over the phone (developed by InternetSpeech).  Let me say that again – internet access over the phone, no literacy, keyboards, or screens necessary.

It seems that new trends in mobile phone technology are ushering in a new era of connectivity, access, knowledge, and power for the rural and urban poor.  Can you imagine what the future holds?

Imagine a farmer in a remote village using her voice and her $20 People’s Phone (which only works as a phone and doesn’t even have a screen to send or receive text messages) to check market information via Reuters, and then log onto an eBay-like market to offer her crafts.

A few hours later, she could log listen to the bids received and settle a transaction through e-mail.

Sound too good to be true?  Click here to listen to a demo.

Source:  NextBillion

Quarter billion internet capable phones by 2010

Previously we wrote about how India is positioned to have the 2nd most mobile phone users behind China. Well now, ThinkChange India has discovered some better statistics underpinning this trend. According to WATBlog.com, 250 million Indians will have internet capable cell phones by 2010. The article continues to breakdown the user base even further. The post estimates that:

  • 60 million people will be able to watch video on their phones
  • 100 million will be able to listen to music
  • 200 million will have radio capability
  • 250 million will have built-in cameras

The article also was cautious to note that simply having such capabilities will not mean much unless the actual data usage plans to utilize such features are affordable to this consumer base. Nevertheless, we have seen the push to utilize mobile phones as the primary platform to reach the BoP market, and so such stats are promising.

World Bank Executive Development Program – Inclusive and Sustainable Business: Creating Markets with the Poor

What are the “linkages between corporate strategy and development”?  How can public and corporate sector leaders implement strategies that provide opportunities for the world’s 4 billion people to lift themselves out of poverty?  The World Bank Institute has recently launched an “Executive Development Program” to help company managers and public sector leaders develop sustainable, yet profitable business models in emerging markets:

This unique program offers you insights to build corporate strategies that fight poverty while delivering profits. An innovative learning model will encourage you to learn how your organization can not only meet the bottom line, but develop working business models that include the world’s poor as investors, producers, sellers and buyers. Specifically, you will:

  • Gain a unique interdisciplinary perspective on how to align social and environmental issues with corporate strategy and develop successful business models in low income markets.
  • Explore how global trends, global imbalances, and global opportunities affect corporate strategy as well as the broader development objective of reaching the “4 Billion” at the base of the pyramid.
  • Identify the gaps in existing market institutions which may be acting as barriers to growth and understand how to overcome them.
  • Learn interdisciplinary approaches to complex issues including the elements of good governance and accountability, cross-sectoral partnerships, and measuring impact.
  • Capture lessons from relevant project experience and corporate initiatives that could be applied within your organization.

The curriculum/program includes topics such as: 1) Global Trends, Imbalances, and Opportunities: Reaching the “4 Billion”; 2) Aligning Corporate Strategy with the Development Agenda; 3) Promoting Good Governance; 4) The Role of Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships; and 5) Measuring Impact.   The “face-to-face” component of the program will be held in Washington, DC from June 9-13, and the “distance learning component” will be held from June 16-30, 2008. 

Want to learn more?  Go here.  Or apply here

Source:  World Business Council for Sustainable Development

Over the weight limit …

Anyone who has flown recently can relate to the frantic attempt to remove clothing, shoes and other packed items from your suitcase in order to meet the weight requirement that is draconiously enforced upon unsuspecting passengers. In a similar fashion, here are some additional articles that may be of interest that I could not fit into my op-ed below.

  • Nextbillion.net’s Francisco Noguerra wrote about how existing corporate knowhow can strategically benefit BoP buisnesses scale up to the next level.
  • From Nextbillion as well, a discussion over how to form one’s social venture and the decision of becoming a for-profit, non-profit or both
  • Not content with simple indexes, one visionary is trying to build a social stock exchange. Source: Xigi.net

Fair & Lovely, and may be a little bit of Dignity

Derek Newberry, a blogger at Nextbillion has a very interesting post on Ethics in the BOP Market. He uses the case of Fair & Lovely, the skin whitening cream marketed in India by Hindustan Lever, the Indian subsidiary of Unilever. The company has constantly used a advertising strategy that depicts women of darker complexion as being inferior (the most controversial being such women being unable to find a suitable groom). Derek posted this Fair and Lovely ad, which uses a similar strategy as mentioned above.

BoP critics like Aneel Karnani (University of Michigan, Ross School of Business Professor) have used the Fair & Lovely example to show how companies make ethical sacrifices in marketing products and services to the poor. His paper “Doing Well By Doing Good – Case Study: ‘Fair & Lovely’ Whitening Cream” can be found here.

Derek proposes a simple two-point framework to deal with such ethical challenges in working with BoP markets (He calls it the BoP Litmus test):

  1. Dignity: Does this activity tap into BoP markets in a dignified manner? The BoP hypothesis, after all, is all about treating the BoP with dignity by including them in the global marketplace, so does the business model treat the BoP with dignity or exploit insecurities and race/class divisions?
  2. Sustainability: Does this activity align with a vision for a future economic system that is environmentally sound? Or is it at least not clearly a major detriment to the Earth’s resources?

I think for many traditionally profit-minded organizations, its a tough test to pass, especially with regard to the products and services that they are pushing into the BoP markets. Fair & Lovely has played in well to exploit the race/color insecurities that has plagued Indian society for centuries, to sell skin ‘whitening’ creams. I guess one of the comments by a youtube viewer after viewing the video sums it all up – “this is just wrong on so many levels”

If you build it (a map), they will come (and build solar panels)

There are few things hotter than BoP. One of them may be renewable energy, particularly solar (no pun intended) and wind. Well one would imagine that anything that combines these two fields of unusually high interest that there would be a flourish of activity on the ground. Not so fast argues Kenneth Westrick, CEO of energy consulting group 3Tier, who says the real thing the field of BoP renewable energy needs is more information.

To respond to this need, 3Tier has created an interactive map that visualizes the best areas to build renewable energy plants all over the world. Nextbillion writes:

Ken contended that what the renewable energy sector really needs right now to successfully tap BoP markets is a map. In particular, the online map that 3Tier launched on Monday – this technology will utilize the most recent available research to show in any given 5 km space anywhere in the world the viability of wind and solar energy based on how much sun or wind that area is exposed to on a regular basis.

This effort by 3Tier intends to map the entire world in only the less than two year to prove to potential investors that numerous opportunities for scalable investments exist throughout the world’s emerging economies. Such efforts that are global in scope provide some hope that the developing world could actually achieve the same leapfrogging with energy that they did with mobile phones (key word some).