Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

The title ‘Fortune at the bottom of the Pyramid’ is a rather counter-intuitive title, hinting at the poor of the world being a source of money. But this is exactly what this book is about. It not only introduces, but proves conclusively, that there is a lot of money to be made serving the bottom 80% of the world. Written by Dr. C. K. Prahalad, Professor of Corporate Strategy and International Business at University of Michigan Business School, this book appeared on the scene and took the business world by storm, being a revolutionary, eye-opener. The book starts with an interesting statistic: nine countries-China, India, Brazil, Mexico, Russia, Indonesia, Turkey, South Africa, and Thailand – collectively have a GDP of $12.5 trillion, larger than the GDP of Japan, Germany, France, Italy, and the UK combined. This proves beyond doubt that the world will be wise to note the emergence of economic opportunities in the bottom of the pyramid [BOP].

Comprehensiveness is the best part of this book. It is heartening to read a book dealing with issues of poverty, development and social inclusion and not just asking difficult questions. Dr. Prahalad has taken the effort to research every scenario and provided solutions in the form of locally successful implementations where possible or at least an economically sound roadmap. The book is in three parts: Part 1 develops a framework for the active engagement of the private sector at the BOP and “the changes that all players—the large firm, NGOs, governmental agencies, and the poor themselves—must accept to make this process work.” Part II describes 12 cases, in a wide variety of businesses, where the BOP has become an active market and the practices which lead to this success. Part III consists of 100+ hours of video footage as video stories on a CD through Peru, Brazil, Nicaragua, Mexico, and India. Another proof of the completeness of this book is the fact that it deals with all issues related to the poor, including the viewpoints of companies reluctant to venture into “poor markets”, NGOs and social transformation and even the problem of corruption, all with remedies.

This book also addresses some of the myths which are prevalent. Quoting cases from India, the author proves that the poor too care about brands, and are more than ready to pay for quality goods. Stressing the point that the poor may not be able to spare a lot of money for goods, but their sheer numbers more than make up, he presents two excellent cases of Jaipur Foot and the Aravind Eye Care System, which, by specialization in what they do and a lean operating model, provide services at ridiculously low prices and are actually making profits. These case studies are a welcome breeze of hope about revolutionary practices addressing poverty giving poor people the products, services and dignity they deserve.

A lot of new measures are prescribed in this book, and the author readily admits, that we have “a long way to go before the social transformation of inequalities around the world will be accomplished”. The book is full of cases, statistics, numbers and even graphs, and is a bit long at almost 400 pages, so it might not appeal to everyone. However, countries and businesses are slowly taking note of this bottom 80%, and the reader will be at an advantage to understand and be a part of this movement, one that will change the way the world looks at the poor. The quality of research and writing make it a must read for anyone even remotely interested or curious about a for-profit, sustainable solution for poverty.

Yashaswi Sankrityayan

[Image courtesy:]