I had this book on my reading list for two years as it is at the crossroads of my previous education in international management and my new one in sustainability. So I took the opportunity of my break between quarters to actually read this one.
How could Business alleviate global poverty while making money ? By innovating and catering to the needs of the Worlds’poorest, the billions of people live with less than two dollars a day and need to have their basic needs ( food, water, shelter, health… ) met.
Helping poor people via international NGOs is fine and good but in most cases it does not address the cause of the problem. Letting all these people become customers makes more sense as it empowers them to get out of poverty. So Business need to provide them cheap yet great solutions.
Innovation is front and center of this approach. You just can’t take the products used in the West and bring them to the poorest countries. Small daily doses for shampoo and soap allow people to stay clean at a small cost. Solar panels and mobiles phones enable them to have electricity and communications.
The author, C. K. Prahalad ( 1941 – 2010 ) was Indian and this shows with the many examples presented throughout the book. Two of the are just reinventing global healthcare.
The Jaipur foot and the Aravind Eye Care Systems offer affordable if not free prosthetics and cataract treatment ( respectively ), and show how India – yes, this India – can lower costs dramatically without sacrificing to Quality.
Other examples in this book include great ideas on e-governance, affordable housing in Mexico with CEMEX, retail in Brazil with Casa Bahia and many more including iodized salt and many more.
The book concludes by stating that this business model will be succesful when the pyramid will have morphed into a diamond, with the poorest having joined a huge global middle class. This totally resonates with the opinion expressed by Thomas L Friedman in Hot, Flat and Crowded.
Ten years after its publication this book is still a masterpiece and a must read either from a Business standpoint or from a Sustainability one. Read it !
Grade : 8 out of 10.
Image credits : book cover and Flickr, Camp Hill in India.