The “base of the economic pyramid” or “BoP” has almost been romanticized in what it represents, both for social change and as a customer base offering a huge business opportunity. And yet, despite all the interest and hype, other than in the FMCG and microfinance sectors, there has been little to show in terms of fabulous businesses that are profitably and scaleably serving the low income masses. This, however, does not mean new opportunities do not exist. I believe strongly that many more such opportunities exist. To go after them requires a shift in approach, intent and action. It requires the mindset of building into the sea: The expanse is virtually limitless after one has understood what it takes to build on water. Businesses that are able to tap into the demand for reasonably priced essential goods and services by BoP consumers will inevitably rise to the top.
It might have to begin with imagination – envisioning the possibility of what enhancement of human potential can create. No matter what part of the pyramid you look at, there is a common human desire to better one’s lot, or at least one’s children’s lot. And for this aspiration, there is a willingness to pay a price, albeit a lower price, as we move lower down the pyramid. Imagine if we went beyond the buzz of BoP, impact, and social entrepreneurship and just focussed on the math triggered by billions of unmet needs. Now, envision the possibility of creating compelling services or products for this almost unfathomably-large number who are willing to pay a small price. It is almost impossible to imagine that businesses with this focus can or will fail.