Creating a market among the BoP: my ethical struggles online

Its interesting for me to note that the category "Ethics" has been a part of this blog from its inception although I'll confess to not really knowing why I was adding it to the list. I've the least amount of posts in this category but here is what just might be a longish one.

I've been thinking. So what's new? That's what this blog is all about isn't it?

So anyway, I've been thinking about the ethics of creating the vestiges of consumerism among the BoP and struggling with what seems to be an immutable fact that we may need to do just that if we're to use market forces to alleviate poverty. Which this BoP thing is all about, isn't it? Otherwise we'd just be calling them the "poor" and still donating away?

Feed Africa or give Africa some disposable airtime and see what happens?

The challenge we face is that in order to offer empowering products like the Kickstart waterpump say, we need to create the market for it. People don't just suddenly figure out what's available for sale and what's good or beneficial and how to buy it, you have to show them first. And that means elements of mainsteam consumer culture must transfer across the value gap to the bop mindset too. Oh dear, and here I'd already made the assumption that the bop consumer mindset was based on values that were far more enduring than the mainstream throwaway consumer culture we sometimes notice we are in.

Where do we draw the line? And how deeply?

This entry was posted in Bottom of the pyramid/Poverty, Business, Culture & research, Design, Ethics, Marketing, Mobile platform, pay as you go economy, Strategy. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Creating a market among the BoP: my ethical struggles online

  1. patrice says:

    Love your questions. I’ve been thinking about this from the perspective of liberation theology, which (in essence) argues that God is only truly found amongst the poor/marginalized/oppressed, and that the life of Jesus reflects this.
    But many of the poor (most?) would not choose to be so. That is, they desire economic stability and strength just as do those in the middle or at the top of the economic bracket.
    So: with microcredit programs and products/services directed to BoP needs, are companies simply fulfilling existing consumerist desire, or are they creating that desire? Could it be that the desire exists (after all, the urban poor do not hunt/gather/grow their own food and must buy it, and would prefer fresh, tasty food), and all that is happening is that companies are trying to direct that desire toward their products and services?
    No answers here, just continuing the conversation … 😉

  2. Interesting questions! IMO, it’s a package deal: if markets are necessary, then marketing is necessary. Investment will only come to BOP businesses if there are viable markets: in terms of volume, if not buying power, and that means demand generation, branding, differentiation, and all the issues that come with it. Moreover, I’d argue that if modern commerce is necessary, then modern values are necessary as well. I’m not into privileging old or local ideas just because they are old or local. If they have merit, they’ll survive against the onslaught of the new and seductive. Or, they become a choice rather than a mandate – and choices are generally good.
    The good news is that there are many models of consumerism, and not all of them are as obnoxious as the American (or Japanese) variety. Sophistication spreads quickly these days. If BOP markets can leapfrog over 20th century technologies, then BOP consumers can leapfrog over outdated 20th century consumer mindsets like “planned obsolescence,” straight into sustainability. 4 billion consumers demanding greener, more sustainable, lower-impact products might be the best thing to ever happen to consumerism.

  3. Find a way to help people make a living. Create products that are tools for a sustainable lifestyle. Enable the financing to purchase those tools. Foster a market and supply chain that will allow the BoP to sell goods and services amongst themselves and to the ToP.

  4. niti bhan says:

    thanks for sharing all your thoughts in the comments. I find that I must agree with Rob here although I’d add the caveat that its not sustainability alone that must become prominent but its definitely an important part. It may not emerge as consumer behaviour in the same way, it might simply be products that are affordable and offer a better ROI – like solar lighting say – but maybe the consumer themselves don’t always know its “green” per se
    Doug, that’s more or less what the Kickstart pump is trying to do and establishing each of those steps is part of the challenge, as these are the touchpoints where mainstream consumer culture meets the “bop” mindset and/or market

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