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Tools for Teaching About Business at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Posted By Guy Pfeffermann, Monday, June 29, 2015

A few years back I was fortunate to sit in on a presentation by the late C.K. Prahalad, who, together with Stuart L. Hart, published the seminal 2002 article “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”.  Professor Prahalad put up a slide on the screen of a typical Indian village. It looked somewhat like this:

As Professor Prahalad intended, the word “poverty” flashed through our minds. He then pointed to the calf, to the metal pot, to the woven materials drying in the sun, the tire, the discarded plastic bottles, all evidence that this village was not without purchasing power. 

Since then the Base – or Bottom – of the Pyramid has become a familiar concept. It refers to the fact that while people at the bottom of the income scale have little purchasing power, they are in most developing countries so numerous that, together, they represent a sizable market, hence opportunities for imaginative companies and entrepreneurs.

Last year, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) convened government officials, business school deans and senior faculty, as well as representatives of civil society, business and philanthropy on the occasion of their biannual World Investment Forum, and launched the Business Schools for Impact (BSI) initiative.  GBSN is partnering with UNCTAD in the BSI initiative.

While UNCTAD’s mandate includes investment and sustainable development, BSI focuses particularly on teaching skills to build businesses at the Base of the Pyramid. BSI is a platform for business schools worldwide to develop and share teaching materials, experience and ideas.  Over 450 persons from more than 170 business schools have signed up to date.

The site is up and running, and offers a growing body of course materials and case studies from top institutions.  BSI also offers internship opportunities, thanks notably to partnership with EMPRETEC, an UNCTAD program that has been training over 300,000 aspiring entrepreneurs, women entrepreneurs, small businesses, young people and employees of large public or private firms in 34 countries. It is one of the aims of the initiative eventually to build a full-fledged integrated Global Impact Master program.

BSI’s other partners include CEMS; The Case Center; OIKOS International; University of St. Gallen, a member of GBSN’s Executive Board; ISEA; Essex Business School; UNIL, Université de Lausanne; Riara University, KenyaALTIS, a GBSN member school;  Tata Institute of Social Sciences;  and Universidad del Pacifico, Peru.

The initiative will be presented at GBSN’s 2016 annual conference in Manila in November.  I am pleased that GBSN has been part of this initiative from its early stages.  

Guy Pfeffermann is the Founder and CEO of the Global Business School Network

Tags:  poverty alleviation  purchasing power  UNCTAD 

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