This post was written by Jay Kulkarni ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
I am interested in the ethical issues around climate change mitigation strategies. I found similar themes in our class examples of base-of-pyramid (BoP) settings – underserved communities around the globe have disproportionately greater vulnerability to a changing environment. This was memorably illustrated by the Tamil fisher Ezhil, who lamented that local fishing knowledge passed down from his antecedents didn’t seem to be much use anymore; shifting migration patterns and ranges of fish species, as well as the vagaries of a changing climate, threatened poor fishing communities that didn’t have the economic resilience to bear the shock. Ezhil’s story also highlighted the intersection of many sources of disadvantage found in BoP communities. In his case, Ezhil’s low level of education, coupled with his geographically-marginalised position as a coastal dweller, surely contributed to the hopelessness and pathos in his words. It’s also hard to imagine that caste did not play a role in his marginalization and the limited roles easily available to him and his descendants.
A frequent theme across the readings was the necessity of ecosystem thinking; communities lower on the socioeconomic ladder each have a unique context that present considerable challenges to business creation. I think Simanis’ discussion of market creation was the first time I really considered that the free market’s failure to provide opportunities at the BoP was damning, because, if the market didn’t make it happen, no-one else would do it. I was less enthused with his three-step prescription to follow to develop new BoP markets. If such market creation is as complex as Simanis, Vishwanathan and others say, any sweeping solution is unlikely to be successful in every BoP context. For example, Simanis recommends growing a BoP business by expanding upon a base of personally-vested customers. Would this step happen in exactly this way in a more individualistic society, or one with different geographic challenges, or a different economic context?
Rather than only consider successful ventures such as Essilor’s low-cost glasses or Padman’s sanitary pads, I think it would be useful to consider promising BoP ventures that failed. The obvious failures that couldn’t bring all stakeholders in to the creative process or fully consider the local context are less interesting than those where all the stars seemed to align but tangible results failed to materialize.