Recap of the BoP 2009 Conference: “Be Patient, Stay Longer, Come Back”

BoP 2009 Conference Recap: “Be Patient, Stay Longer, Come Back”

By: Cynthia Koenig, MBA 2011 

From October 1-3, 100 attendees convened at the Ross School of Business for  the BoP 2009 Conference: “Creating a Shared Roadmap: Collaboratively Advancing the Base of the Pyramid Community.”  The 3-day, invitation-only event marked the ten-year anniversary of the original “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” white paper that discussed economically viable enterprise-based approaches to poverty alleviation.  The conference served as a forum for academics, practitioners, NGOs, donors, companies, government workers and aid organizations to discuss a new book, Creating Mutual Value: Building Businesses and Alleviating Poverty with the Base of the Pyramid, co-authored by experts such as Stuart Hart (Cornell), Ted London (Ross / WDI), C.K. Prahalad (Ross) and Jacqueline Novogratz (Acumen Fund).

 Ted London, in his conference-opening keynote address, urged us to “be patient, stay longer and come back” when building and measuring the social impact of Base of the Pyramid ventures.  The conference co-authors spoke about the importance of good design, the need for patient capital to incubate BoP ventures and metrics to evaluate impact. Topics such as the role of policy, venture co-creation, measuring impact and listening to stakeholders were identified as key components of a Base of the Pyramid strategy. Some of the most valuable information came from frank discussions about failed ventures, best practices and the definition of scale.

 For the members of the Emerging Markets Club who either assisted with logistics and note-taking or attended the EMC-hosted reception, the conference was an opportunity to interact with the sector’s leading experts who spoke openly about where the field has been over the last ten years, and where its heading. 

 As the founder of a social venture, I found both the exchange of ideas among the sector’s experts and the opportunity to gain feedback on my business model and future expansion plans invaluable.  Many of the people with whom I spoke to had heard of the Hippo, which is manufactured and distributed by my nonprofit, Hippo Water International. The Hippo is a water transport tool designed to alleviate problems associated with the lack of access to water.  The Hippo transports water inside its “wheel,” enabling people to collect 24 gallons of water at a time, five times the amount possible using traditional methods. By giving people easier access to water, the Hippo removes the barriers that prevent girls from attending school, and empowers women to engage in activities that boost family income. Families are able to grow vegetables, maintain better health, and avoid disease because they have access to sufficient amounts of water.

 My conversations with people from the Gates Foundation and Ashoka underscored the importance of addressing the root causes that trap families and entire communities in poverty.  Research shows that women when women have extra time, they choose to spend it on activities that boost family income and well-being. In addition, women with even a few years of basic education have been shown to have smaller, healthier families, are more likely to be able to work their way out of poverty, and are more likely to send their own children to school. Female education is accepted as an effective strategy to break the cycle of poverty.

 The practitioners with whom I spoke reminded me that the challenges Hippo Water International is facing, such as scaling sustainably, finding appropriate local partners and funding our operations, are common obstacles. I left the conference inspired and excited about our impending expansion into Indiaexpansion into India.

 More Information about Hippo Water International:

Hippo Water International has  distributed nearly 30,000 Hippos to date throughout sub-Saharan Africa.  For more information about Hippo Water International and ways to get involved, please visit www.hippowater.org

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Posted by Naroo Krishnan, Ross EMC Member, 10/14/2009

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