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

October 14, 2009

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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Microfinance Sector – Froth or not?

October 8, 2009

– The WSJ in August posted a story “A Global Surge in Tiny Loans Spurs Credit Bubble in a Slum”

Link: http://tinyurl.com/lhhtub

– In response, Vikram Akul posted a response “Why There’s No Credit Crisis in Microfinance”:

Link:  http://tinyurl.com/yzg9qjn

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Posted by Gaurav Parnami, Ross EMC member

Hello from Africa

July 9, 2009

Note: Amrita Vijay Kumar, the Ross Emerging Markets Club VP of Career Development, is spending her summer working for a startup company in Ghana.

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It finally hit me last night while I was sitting on the beach with a couple of beers, surrounded by African rastafarians beating drums that I was actually in Africa!!! It has been a week since I landed in Accra last Saturday, and things sure have been interesting 🙂

I spent most of last week on the road with the entrepreneur of a cook stove business, Toyola Energy that I’m working with in Ghana. The company makes cook stoves from scrap metal and distributes them using a microfinance model which is very unique in Ghana. We traveled across three regions in Ghana last week visiting his customers, his ‘evangelists’, the production and assembly centers and the kiln manufacturing plant too. It sounds very legit, but the reality in Ghana is that all business interactions suffer from lack of credit and most business operates in the informal sector. His value chain encompasses atleast 50-100 persons but he doesn’t have anyone on his payroll. Instead he uses a really innovative incentive structure of commissions and credit that makes the wheels of his business go around. Suraj, the CEO is pretty awesome – A 6 foot tall Nigerian – he operates more like a mafia don than a CEO. He’s constantly on the phone, barking out orders and moving stuff around on his trucks. This one time, we were passing by a big construction site along the highway and he just pulled over, walked up to the construction manager and negotiated a scrap metal deal! That is how business is done here – constant improv!

The other day we were speeding (rather bumpily) through African semi-forested country side listening to motivational CDs by Stephen Covey, that Suraj insisted on listening to. It was hilarious – this guy is what every social enterprise fund is searching for – The ‘elusive’ entrepreneur. It was getting dark and suddenly he remembered that he wanted to visit an old customer. SO we veered off the road, into the bush for atleast 15 minutes until we found this village. (we did this atleast 3 more times!) His friend was the only one in the village with a light – and it came from a solar power lamp that Suraj sold him a year ago. It was dark by then, so when we brought out a case of solar lanterns, the entire village surrounded us like months to a flame. It was awesome watching Suraj work the crowd. In 20 minutes, the entire case of 22 lanterns were gone! The one thing I have come to realize is that the hurdle renewable energy faces here in Africa is so much lower than it is in the US – I watched solar powered battery chargers and lanterns virtually sell themselves here. And they are really expensive. At 20 USD, one wouldn’t expect people here to be able to afford this technology – yet they sell – like hotcakes! They say necessity is the mother of invention – and this is so true. People NEED renewable energy here. They don’t have the alternative of flicking a light switch like we do. They don’t have cash. But if you trust them with credit or allow for barter financing, the sale becomes possible.

And then, there was the rather sobering visit to the Ministry of Energy on Friday. Once you visit an African government office, a lot of things fall into place. I had called for an appointment with the Renewable Energy Minister in the morning and was shocked when he answered the phone himself! I must have sounded like an idiot. It was funny, we walked into without so much as a bag check! And the guy – his name is Wisdom. He is super knowledgeable and seemed very enterprising but we couldn’t talk to him for more than 20 minutes, which was disappointing.

Getting used to living in Africa has been pretty easy. It’s like India 20 years ago. Being vegetarian is super hard tho – I’m surviving right now but might become desparate in Mali. Local food is very unappetizing. It’s incredible how hard it is here to get food to an edible form. Music and the sound of people celebrating funerals is a constant, as are the smiles on peoples faces. I visited a local market yesterday which was a real eye opener. Constant assault of smells and faces. Just being there was tiring!