Monday, July 19, 2010

What is BOP? And Why You Should Care

Bottom of the pyramid (BOP) is greater than half of the world population. And if you are reading this, chances are you are not BOP. But, read on anyway. Once upon a time BOP was the "third world" and the model of interaction (if any) with the BOP was charity or social services (like welfare). Activists ruled as the keepers of our conscience. With globalisation came the need for cheap(er) labor and BOP became the "emerging market". Entrepreneurs ruled. But then things got complicated. First world infrastructure (innovated at the dawn of the industrial age) did not scale in sustainable fashion to meet either the third world/emerging market needs or first world lifestyle. Worse still, communication channels (innovated in the computer age) became digital - making all this mess in live action, color video for all to see at the click of a button. So now what?
Now is the time to merge the best of activism and entrepreneurship and think of BOP as an innovation engine. It is the space for activism, entrepreneurship and business model innovation that allows for leapfrogging tired old industrial age technologies that are proving too costly in terms of environmental as well as human health. More than half the world population is a good market incentive for innovation.

We stand at a crossroad today where either we continue to export sustainability-challenged technologies or we partner with the BOP as the "next bench" to develop new technologies and create a new market at the same time.  

So - Is BOP Market or Strategy? A Mirage at the bottom of the pyramid? Capitalism gone haywire or Socialism gone haywire? A case for philanthropy? OR its not my problem; because its not interesting? or I can’t do anything about it?

I prefer to think of BOP as an innovation driver and as we know innovation is an extreme sport. Life would be dull without it. So watch it, support it, get involved. MediaX is kicking off a year of 21st Century Conversations with an all day seminar on Wednesday July 21called Social Media and Social Technologies: Changing Personal and Civic Conversations. the topic for my panel is : The New Realities of Grassroots and Civic Activism.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Social Entrpreneurs: Glass Ceiling or Sticky Floor?

As a champion of diversity in the workplace, over the years, I have had sufficient opportunity to discuss glass ceilings with executive management as well as hold mentoring sessions around sticky floors - which is the tendency to develop roots in our comfort zone that makes every opportunity look like a glass ceiling. I (and many others) found the imagery evoked by glass ceiling/sticky floor to be quite effective in getting the message across.

Now that I've been researching the social entrepreneurship ecosystem, I have come to realise that the glass ceiling/sticky floor metaphor is one that can be dusted off and put to good use once again. The equivalent of climbing the corporate ladder in the social entrepreneurship scene is scale- If I can change the lives of a 100 people for the better, then can I move on to change the lives of a 1000? 10,000? A million? What must change? What stays the same? What part is process; what part passion?

Just as when articulating diversity as a business value (e.g. productivity, creativity, teamwork) it would serve us well to separate the challenges in social venture creation as institutional (glass ceilings) or personal development (sticky floor) and not allow one to masquerade as the other- the strategies to address the two are radically different.

I like the glass ceiling/sticky floor metaphor- its easy to remember and act on versus the other business buzzwords - or maybe its just in my comfort zone.