Yesterday’s post deconstructing The Economist article on the promise of solar lighting for the millions of poor living without electricity made me question my strongly worded response. Another recent one is from well meaning Guardian, whose first of the 15 innovations they claim will change lives in Africa is the now forgotten Hippo Roller. Even the designer behind that project prefers not to talk about it, but trust the media to dig it up in order to flesh out their content. Theirs is the third Africa specific section to be launched in the recent weeks and yes, there’s a dearth of information for the armchair journalist.
Why do articles like this make me cranky?
Because they do more harm than they help. By inaccurately portraying the market and its opportunities – whether its the lower income demographic in Africa or India – they inspire well meaning but fundamentally unsound business plans and social entrepreneurs to sink valuable time and effort into ineffectual social goodness. It is irresponsible journalism.
Writing such slapdash articles only serve to create a rosy view, blurring into fuzzy altruistic goodness, which overlooks the hardcore realities of establishing profitable business enterprises in these challenging markets in order to serve the most demanding customers successfully. They leave you with the impression that all you have to do is ensure your product reaches every supermarket shelf and it’ll simply sell like hotcakes.
If it were still only the beginning of the “fortune seeking at the bottom of the pyramid” era, when companies and startups had to be encouraged to look at this market, then this overblown hype and hoopla might be understandable. Today, some half a decade or more later, it simply serves to underline the ignorant arrogance with which these populations are viewed.