Posts Tagged ‘india’

Time to reach consensus on the #informaleconomy debate

As yesterday’s post showed, the unforeseen outcome of India’s demonetization initiative on the rural cash economy arose due to the lack of disaggregation of all that tends to get lumped together under the umbrella label “informal”. Segmentation would lead to more impactful design of policy and programmes.

WIEGO has an excellent review of the academic debates on the informal economy, covering the competing schools of thought. There is the Shadow Economy with its tax evasion and under reporting vs the livelihoods of the poor struggling to make a living in adverse conditions.


In 2009, Ravi Kanbur, Professor of Economics at Cornell University, posited a conceptual framework for distinguishing between four types of economic responses to regulation, as follows:

A. Stay within the ambit of the regulation and comply.
B. Stay within the ambit of the regulation but not comply.
C. Adjust activity to move out of the ambit of the regulation.
D. Outside the ambit of the regulation in the first place, so no need to adjust.

Under the Kanbur framework, category A is “formal.” The rest of the categories are “informal,” with B being the category that is most clearly “illegal.” (Kanbur 2009). […] Kanbur argues that using a single label “informal” for B, C, and D obscures more than it reveals – as these are distinct categories with specific economic features in relation to the regulation under consideration.

While acknowledging that it is useful to have aggregate broad numbers on the size and general characteristics of the informal economy, Kanbur concludes that disaggregation provides for better policy analysis.

So, why do we continue to wave our hands over the whole thing and conflate the legal with the illegal?

These distinctions are all well and good to debate in the cozy conditions of a seminar room without needing to come to any consensus, but as the human and economic cost of demonetization in rural India becomes clear, particularly the impact on the planting season, it puts a spotlight on the shortcomings of the way the rural and cash economies are currently dealt with. A pragmatic conclusion is urgently required.

My literature review on the past 20 years of research on the informal trade sector in Eastern Africa showed that this lack of distinction between what was shadow (B) and what was merely below the radar of the regulations (C &D per Kanbur’s distinctions above) gave rise to the criminalization of even the smallest livelihood activities of the local tomato seller who might cross a border to get a better price for her wares.

This in turn led to their harassment – particularly financial and sexual – by the authorities as there were no counteractive regulations in place that recognized fulltime crossborder trade as a licit occupation or profession.

What will it take for this to change?

India’s current experiences provide ample evidence of the dangers of leaving this untouched.

Insights on the psychology of cash money – Demonetization vs Financial Inclusion

moneyThe flurry of commentary on the Great Indian Demonetization of November 2016 has thrown up some nuggets of insight worth considering more deeply.

Santosh Desai explores the psychology of cash money in the Times of India blog, linking the need for tangible evidence of income to physical labour, as opposed to those of us with the contextual knowledge to understand the virtual concept i.e. digital currency.

“…there is another aspect of this situation that needs more reflection- the nature of the relationship we enjoy with cash. Cash is not merely a symbolic representation of value. Cash is the idea of value captured and owned. It is the product of labour that is an entity by itself and becomes much more than what it can buy. Sitting on a pile of cash gives pleasure both metaphorical and real.”

“…there is some value that is placed on the device of currency notes over and above the value that it signifies.”

This aspect has not been looked at deeply enough, imho, when financial inclusion is talked about, particularly in the context of digital solutions. I suspect that therein will lie behavioural insights that could conceivably drive design changes that lower the barriers to adoption in the strategies to introduce digital currencies and mobile monies to hitherto unbanked populations.

Earning money needs to be signified concretely. Those whose life’s earnings are in the form of a few high value currency notes, do not decode demonetization in quite the same way as those used to money in its conceptual form. The idea that it is possible to de-legitimise their life’s labour is to shake the foundations on which one’s life is constructed. What if some money is not exchanged? What if some paperwork, that bane of those living on the margins, is incomplete?

What if the mobile phone’s battery dies? Do my hard earned monies disappear like other unsaved data?

Trust in technology is a function of our contextual knowledge – our immersion in an environment saturated with electronic communication and screens of all types and purposes provides us with conceptual frameworks that are entirely different from someone whose daily labour is on the farm, or at a mechanic’s garage.

While those who are financially excluded might not face demonetization i.e. the de-legitimization of their labour, as Desai mentions above, the current attempts to convert their cash intensive habits into digital form via various “cashless” initiatives overlook the psychology of cash. Regardless of locale, those at the margins (the excluded) have high levels of mistrust in the system, through their experiences with institutions and the system, over time and history.

The talk of ‘cashless’ is easy, but it ignores that there is a cultural dimension to the physicality of cash. Digital wallets operate on a transfer of intention, where a promise to pay gets converted into an intention to buy. For this to work at scale, one needs to have become comfortable with the idea of surplus and develop the confidence that money will come without having to struggle or having to think about it all the time. One needs to develop trust in institutions, in a context where the evidence around is overwhelmingly to the contrary.

I suspect that if this subject was explored further, we would discover that where mobile money has succeeded, such as in East Africa, the institution that was trusted was the telco – the mobile service operator, and that the early stages of adoption have a different narrative from that being used currently in entirely new markets where mobile money still struggles to penetrate. India and South Africa are two such places where the unbanked and the financially excluded have reasons of history to develop high mistrust of the systems of the privileged.

To convert one’s worth into worthlessness, even if for a small period is to make everyone nervous. Psychologically, money works on a convention of mutual deception. We agree to call something money, and that is good enough. But to have the thinness of this convention exposed in such a way is to cause great anxiety.

The transition to a cashless future can be made gentler and more accommodating to their fears and concerns, generating a sense of security and commitment, with some empathy for an entirely different world-view and life experience.

Japan’s Indian Strategy for the African Consumer Market


One of the most high-profile events Kenya has hosted since independence begins this week when heads of state from across Africa and the Prime Minister of Japan Mr Shinzo Abe jet in for the Tokyo International Conference on Africa Development (TICAD). It will be the first time that Ticad has been held outside Japan and it is an honour to Kenya to have been picked to host this event. ~ Daily Nation editorial

The Nikkei Asian Review has been preparing for days with longform articles on the African consumer market, and other opportunities for Asian businesses. While Indian B2C investments have been closely analysed (and embraced), it is clear that the East Asians are eyeing each other as their closest competitors.

Africa was once dominated by Western investors, due to ties forged in colonial times. But Chinese companies have muscled their way in, and Indian, Japanese and South Korean players are arriving and thriving. This intense competition is no longer just about extracting minerals and materials. It is about tapping the next big consumer market.

Their articles are well researched and provide ample insights for businesses contemplating these new markets. Here are some highlights that caught my eye:

Vivek Karve has a clear picture of the ideal African market. The chief financial officer of India’s Marico, a maker of hair and body care products and other fast-moving consumer goods, said his company targets countries with “per capita GDP under $5,000, many mom-and-pop shops, low penetration of multinationals and political stability.”

There’s little handwringing over lack of data or missing middle class metrics. Inadequate infrastructure and informal retail in Africa is no different for your average Indian FMCG brand than their domestic market, thus the concept of the ideal market being one full of little mom and pop shops.

Marico’s strategy for achieving that includes promoting local brands familiar to African consumers, rather than pushing products that are popular in India. It uses multiple distributors to cushion itself against credit risks.

The Japanese, having already faced off with the Koreans in India’s large, diverse, and fragmented markets, are ready to take a leaf from the Indian playbook for their foray into the African market.

The gap between Asian and Western rivals is expected to narrow over time, with China making up much of the ground. About 3,000 companies from China — Africa’s largest trade partner since 2009 — are doing business in sectors such as infrastructure, resource development and telecommunications.

And even this focus on infrastructure development and large scale investments is changing. The Chinese idea is to boost purchasing power across Africa and turn the continent into a massive consumer market.


Nissin Foods launched locally sourced sorghum noodles in Nyama Choma flavour in Kenya

The Japanese are preparing the ground to apply their own strengths in Africa. Japanese companies see Africa as a lucrative but daunting challenge — one they would rather tackle with a partner or subsidiary that is familiar with emerging markets.

This, again, is where India comes in. Toyota Motor, Honda Motor, Nissin Foods Holdings and Hitachi all export from their factories in India to Africa. The Japanese government is actively working to help companies make inroads in India as a springboard to Africa.

A couple of years ago, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry compiled a list of potential Indian partner companies with strong African operations in 16 fields, including beverages, consumer goods, retail, electronic parts and auto components. Godrej Group and Marico were among them.

The lessons of the last quarter century are driving a new collaborative strategy. My rupees and yen are on Asia.

The 5C’s of Cashless

The Reserve Bank of India has unveiled their Vision 2018, an ambitious plan to shove the juggernaut into a cashless future. Here are their pithy yet to the point 5C’s, which focus the framework on a set of objectives.

  • Coverage – by enabling wider access to a variety of electronic payment services
  • Convenience – by enhancing user experience through ease of use and of products and processes
  • Confidence – by promoting integrity of systems, security of operations and customer protection
  • Convergence – by ensuring interoperability across service providers
  • Cost – by making services cost effective for users as well as service providers

The full Vision 2018 report can be found here. Smells like Rajan’s legacy as he wanders back to academia in the Fall. I’m very impressed by the framework’s conciseness, and the fact it embeds periodic customer feedback surveys (continuous user research) as part of the design.

Lessons for toilet builders from the history of India’s cookstove development efforts


Learning from the maker, herself. Rawal village, Rajasthan, India in January 2009.

Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar has written a superb critical analysis looking back at the history of India’s development efforts to provide viable, feasible, and desirable solutions to the myriad unmet needs of the common man. Using cookstoves as her narrative theme, she explores the challenges of base of the pyramid product development and marketing, and draws lessons for “the toilet builders of today.” A must read for social enterprises, entrepreneurs and design for impact.

Years after its big launch, India’s stove mission is going nowhere. A new government is in power, and another object meant to save the rural poor is now galvanising excitement. Companies such as Indian Oil, L&T, Tata Consultancy Services and Vedanta, among others, have pledged to build toilets to stop people from defecating in the open. Meanwhile, the cookstove programme has practically vanished from view, quietly renamed the Unnat Chulha Abhiyan and downsized.

This was not the first time a big push for clean cookstoves started only to falter. The history of India’s cookstove programmes parallels the evolution of the global development agenda, shaped by the geopolitics of each era—saving forests in the 1970s, improving women’s lot in the 1990s, preventing global warming in the 2000s. Since the 1970s, development agencies and governments around the world have spent millions of dollars promoting clean stoves as the solution for a succession of big problems. These programmes reflect a yearning, among nation-builders and international donors alike, for silver bullets—objects that are quantifiable technological solutions, but also symbolic, such as vaccines, mosquito nets and toilets.

A timely find, as the World Bank et al renew their PR push to promote toilets over mobile phones. The rise and fall of the “next big thing” for the poor is as much a trendy hip thing of the moment as any 15 minute internet celebrity. As silver bullets emerge and disappear according to donor whims and fancies, its the poor who suffer from half baked solutions and incomplete projects left behind like abandoned children’s toy in the sandbox.

Badly trained, reluctant stove-makers meant bad stoves. In one Haryana village, 67 percent of users said the new chulhas were too high, and over half said the cooking holes were too small for their pots. In Punjab, many families found their fuel consumption increased. In Orissa, chimneys were removed because villagers feared their thatched roofs would catch fire. In one village, a row of houses did burn down. “We couldn’t talk about chulhas in that area for years,” said Sarin.

There was also a more fundamental issue: the programme’s goals were out of sync with what women wanted. While the focus was on making stoves that consumed less wood, women wanted ones that emitted less smoke, or cooked faster.

As always.

As for clean cookstoves, she came to the conclusion that structural problems couldn’t be solved with single-point interventions. “Designing a smokeless biomass chulha,” she said, “is in some ways more complex than designing a nuclear power plant.”

And in India, we note the same issues that plague the  sales of “objects to replace dirty stinky kerosene” and other things that are good for you, like oatmeal.

Over the years, Karve found that even better-off rural communities were not persuaded by arguments about health, the environment, or even time saved in cooking. Women’s time and health were not valued; any family with Rs 1,000 to spare would first buy a mobile phone. She came to believe that the “aspirational value” of the stove had to be engaged. Like any successful consumer product, “the price has to be right, the benefits outstanding, and it has to look good,” she said. “It has to be cool.” That kind of hard-sell made Karve, with her “NGO mindset,” uncomfortable.

Is that women’s health is not valued, or that the rupee invested in the mobile phone brings back a greater return than the rupee sunk into a stove or toilet? What are the assumptions we are making on why people choose  to make these trade-offs, and how does that bias us so that our own assumptions end up being consistent barriers to new product introductions to this target segment? We have enough years of experience with the stoves and toilets and water purifiers to want to pause and reflect by now.

“Why must the global alliance for a developing-country problem be headquartered in Washington?” he said in an interview in his IIT office, in 2013. Besides, he wasn’t sure that the GACC’s market-driven approach was the correct one. “I’m always worried when people say there’s only one way to solve a complex problem,” he said.

Which brings us full circle to the problems of toilets and the bank.

Uber’s problems with women’s safety in India – my 2 rupees worth

In its mindless rush for scale, Uber leapt into the Indian market with their “hassle-free” service of hailing a car with a push of a button on your smartphone. I call this mindless because “will it scale” is an unquestioned imperative for a startup, not something that is thought through. Nobody asks should it scale, or, is this the right place to scale? Neither does anyone look at the compromises made, to the brand and to the customer experience, in this drive to scale. Thus, its no different from the mindless growth of an amoeba, responding to the instincts imprinted on its DNA.

I’m due to arrive in New Delhi next week. Would I use Uber? No. I’d rather walk across teh street to the Sardarji sitting in his tent at the local taxi rank and ask him for a car and a reliable driver. It could be for the day or for the week but I’ll insist on the same guy showing up, without extra company in the front seat, and register my home address and phone number with the taxi rank. For additional peace of mind, I’ll walk back across the road to the guardhouse at the entrance to our apartment complex and point out the taxi fellow responsible for driving me around.

In the neighbourhood where our apartment is located, we are recognized as original owners, not newbies, and the local taxi standwallah isn’t going to risk his future business and his reputation if there’s even a peep of complaint from me. The eyes of the community should be sufficient to keep the animal instincts of the average Delhi eve teaser under control. A little further down is the auto rickshaw stand, under the shade of a large tree where the chaiwallah makes his brew. More strangers come and wait here unlike the taxi stand, but one can still spot a regular or two. At least, that’s how it used to work back when I was taking a scooty to work every morning.

In neither case would I think of wandering around after dark, if I was alone in the vehicle.

Uber arrives.

Why do we hear of women taking these cars at night all by themselves?

Things might have changed in the last couple of years since the horrific news of the bus rape in New Delhi, what do I know? So I did a little digging to see if my premise on why Uber was enabling women to lower their barriers to conventional common sense in India.

“To the extent that the Uber brand name induces a sense of security and this is used as a business strategy, a proper legal regime should allow the Indian woman’s strategy to succeed,” source

Because it needs a smartphone, knowledge of English, and an internet connection, is there an implied raising of standards of who’ll show up at your doorstep? Implicit here is that education and data plans imply greater security?

On the other hand, this knowledge hasn’t helped this lady in Chennai whose Uber driver kept trying to ‘cancel trip’ in the middle of a secluded location.

The internet’s explosive growth in India, coupled with smartphones, mobile wallets and e-commerce, seems to have lowered the barriers to services such as these, which probably leads to a greater acceptance of an app driven service along with the perception that it’s somehow “safer” than hailing a regular taxi on the roadside.

Yet, the very same internet has always provided trolls with the anonymity and impunity with which to harass and abuse women without consequence. This element of the web seems also to have now transferred itself onto the app driven sharing economy.

SOS buttons in a context where the police aren’t likely to jump in their vehicles and race over to save you, nor can they be trusted not to molest you, is a technological solution meant for the VCs back home.

Taking a taxi ride is not the same thing as purchasing a book or making a restaurant reservation.  Can you scale trust and local context as instantly as you do an app?

Being middle class in India


Are differences within the middle class, in income, education, and cultural and social capital, so wide as to render moot any ideological or behavioural coherence to this group?

Over the next two months, The Hindu will release the findings of a new survey on the aspirations and anxieties of ordinary Indians. Here’s a snippet accompanying this infographic:

Two things are striking about this finding: the contrast between respondents’ self-perception and objective reality and differences on the rural-urban axis (Figure 1). We disaggregated our sample into five income categories, based on self-reported annual household income. While any such classification is admittedly blunt, the results are nonetheless illustrative. Whereas respondents are more likely to self-identify as middle class as household income increases, a sizeable proportion of respondents across all income groups believe they are part of the Indian middle class. 47 per cent of lower middle-income respondents self-identified as “middle class”, while half of middle income and 54 per cent of upper middle-income respondents did so. Expectedly this declined to 48 per cent for those in the highest income bracket. Most surprising 45 per cent of those who were in the lowest income bracket self-identify as middle class, barely 3 per cent less than the richest income group.

Even within the same income categories, however, there are marked differences between rural and urban India.

I wonder what the implications are of these results which surprised the researchers, and also, whether this challenge of applying metrics which segment not matching up with actual people’s self image is one that we’ll also find in the African context.


Empowerment and co-creation – Entering new markets with a long established brand

From personal experience, the biggest frustration with being a cog in the remote outpost of a global behemoth that actually has to implement or execute the marketing, advertising or branding strategy in the field is tussling with the brand’s identity. Clausewitz has said,

It may be of interest to future generals to realize that one makes plans to fit the circumstances, and does not try to create circumstances to fit plans.

When I was a member of the Asia Pacific new products introduction (NPI) team for India at Hewlett Packard, we had themes that were developed by HQ (Palo Alto) for each region that would then be used in each country. That year’s theme was “HP Rocks the World”.

Here is a bad photo of the 3D version of the logo we received as high quality TIFF files and sample marketing collateral designed and sent to us in the field. ‘In the field’ for a company the size of HP meant the various countries in the APAC region.

From regional MarCom HQ in Singapore, I received implementation ideas through the listserv for country NPI coordinators, for example Malaysia had the speakers drive onto the stage on Harley Davidson’s wearing black leather jackets with the logo emblazoned in living colour across the back and other such dramatic concepts. I was horrified. I knew it wouldn’t work at all in India. Here, HP was perceived as a corporate MNC – a global brandname, a Fortune 100, a ’10 Most admired companies to work for’ (in 1996) with all that that entailed in the Indian corporate environment. Our audience of VARs, dealers and distributors just wouldn’t get it if I did something along the same vein, they’d think HP had lost it’s mind. It just wasn’t done.

So my compromise solution (I would have preferred a more appropriate theme altogether) was the most sober implementation of the theme that I could conceive – to create a 3D representation of the logo, using a real electric guitar as the main focal point and echo the rainbow colours along specially made table cloths. I’ll write again on the design brief because that was an exercise in tight budgetary control, widely divergent venues and maximum flexibility in itself.

Coming back to the point, I’d like to put forth the concept that when entering a new market, especially one in another culture, it makes more sense to empower the executors of your brand and messaging strategy to adapt to the nuances of the customer’s preferences than to enforce strictly the corporate identity guidelines traditionally used to protect the brand’s identity.

And this where the concepts derived from the blogosphere – that markets are conversations become important – ask your cogs in the field about their specific markets, they talk to your customers, they know what would work there. Co-create with them your strategies, adapt and tweak them for each market, within the umbrella identity of your global brand. Maintain the flexibility to localize, be willing to let go absolute control to allow your audience to create their own brand experience.

All of these things are not new ideas anymore, they’ve been brought up in so many ways in the news, in blogs, in conversations. If products can be designed to enable the users to create their own experience, can’t the message/brand identity be designed to evolve into each market’s experience?

Part 2: The Observations made during original research on rural economic behaviour

One can roughly consider the relative income (or wealth) across three regions where observations were conducted on a continuum where the Indian village was the ‘wealthiest’ while the Malawians were living closest to the edge. However, on synthesizing the combined data collected across geographies, patterns of financial behaviour emerged that showed similarities of intention and goals.

For example, non-perishable food grains such as wheat in India or rice in the Philippines were considered a form of wealth that could be stored, acting as savings or insurance. A portion of the harvest would be held back, to be either sold on demand for cash, over the course of the year or as a source of food. Wealth was also stored, as security, for the longer term, in the form of silver ornaments (in India) or as an investment, in the short term, as livestock – pigs, chickens or a milch cow.

Also, people rarely held on to money in the form of cash for any length of time, for the most part due to lack of access to banks and/or the high cost of maintaining an account proportionate to their incomes.  Available cash was usually converted to “kind” – either goods or livestock- the choice of which reflected careful prioritization. These tangible purchases then acted as financial tools depending on their “convertibility”-

  • long-term security (silver);
  • planned savings (buying building materials on a piecemeal basis over time until a house could be built);
  • insurance or a “cushion” against shocks (a pig that could be sold to raise cash or eaten as food) and finally,
  • investments (milk bearing cow, young piglets to rear to maturity, culling high margin ‘fighting cocks’ from chicks).

Cashless transactions, thus, were frequently observed. These behaviours were most complex in India; where a sophisticated mechanism allowed a group of farmers to negotiate the annual retainer for the services of a carpenter in the form of a number of sacks of wheat to be paid during the harvest and the local shops would set a ‘currency’ conversion rate of a kilo of wheat to the rupee to be used for buying sundry provisions. The shop that insisted on cash only transactions priced its goods about 10% cheaper than the rest. Barter was far simpler in Malawi, where a mobile phone could fetch its equivalent price in goats.

Here, it must be noted that very often each household’s resources such as a store of fuel (cow dung in India; firewood elsewhere), chickens or a kitchen garden and assets like milch goats or cows, would be pointed out with pride.  For their possession implied an independence from cash money – in almost every interview, people would emphasize how little they needed to purchase in the store or nearest town for their daily needs as they were self sufficient in these demonstrated requirements. Often it would be added that in a city, you had no choice but to purchase everything you needed.

Thus the use of purchased resources were optimized for maximum cost/benefit and  their use extended as much as possible before replenishment. For example, if a household had access to cooking gas, they would still use firewood or charcoal for foods that took longer to cook while the more expensive fuel was used for foods that cooked quickly.

In the Philippines, cashless transactions were rarely in the form of goods but tended to involve time or physical labour, primarily as a form of social capital in the community. These complex webs of the rural community’s social networks of trust were obvious in the patterns of sharing and cooperation seen in every country. Groups would invest and save together, for example, the extremely sophisticated cooperative ladies lending circle which had expanded over time to include the services of a local bank in India; or the beekeepers cooperative in Malawi where half the annual profits were saved in a common account while the other half was equally shared.

In addition to the behaviour patterns mentioned above, an external factor was observed to be of great significance in the management of rural household expenses.  While it naturally differed in timing and reason from region to region, every household and profession could predict, within reason, the ebb and flow of income based on the seasons of a natural year. In fact, many other observed behaviours were often directly linked to these expected peaks, such as the harvest season, and lows, for example the dry season when fields lay fallow.  This pattern of expected ups and downs or seasonality in income flow was seen to affect even those who were not directly involved in agriculture, as the local economies were closely knit and interdependent.

Note: This blog was begun as a way to publicly share my thoughts during fieldwork, so much of the raw data and immediate observations are available under the category “user research” as well as blog posts written during January 2009 to April 2009 as seen in the archives available on the right hand sidebar.

Part 1: Why are we publishing our original research on rural economic behaviour in 5 parts online?

A recent article in The Economist on the economic value of owning cattle in rural India made me to realize just how little is understood about the rural economy.  Here’s a snippet:

That is because most people find spending easier than saving. Immediate pleasures are easier to grasp than future joys—and so people make spending decisions that they later regret. Economists refer to this as “myopia”. Cows force people not to be myopic. Compared with money held in savings accounts, cattle are illiquid assets. Taking cash from a cow is harder than taking money from an account. As a result, temptation spending is trickier.

The paper has implications for poverty-alleviation strategies and for financial services in developing countries. Aid programmes that try to reduce poverty by distributing livestock may be ineffective at raising incomes, if the returns from owning them are so poor. If cows are used as a means of saving, the spread of mobile banking in places like India will provide another, better option. Even then the problem of temptation spending arises.

This discussion makes quite clear that the underlying assumptions being made by the learned authors of this study are not only implicitly wrong but based on their own perspective of life in the concrete jungle with access to easy credit enabling impulse purchases and conspicuous consumption. Milk, for their morning cereal, tends to come from a tetrapak in the extra large refrigerator and electricity provides the means to warm it.

Since the Prepaid Economy project has been immersed in rural household economic behaviour for some 5 years now, perhaps its time to share the basis for better understanding the why behind the what that is being so fervently discussed. The final report as submitted to the funders of the original fieldwork will be shared in 3 parts:

1. The Abstract – scroll down after the cow for this extract.
2. The Observations
3. The Synthesis and Insights
4. The visual documentary of the above with annotations.
and finally
5. My thoughts on the role of the cow in the rural economy, supported by references to research previously linked to on this blog as well as additional fieldwork in Kenya.

Buffalo, Village Rewal, Rajasthan, January 2009 (Photo: Goverdhan Meena)

Buffalo, Village Rewal, Rajasthan, January 2009 (Photo: Goverdhan* Meena)

The challenge faced by BoP ventures has been the lack of knowledge about their intended target audience from the point of view of business development whereas decades of consumer research and insights are available for conventional markets. What little is known about the BoP’s consumer behaviour, purchasing patterns and decision making tends to assume that there are no primary differences between mainstream consumers and the BoP except for the amount of their income – pegged most often between $2 to $5 a day.

In practice, the great majority at the BoP manage on incomes earned from a variety of sources rather than a predictable salary from a regular job and have little or no access to conventional financial tools such as credit cards, bank accounts, loans, mortgages. This is one of the biggest differentiators in the challenge of value creation faced by BoP ventures, particularly among rural populations (over 60% of the global BoP population lives in rural areas).

Exploratory research was conducted in the field among rural Indian and rural Filipino populations in order to understand how those on irregular incomes managed their household expenses. Empirical data collected by observations, interviews and extended immersion led us to identify patterns of behaviour among the rural BoP in their management of income and expenditure, ‘cash flow’ and ‘working capital’ and the significance of social capital and community networks as financial tools. Practices documented include ‘conversion to goods’, ‘stored wealth’, ‘cashless transactions’, and reliance on multiple sources of income that mature over different times.

This paper will share our observations from the field; identify some challenges these behaviours create for business and also explore some opportunities for value creation by seeking to articulate the elements that BoP ventures must address if they are to do business profitably with the rural ‘poor’ based on their own existing patterns of financial habits and norms.

*It just struck me that even the name of my local guide in Rajasthan was Goverdhan, which means “to increase the wealth (value creation) of a cow”.