Posts Tagged ‘low income’

People, Pesa & Place:New lenses for design’s perspective on social & economic development

ideo model

This original Venn diagram visualizing the sweet spot of innovation success is a familiar one, with as many variations as there are practitioners. One of the most common is the one below, where business, people (or, as often, design) and technology replace the human centered qualities of viable, desirable and feasible.


I’ve used them both for years, particularly the latter, evolving it incrementally in the project for the Dutch govt where we looked at barriers to adoption of new agricultural techniques (technology) introduced in international development programmes.


Yet, I still struggled with this framing when actually considering solutions for programme design and development, or rather, any  products and services meant for the poor in the developing world.

Innovation, this Venn Diagram said, happens at the intersection of the attributes of viable, desirable and feasible. A solution that met these criteria would have greater chances of success. This made sense and it still does.

However, when it came to solutions meant for the lower income demographic, particularly where the majority were managing on irregular, often unpredictable, income streams, from such activities as informal trade and subsistence farming, there were additional issues to be considered. These were often critical to the success or failure of the newly introduced innovation.

For instance, inadequate infrastructure is a fact of life. Whether is variability in electricity supply in the urban context or lack of it in the rural. Things we take for granted in the operating environment in which these lenses were first framed – pipes full of running water, stable and reliable power, affordable, clean fuel for cooking, credit cards and bank accounts – are either scarce, inadequate or unreliable for the most part.

Feasibility, thus, takes on an entirely different meaning in this context. Each location or region (place) may have different facilities. Launching a service in Kenya or Tanzania, even for the most rural and economically challenged, means we can think of using mobile money solutions in the business model, while a similar service in India would have to be designed to adapt to the local context. On the other hand, India has an extensive postal system as well home addresses, while this is still a barrier to delivery in many African locations.

Similarly, the viability of a concept, in this context, must look beyond just the conventional definitions of business, business model or marketing. The embedded assumption here is that a marketplace already exists, with all the support services, information flows and distribution networks.

Further, the current version of this framework, does not offer cues to the research and design team to look for, and take into consideration, elements such as cash transactions, cash flow, lack of formal financial instruments, seasonality, and a myriad other underlying reasons that drive preference for payment plans such as pay-as-you-go or credit based on future harvests.

And as we all tend to promote these diagrams as a means to anchor our explorations and discovery process towards identifying the design drivers for innovative solutions, it seemed to me that we needed more obvious cues to signal that these issues not only exist, disparate from what we may be accustomed to, but also need to be clearly and realistically described. There is far too much tacit knowledge and too many critical assumptions embedded in the current process.


This diagram is my prototype of the next generation of the original Venn Diagram, where the attributes of the lenses have been interpreted in the context of the difference in operating environment. While it has emerged from a focus on the erstwhile Bottom or Base of the Pyramid or the poor – both of these terms are anathema to me when referring to people – I believe that it might very well make sense to use it for a wider range of incomes and consumer segments, particularly in the African marketplace.

People, of course, does not change from the original, and desirability – that is, creating something that will resonate with them – permits us to lower as many barriers to adoption and minimize the dropout rate. This element came to fore in the Dutch project where the question posed was related to the sustainability of donor funded programmes to effect positive change after the funding ends.

Place replaces Technology, as a lens through which to consider the feasibility of a solution. Furthermore, the benefit of this is that it opens up the framing of the solution space, away from technology per se, and lets us consider a broader range of interventions. Technological solutions may be only one factor, and not a given, as the current framing assumes from the outset.

Pesa is the word I’ve chosen to designate viability. It means money in more than one language across the developing world and thus implies more than just the marketplace which may or may not exist in the formal sense assumed in the first generation diagram. In the context of new products and services, it can cover all aspect of the business model including revenue generation, payment plans, pricing and timing of introduction. And in the context of programmes, it brings to the fore the need to look at means for economic impact, and, uncover a way to measure this impact. Irregular income streams tend to make it difficult for people to know what their monthly income may be or whether, this week, they’ll have that mythical $1.25 or $2 or $5 to spend today.

I look forward to your feedback on this and will be writing more on the diagram separately pertaining to both innovative products and services for the emerging African consumer market as well as a framework for social design innovation for the economically challenged.

Insights from the South African low income market (BoP) opportunity

Durban, South Africa - Jan 2008

I came across this article from South Africa titled “Why companies should care about the low-income market” which has some excellent insights about this demographic and opportunity space. Also called the ‘BoP or Bottom of the Pyramid’, it is the mass majority segment in the emerging middle class in Sub Sahara today (per recent reports.) I’ve interspersed my observations in between snippets from the article which are in italics:

He notes that large firms are also becoming more secretive about their bottom of the pyramid (BoP) strategies, perhaps a sign that they are beginning to take this market seriously. “We see a very clear trend that companies are no longer asking what the bottom of the pyramid is.”

This is an interesting piece of news – BoP markets are now internationally recognized as a long term growth market opportunity,  the secrecy implying that the strategy is less about CSR (and attendant goodwill via PR ) and more about competition.

 “If you look at the upper-income segment in South Africa, those markets are mature, they are growing at perhaps 1% to 2% per year, whereas your low-income segments are growing at anything between 9% and 15% per year. You ignore such trends at your peril,” Coetzer explains.

Here’s why companies are taking it seriously – those are some significant growth figures, offering the kind of returns on investment that saturated, mature markets cannot.

Another point here is that BoP customers are very rarely formally employed with a regular paycheck.  The BoP market is also mostly cash based and almost 70% of the lower income markets are rural. All of these mean that they have not felt the impact of the global recession (there are exceptions such as migrant worker remittances from the rich world for example).

The article gives an example of tapping into REculture – the informal market’s characteristic behaviours of recycle, reuse, repurpose, resell and repair.

Coetzer explains that bottom of the pyramid strategies do not always just comprise of selling products, but also purchasing from the low-income segment. An example of this is Collect-a-Can, a non-profit but self sustaining recycling business, with steel and tinplate producer ArcelorMittal and beverage can manufacturer Nampak as shareholders. Collect-a-Can pays people cash for collecting used beverage cans and provides tens of thousands of unemployed South Africans with the opportunity to earn a living.

Opportunity spaces

“immediate untapped opportunities are present in the fields of financial services (especially mobile money), home upgrading and repairs (plastering, tiling, electrical installations, insulation, energy‐saving light bulbs, solar panels) as well as the distribution and delivery of goods. ”

An earlier survey […] revealed that the majority of informal entrepreneurs in Cape Town townships are looking to grow their businesses, but are unable to do so because the type of credit, insurance, training and financial services available in the formal market are not adapted to their needs.

Catering for the low-income segment often calls for creative business models and product innovation.

While these unmet needs are the most visible, increasing competition will require a more strategic, customer-centric approach beginning with a greater understanding of this customer demographic.  Opportunity spaces for new products and services that can add value and enhance lives,  not simply plug the gaps of unmet needs. Needs and wants are so many at the BoP that every decision to spend money is a trade off on the risks of a return of maximum value.

“There is huge diversity within the bottom of the pyramid. People have different aspirations, different needs, and one of the biggest mistakes for any company would be to think of it as a single market segment. Not bothering to investigate just how diverse this segment is, is something we see quite often as a classical mistake,” says Coetzer.


Further reading

Emerging Markets as a Source of Disruptive Innovation: 5 Case Studies – February 2010
The 5D’s of BoP Marketing: Touchpoints for a holistic, human-centered strategy – January 2009
The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid Begins with Understanding : Targeting the BoP Customer (PDF) – Nov 2008
Design for the Next Billion Customers  – April 2008