The BoP are people too – a shift in storytelling

By | April 13, 2009

Reading the recent post on "Portfolios of the Poor: How the Poor Live on Less Than $2 a Day" by Rob Katz on, it struck me that this might be an early signal of a shift away from simply segmenting the billions at the BoP by income, not that that isn't useful. But coverage such as this, which focuses more on deeper understanding and real lives, can often be a far more powerful 'change maker' than simply bare numbers. The more we immerse ourselves in the 'BoP' world, the more we realize that the 'poor' are not simply faceless "huddled masses" but each an individual with hopes, dreams and aspirations for a better future.

Other 'human interest' stories include Mint on the correlation between Indian phone penetration and statewide economic growth, CGAP's "South African microentreprenuer: have mobile phone, will do banking" and William Easterly's "The secret to successful aid" which goes as far as to say,

…is that there is no secret. One approach to a successful aid project
just is to immerse yourself in the local community, put local people in
charge who are themselves highly motivated, be adaptive and flexible to
respond to whatever the local people think about how they can help
themselves, so that you customize the “standard project designs” to fit
local circumstances. Most aid projects fail because there is nobody in
the field making all these necessary adaptations and fixing
unanticipated problems as they arise. The moral of the story is: be a
Searcher and not a Planner.

But then again, Easterly was partially the inspiration for this
project's approach to problem solving in his articulation of 'design
thinking' for development. Using the tools of "searching" – design
ethnography or user research – and attempting to apply it an
unconventional outcome, that of a community based payment plan for a
shared asset or resource, instead of a commercial product or service.

It is this aspect, imho, that of "immersion in the local community" or "identifying the unmet needs", that will become critical for us to internalize if we are to create anything of benefit to the greater good. One cannot help but be influenced, here in Helsinki, by the strong Nordic tradition of holistic and sustainable business models, or rather, elements of equitable value transactions and ethical business. I've been told that the Finns have a strong tradition of 'taking care of the vulnerable' – perhaps I've not articulated as well as it was explained to me. I don't yet have all the understanding yet but this will be one area of learning for me while I'm here.

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