Technology Innovation for the Bottom of the Pyramid
Perhaps Mr. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the U.S President himself, would not have imagined while coining the term “Bottom of the pyramid”, that the poorest yet largest socio-economic segment would be one of the most lucrative segment for entrepreneurial innovation. The modern strategic mastermind, Dr. C.K Prahalad, however, in his book titled “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” foresaw this driver of change and growth.
It has been 84 years now since the term first came into being, and as technology rapidly earned its place as the 4th factor of production by modern definition of economics, technopreneurs are creating massive value catering to the “Bottom of the pyramid”. By serving the underserved, they are the real winds of change.
Today, approximately, there are a whopping 3 billion people living on less than $2.5 a day globally. As a major pie from this statistic, India, being an agriculture driven economy, constitutes about 70% of the population living by such a metric. Thus, even though such a segment would largely depict a fairly low purchasing power & limited intellectual capital, they would, infact, also represent the largest demographic market segment by per capita income.
But why should an entrepreneur target the bottom of the pyramid? What are the underlying opportunities?
Digital innovation is transforming lives by impacting and enabling human functions, and human emotions. While most of the urban agglomerations are ideal to market testing, the semi-rural and rural markets are not invested upon, hence not impacted enough. There is substantial need and evidently more buyers than sellers, only if the right tools reach the right hands. Out of a billion mobile phone users, only 250 million are smartphone users. Out of which again, only a mere 30% have access to 3G networks, the rest, 2G.
Though counterintuitive, low purchasing power means high business opportunity. The massive chunk of human capital in our target segment can be engaged in semi-skilled opportunities, which in turn can provide traction in areas of logistics and outsourcing for high growth and well funded startups.
Venture capitalists are investing heavily in technology startups while large corporations are launching startup accelerators in emerging economies. The objective? Reach & Market expansion. And when the thought leaders foresee holistic growth, bottom of the pyramid provides a bouquet of opportunities in terms of scale.
With opportunities galore, let’s think about some of the key growth drivers in today’s world of rapid disruption in this segment:
- With growing secondary & tertiary occupations in semi-rural & rural areas, the dependence on farming is witnessing a decline, thus ensuring steady income which bears a positive effect on disposable income.
- Better infrastructure, increased investment, good monsoons, farm-loan waivers and improved income levels are increasing spending propensity.
- Government initiatives like PMRDF, PMKVY, Jandhan Scheme, transactions using UIDAI & Swachh Bharat campaigns are drivers to economic upliftment in areas which need the most.
- There has never been a greater impetus from NGOs, CSR programs of large corporations & self-help groups which are working towards alleviating deep-rooted socio-economic issues in this segment.
- Public infrastructure projects like enhanced road connectivity is improving employment quotient due to improved commutation.
- Technology adoption intermediaries are the agents of change who serve as a bridge between the bigger picture and implementation at the grassroots.
- The Digital India program initiative by the Government of India which is striving to making every citizen have access to information at their fingertips.
Are there role models from the large firms who follow a rather traditional innovation approach? Precisely, yes, and very effective:
|Godrej & Boyce||Consumer durables||ChotuKool refrigerator||Battery powered, does not require regular electricity supply|
|Vortex||Banking||Low cost ATM||Very less power consumption, reliable cash dispense module|
|TATA Chemicals||Consumer goods||Water purifier||No running water or electricity, low cost of access Rs. 899|
|HUL||FMCG||Khushiyon ki Doli||Affordable multi-brand home care & hygiene products|
|Nokia||Software||Nokia Life Tools||Windows OS non-smartphone utility suite|
|ITC||Agriculture||Choupal||Empowers farmers with up-to-date agricultural and marketing information through access to internet and computers.|
|GlaxoSmithkline||FMCG||Asha (milk food drink)||40% cheaper than the regular variant of Horlicks, affordable health drink|
|IFFCOTOKIO||Financial Services||Microcredit||Loans to individuals and SME proprietors without CIBIL|
|Uber||On demand cabs||Self-employment||On-demand cab service to urban customers, semi-skilled rural workers migrating to cities, better livelihood|
|Big basket, Swiggy||Hyperlocal delivery||Logistics||On-demand home grocery semi-skilled rural workers migrating to cities, better livelihood|
|Facebook, Ola||Digital||2G services||Enabling customers to book cab services using 2G networks, Facebook Lite version for 2G networks|
While large corporations are setting new standards to innovation by constantly striving to maximize reach, several new kid-on-the-blocks (read startups) are also embracing innovation in their own capacities, thus, setting examples for others to follow and create social value, beyond mere business figures. Some of the notable ones deserve a mention below:
- Selco solar – Provide sustainable energy solutions
- Nanopix – Have developed proprietary lot sorting algorithms for farm produce
- iKure Techsoft – Enable selling accredited medicines, tracking doctors, attendance, prescriptions
- Ampere – Provide affordable electric vehicles, e.g, scooters, cycles, trolleys
- Boond – Aid in alleviating social issues
- Paani –Enable mobile commerce even for non-smartphone users through mobile-based loyalty programs for underserved communities
- Bempu – Infant warming solutions using a wristband
- Samasource – Creates employment by outsourcing (BPO/KPO), customer support skills that can be easily trained and delivered.
- Digital Empowerment Foundation – Provides rural areas with digital literacy, access to digital tools and information-rich knowledge.
Now, how well does Zivanta Analytics fit into the social innovation bandwagon? Are we doing our bit as a corporate citizen? In the last couple of years of our existence, we have catered to several niche social sectors as consultative partners of large corporations and NGOs alike, empowering them with cutting edge technology services & analytics. With the help of our social consulting verticals that we work in, our clients are able to make sense of large unstructured data sets, unregulated information systems, unevaluated social program investments emanating from the bottom of the pyramid.
Some of our major clients are ACC-Holcim, Save the Children, Voltas, Ernst & Young, Ministry of Small & Medium Enterprises, Govt. of India. Projects delivered range from reporting, surveys, fieldwork, MIS, dashboards, web development, implementation interventions, content & documentation, metrics measurement, bid & procurement management, etc.
Riding the wave of social change using technology and digital innovation, Zivanta Analytics, with its yearn and drive to create an impact through value at the bottom of the pyramid, believes the day is not far where empowerment will weigh heavier on the scale against disparity & lack of exposure. That is the day when communities will unite, for the greater good, irrespective of the pyramid.