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Friday, April 06, 2007

Making the BOP Case at Georgetown, USAID

By Al Hammond

Georgetown UniversityYesterday, I had the privilege of introducing our BOP market report, The Next 4 Billion: Market Size and Business Strategy at the Base of the Pyramid, to nearly 100 people at the US Agency for International Development. The day before, I did the same for a more academic audience at the Mortara Center at Georgetown University. Both groups had lots of interesting questions:

Q: What other kinds of data would empower business investment, and were we going to gather that too?
A: Very fine grain market data are needed, but at present we are not working with them.
Q: What about local merchants or producers in the informal economy that might be pushed aside by more efficient formal businesses?
A: A market-based approach will have winners and losers, but will, we believe, improve opportunities for both producers and consumers.
Q: What is the role for governments in creating the enabling environment for business investment?
A: See the IFC/World Bank Doing Business reports.But what was most interesting to me was the questions they didn?t ask?questions about the credibility of a market-based, private sector strategy to alleviate poverty. In effect, what I "heard" from both these audiences was that the report tells such a compelling story, that the N4B analysis of BOP markets and business strategies makes such a convincing case, that no one wanted to question the need for an expanded private sector role in meeting the unmet needs of the BOP. Many in both audiences said, quite directly, that the data provide the needed empirical backing for the BOP hypothesis and move the discussion to a whole different level.

That's also the message we infer from the feedback we are getting from the private sector. A VP of one of the world's largest industrial companies called us up, had us walk him through the data, and used it the next day to get his proposal for developing a group of new BOP businesses approved. An analyst at one of the world?s leading investment banks told us that his boss had put a copy on the desk of every analyst in the emerging market group and told them to use the data to start thinking about where they should be investing. And that's just in the first week after the report was released. This unique dataset, we believe, will be influential in helping to catalyze or justify many investment decisions in BOP markets.

My colleagues and I will be giving this talk lots of times in the coming months, and undoubtedly we will get a lot more feedback on the report. But it is satisfying to feel that our year?s worth of work has produced something of value, and that it provides a strong foundation for the expanded efforts to scale enterprise development that we are planning. More about those plans another time.
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