There may be a fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. But for those consumers who earn less than a dollar a day, and the companies that would market to them, the path to success isn't always clear. Professor Gita Johar, the Meyer Feldberg Professor of Business in the marketing department of Columbia Business School (CBS), has studied the challenge of marketing to the very poor. She has also led a global consulting class in which CBS students work with fledgling social enterprises in India. On Dec. 3, 2009, Johar led a discussion with students about the state of social enterprise and marketing to the world's poor.
In Johar's mind, the main issue is scalability. The logic behind the "fortune at the bottom of the pyramid," a term coined by University of Michigan business professor C.K. Prahalad, is that although the very poor may not have much disposable income, there are so many to serve. Companies can offer goods or services at relatively low prices because they can potentially sell large volumes. Thus for any bottom-of-the-pyramid solution to be sustainable, it will need to scale up efficiently and effectively.