Recent studies and books such as ‘Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ showed that there is a largeaddressable market for companies to cater to, which if tapped properly could earn the enterprises a‘fortune.’ Buoyed by such sentiments large multinationals launched products to tap into this segment.Cola at Rs 5, shampoo at Re1 sachet are just some examples of these. Though they have met with somesuccess, they definitely haven’t earned a ‘fortune’ for the companies or have significantly changed thelives of its customers.Possibly that is because none of this ‘innovation’ was relevant to their lives and the standard of livingof the poor. For the rural or urban poor a change of standard of living comes from more improvementin the basic necessities of life – sanitation, clean water, healthcare, education, energy and ofcoursecertain food and consumer products. And even doubling of income doesn’t necessarily translate into better access to safe drinking water, sanitation, better healthcare or any better standard of living.In fact, studies have shown that the urban poor often end paying a far larger premium for basicutilities and necessities than the affluent in the city. While people living in apartments in Mumbai donot pay for water, the poor in the slums of Dharavi in Mumbai pay a price for it. The price of milk, riceor even electricity is higher within slums than it is outside. To access hygienic sanitation and dignity, afamily of five has to shell out a minimum of Rs 300 a month at the community toilet. That’s 10% of theearning for a $2 a day earner. While it is apparent that the poor are willing to pay for each of these, they end up paying a far higheramount that people outside the slums pay for. Even if the $2 a day earner doubles his or her earningand starts earning $ 4 a day, it doesn’t mean that he or she can set up a clean toilet in her house, or buy a water purifier or afford preventive healthcare. For that he or she has to earn almost five times ormore. The reason for this is the lack of an efficient market within the slum areas. Seldom do the poorfind relevant products and services that have been developed with an understanding of their needsand available at a price that they can afford.However, things are changing and one can notice the emergence of a new wave of entrepreneurs whoare building businesses to tap into this gap in the society. They are the social entrepreneurs.
The Social Entrepreneurs
Social entrepreneurs combine technology with market-driven, innovative distribution strategies andsmart financing options to drive innovation in products and services that are relevant and affordablefor the people at the bottom of the pyramid. Here are some examples.D.Light Designis taking advantage of the advances in light emitting diode (LED) technology to
provide portable lights that are both AC-rechargeable and solar-rechargeable, and can provide up to