Tuesday, July 24, 2007

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid


After a few failed attempts, I finally finished reading The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, a book by strategy guru and University of Michigan professor CK Prahalad. My first couple times starting the book, I got bogged down in some inaccurate data shared repeatedly in the first couple pages of the book (he kept saying 4 billion people live on less than $2 a day, though I've typically heard 3 billion, and his own exhibit doesn't jive with his claim). But ultimately, I got over that minor hangup since CK Prahalad is viewed as one of the greatest minds alive, and we agree that poverty is a huge problem in the world. Had I been interested in fighting extreme poverty while I was a business student at the University of Michigan a few years ago, I certainly would have met with Dr. Prahalad then, but unfortunately the timing was off a little.

My initial feeling upon finishing Dr. Prahalad's book was disappointment that he did not provide a clear framework for me and others to go out and erase poverty. For example, A Billion Bootstraps, which I reviewed earlier this week, gave a fairly compelling argument for microcredit as a key to poverty alleviation. And John Wood's Leaving Microsoft to Change the World gave an inspiring plug for world change through educated children. But the problem is that neither education nor microcredit is the full solution. In fact, the more I read about poverty and global economic development, the more complex the problem appears. Jeffrey Sachs, author of The End of Poverty, is the only who claims to have a complete answer to the solution: have governments throw more money at the problem. Sounds easy, right? Dr. Prahalad does poverty justice by not oversimplifying either the problem or the solution. Yet he shows, through a number of case studies, ways in which entrepreneurial and visionary companies, non-profits, individuals, and even governments have adapted to local conditions to provide sustainable and profitable service and product offerings to the 3 billion (4 billion per Dr. Prahalad) people who live on less than $2 per day.

So in the end, I'm less disappointed in CK Prahalad's discussion of the problems and sample solutions related to poverty, and I'm more disappointed that there isn't a simple solution. I would recommend the book to any businessperson interested in making a positive difference in the world, any person working at a non-profit focused on international issues, or anyone else involved with or interested in global economic development.

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