Historically, multinational companies have grown their businesses by creating products and services for upper- and middle-class consumers in industrialized countries. Even when efforts are made to serve foreign markets outside of the industrialized core, companies, by-and-large, target “modernizing” consumers whose purchasing power, norms, and needs are comparable to that of their traditional “Western” customer base. In the process, the MNC has become all but synonymous with global inequity and Westernization, increasingly becoming the target of choice for multinational anti-globalization movements.
Recently, however, it has been proposed that MNCs possess the resources and wherewithal to deploy business models capable of serving the needs of the billions of people in the developing world, many of whom earn less than $5 per day. Driven by a complex of political, economic, and social forces, it is suggested that companies can, indeed should, re-imagine the business so as to transform the MNC into an entity capable of providing for a diverse set of needs, including those at the “base of the pyramid” (BoP). This does not simply mean selling extractive products and services to the poor; instead it means learning how to co-develop a commercial model aimed at improving the lives of those who have been by-passed or actively exploited by globalization. Cultural sensitivity, environmental sustainability, and mutual learning hold the keys to this process.
Unfortunately, most managers in MNCs have little knowledge or understanding of those in the BoP, let alone their views about social equity, environmental quality, or what represents a “good life.” Indeed, it has been strongly argued that the dominant conceptualizations of “development” and “modernization” reflect a Western cultural bias and a preoccupation with simply raising GDP per capita. Together, these shortcomings significantly hinder efforts to imagine and build healthy BOP communities and markets.
The primary purpose of this project is, therefore, to create a validated research protocol, which will provide a framework for engaging the BoP in a manner that fosters a deep understanding of local needs and local perspectives. This protocol will also provide insight into the processes by which firms can identify and develop sustainable business models in partnership with BOP customers.