Monday, August 13, 2007

The implication of 'micro'

As I read the BOP literature and follow the conversations online I have one fear regarding this concept we are calling microfranchising and that is that it will be highjacked by MNCs who do not share the “poverty alleviating, social, grassroots, BOP, benevolent, barefoot franchising” characteristic that the “micro” in microfranchising is intended to convey. This is the definition proposed by Jason Fairbourne in the introduction of MicroFranchising: Creating Wealth at the Bottom of the Pyramid, to which I likewise subscribe.

I fear that the connotations of “the fortune” at the BOP will create a frenzied 'gold rush' that will result in Western capitalism running over the poor instead of helping them live the life they desire. We assume falsely that our current way of living in the U.S. or Europe is the ultimate ideal and that all peoples share our visions of a good society. I fear that the forcefulness of advertisers and marketers would lead peoples in developing nations to sign onto western materialism and consumerism thinking such as 'more is better' and 'wealth is the highest virtue', that, when after the-deed-has-been-done, so to say, they will regret the loss of such virtues as sharing, frugality, hospitality, family, community, as they exist currently in their societies. I think it is a common report from people who have spent significant time with the poor that the poor seem to have something that is missing in our 'developed societies'; an innocence, a kindness, a sense of joy for life in spite of pain, which is often a stark contrast to the getting-ahead or hustlle and bustle of the streets of New York or the lonely isolation of suburbia.

In my own quest to help the poor and relieve suffering, I do not want to rob them of their most treasured values. That is one reason I hope that social entrepreneurs will take the lead of this movement of microfranchising instead of international MNCs that are only concerned about their own bottom line and profit maximization. That is not to say that MNCs cannot act in a social entrepreneurial way in certain endeavors of their company. But I would bring to mind the insights that Clay Christensen taught in the Innovator's Dilemma, that the very structure required for a large company to be successful will be the very obstacle to its ability to implement and/or adapt to destructive technologies. With the thought that the technologies and system innovations that will be required to reach the BOP will undoubtedly fit the definition of a disruptive technology. So I agree with Christensen as he suggests that the large company would need to set up an autonomous company that had the freedom to pursue disruptive solutions, even if it meant competing with the mother company. But again, I hope that such off-shoot organizations created to target the BOP will function in a way that will remain true to the social element on which the movement currently operates.

So that's my wish, that this great concept of microfranchising will remain in the camp that inspired microcredit and inspires social entrepreneurs everywhere.

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