Other Side of C. K. Prahalad’s Fortune at the Bottom, February 13, 2008
I realized close to two years ago, after reading C. K. Prahalad’s The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Wharton School Publishing Paperbacks), that I wanted to be intelligence officer to the poor instead of to a president, and that I needed to create the field of public intelligence (decision support for everyone at no cost). I strongly recommend that the two books be read together. See my review of that book. See also John Bogle’s The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism as well as William Grider’s The Soul of Capitalism: Opening Paths to a Moral Economy. Natural Capitalism, Capitalism 3.0, Green to Gold, Cradle-to-Cradle, all book titles, are converging with Social Entrepreneurship and Social Business as well as unconventional Global Assemblages.
This book, the last that I read during a power outage lasting most of the day, really rocked me. Apart from the fact that the author has labored anonymously for three decades before being propelled into the public consciousness with his well-served Nobel Peace Prize (a prize that Prahalad should be considered for as well), everything in this book resonates with the path the 24-founders of Earth Intelligence Network have chosen.
The author’s Nobel presentation, “Poverty is a Threat to Peace,” is at the back of the book, and has since been validated by the UN High-Level Threat Panel in A More Secure World: Our Shared Responsibility–Report of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change.
The author not only lent to the poor, he lent to beggars at no interest with no schedule, and proved conclusively that the poor and beggars are “credit worthy” by virtue of “being alive.” He also pushed technology to rural areas.
By page xvii I have goosebumps and a glorious feeling that good stuff is happening faster and bigger than most realize.
The author notes early on that unfettered capitalism creates sccial problems rather than solving them. He suggests most compellingly that social business fills a gap left by government, foundations, and multilateral institutions.
While the book is missing a sense of shared information and a global Range of Gifts Table that anyone, from individual to foundation, can use to make precision contributions and interventions, it is very easy to see how this book and Yochai Benkler’s book, The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom as well as How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition and all come together with Prahalad’s vision and my own of public intelligence in the public interest.
The author recognizes, as Alvin Toffler and others have pointed out, that all of our institutions are failing. I recommend books I have listed and reviewed on how complex societies collapse. I would venture to say that the US Government, with 27 secessionist movements, is collapsing from a mix of political and economic corruption compounded by cultural arrogance, but most importantly, because the government is stuck in the top down elite driven secret information Weberian model, and the government has failed to empower all local communities and all individuals with bottom up resilient adaptable information sharing capabilities.
The bookm draws a stark contrast between the World Bank which measures loans given out, and the Grameen Bank, which measures outcomes at multiple levels including kids staying in school.
As I read about a social business, I envision every village as its own business.
The author addresses and dismisses Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) as insufficient. He calls for proactive collaborative engagement with potential customers in the five billion poor, and I am instantly reminded of the Business Week cover story of 20 June 2005, on the power of mass volunteer collaboration.
The author focuses on women, mothers, and their children. This tallies with Michael O’Hanlon and Ralph Peters, both of whom regard the education of women as the single best investment bar none.
The author took several steps beyond his pioneering micros-cash loans. He created social networks of those being helped, and he froze payments or interst and did whatever necessary to get defaulters back on track without penalty. This guy is the Mother Teresa of micro-economics!
Today self-help groups of around 20 can apply to the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development for group loans.
His integrity is without peer. Interest over the life of the loan would never exceed the loan itself.
He prefers social business to charity because charity encourages corruption (in my own experience, 50% of every AID or contractor dollar goes toward corruption or fraud).
He observes that social business does not have conventional metrics, but it provides meaning and opportunity, and I observe in my own note, it lowers the “true costs” of virtually everything it touches.
Featured in this book, the middle half, is the French company Danone, and the joint venture to create a yogurt for the poor children, ultimately being delivered in a bio-degradable cup that converts into fertilizer.
The last chapter is on information technology for the poor. I personally envision free cell phones for each village, then for each neighborhood, and finally for each household, monetizing the transactions and the real-time knowledge.
The author concludes that we need new social value metrics and even a Social Dow Jones Index. This is the opposite of what I have been thinking about ever since Paul Hawkins taught me about “true costs.” Now that Scanback allows a person at the point of sale to photograph a bar code and send it to Amazon to get their price, the channel is open to send back water content (4000 liters in a designer shirt from Bangladesh cotton), fuel content, child labor hours, and tax avoidance status).
The last note is one I want to present to a Fortune 50 Assets Management firm. Danone is to be admired and respected for committing to a sccial business, and it found a solution that permitted it to engage without letting down its investors: it created a new fund explicitly advertised as 90% traditional and 10% social business, and it was over-subscribed instantly.
On page 25 are listed 25 distinct Gameen companies. On pages 58-59 are Sixteen Decisions that alone warrant the Nobel Peace Prize. What these sixteen decisions do for the beneficiaries of micro-cash loans is nothing less than a socially-inspired form of the Ten Commandments, focused on creating health people in a healthy family within a healthy community.
A few other exceptional books:
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century
How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition
Society’s Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
I am increasingly uncomfortable with the fact that all the books I am reading and reviewing are in English. I have read a few in English stemming out of India and elsewhere, and I am beginning to feel a very deep vacuum that needs to be filled. I envision 100 million volunteers using Telelanguage.com to educate the poor one cell call at a time, but I now also see an urgent need to translate and make available non-fiction literature in other languages, easily retrievable in micro-text for micro-cash.