From our newsletter: Bad Roads, No Drinking Water! But “har haath mein phone”?

Government’s idea of distributing mobile phones to the poor for free has generated widespread criticism and skepticism. Even if unintended, could there be some real benefits?

Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Dear Summary Town Residents,

How are you doing? I am sure you have heard of Indian governments’ intention of announcing “Har Haath mein Phone” scheme. It has met with widespread criticism. When we are yet to solve the problems of safe drinking water, electricity and basic infrastructure like roads. what is the meaning of government spending money on mobile phones for poor? I, too, have no illusions about the intention. It is a get-votes strategy for the election year. I am pretty sure that those who are drafting the plan have not read “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid” by Prof. C. K. Prahlad. But since I have read it, I feel that the impact might actually surprise us. And the government too. (Assuming, of course, at least a decent number of phones reach in the right hands).

Prof. Prahlad argues in the book that poor adopt advanced technology readily. Especially when it gives them entrepreneurial opportunities to improve their lives. Fisherman in Keala are already using mobile phones to get highest bidders for their catches. When ITC installed PCs with Internet connectivity for its e-Choupal initiative, villagers soon figured out how to not only check the soya prices in the neighbouringmandis, but also the future prices in Chicago Board of Trade. If electricity is a problem, entrepreneurs in villages don’t take long to start mobile-charging services using batteries.

From the outside, we often make assumptions about what poor want. Won’t they want proper sanitation in their living quarters before a television set or mobile phones? The reality may surprise us. When the land ownership is not clear, who would want to invest in improving the housing? A mobile and a TV are different. TV viewing builds aspirations and mobile can be a business tool to fulfill those aspirations.

What else do we not know about people at the bottom of the pyramid? Just how big the market is and what are the opportunities it presents? Read the Summary of the Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid and find out for yourself. You might agree with what the author says. That if we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as burdens and start recognizing them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole world of opportunity opens up.


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