“Poverty as a Marketing Opportunity, Rather Than Social Problem”

Poverty as a Marketing Opportunity, Rather Than Social Problem

I came across parts of the serialized version of your piece on Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) concept of lessening poverty. I find the idea quite thrilling. I am wondering why Nigeria seems oblivious of its application, unlike what obtains in many other parts of the world. Please, as a guru in marketing, please ‘open my eyes’ more to poverty as a marketing opportunity rather social problem – Joe Nnabuife.

Just as I made clear to curious minds at the recent inauguration of “Puzzle4Prize.com’’, an online marketing promotion platform that uses puzzles, as an optimist I prefer to view issues from the perspective of a ‘half-full glass’ rather than the defeatist tendency that makes for viewing the same glass as ‘half-empty’. This seems the bane of many developing countries with preference for sticking to maintaining a vice-like grip on the ‘begging bowl’ approach to poverty alleviation – Perception of poverty being a social problem rather than opportunities inherent in being poor, from a marketing perspective. As a concept, this is really what “Marketing for poor” or Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) marketing is all about.

C.K. Prahalad, an academic; a management guru, ranked as one of the most prominent business thinkers in the world; and an exponent of this approach (with some others) upheld that, “…if we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden, and start recognising them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers, a whole world of opportunity will be open”. BoP is a model of doing business that deliberately targets the poor, often applying new technologies. For reasons of modesty some prefer to refer the same concept as “Base of the Pyramid”.

For emphasis, BoP (also tagged “Marketing to the poor”, “Market for poor” or M4P) is a model of doing business that deliberately targets the poor. It entails a marketing approach where a market for the poor exists, within which the poor operates to earn a living and not await donations from whatever source. Fallout of this remains the improvement of the lot of the poor through genuinely strengthening his economic position (by creating opportunities to raise his incomes and improve his livelihoods), rather than handouts from humanitarian gestures. The old saying, “stop giving me fish, but teach me how to fish instead” strongly obtains here.

Recently announced Bayelsa State government’s intension to curb poverty through ‘Community Based Projects’ is in tandem with this approach, and should be emulated. Brazil’s immediate past president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, achieved a major fit of bringing millions of Brazilians out of poverty and reversed the rural urban drift in his country. I remain an advocate of the adoption of President Lula’s concept.

My 11 part series on BoP (which could be obtained free of charge, on request) are there as an instrument of urging relevant authorities in Nigeria to see the light by getting into poverty alleviation through this approach. As hint, examples of some ventures in other developing countries where BoP is making the poor have cause to thank God for bringing them out of poverty are stated later in this write-up.

The bottom of the pyramid as a term in economics is well known. It signifies the largest, but poorest, socio-economic group (with the few very rich at the apex of this pyramid). In the words of Prahalad and others, the bottom is comprised of the 4 billion people (in global term) that live on less than $2 per day. His marketing assumes that when the poor (a huge market) are converted into producers and also consumers, they get more access to products and services which help them acquire the dignity of attention and choices from the private sector. Accessible, transparent and remunerative markets are essential in order to increase the incomes, improve livelihood of especially the rural poor.

Poverty is the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money.  Absolute poverty or destitution means being deprived of basic human needs, which commonly includes food, water, sanitation, clothing, shelter, health care and education. Relative poverty is defined contextually as economic inequality in the location or society in which people live. In Nigeria, poverty keeps staring at our faces despite much asserted high economic growth.

In spite of Nigeria having one of the world’s highest economic growth rates (averaging 7.4 per cent over the last ten years), it retains a high level of poverty, according to the World Bank, with 67 per cent of its citizens living on below $1 daily. Even where government-owned National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) recently confirmed that 112 million Nigerians lived below poverty line, the World Bank is not mincing words about the number of Nigerians living in poverty being on rapid increase too. More than 80 million Nigerians live in rural areas, with an obvious majority classified as poor. Despite this, it remains clear that various Nigerian governments’ efforts at poverty alleviation have not been yielding impressive results. What some of us muse about sometimes is that many around are quite ignorant of the fact that this large number of poor make up a huge market, and a mouth-watering marketing opportunity.

I am quite aware of the predominant preference within the corporate environment of this clime, for poverty related issues being approached as social problems more than as marketing opportunities. (To be continued).

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