Over the past several years, developing the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) community as producers is the new approach to alleviating poverty and achieving sustainable development. But, the impact cannot be completely realized if they do not get access to participate in the mainstream economy. For-profit social enterprises that specialise in ethical product aggregation and market access prove to be instrumental in widening the scope of impact.
BoP As Producers
The fact that BoP community can play a producer’s role in value creation instead of just being consumers, has turned out to be fruitful in helping the disadvantaged community to be self-sufficient.
Interestingly, while the concept of impact views BoP as both a market to sell goods and services to, and a market to source products from, nearly all the research to date has focused on the former. Indeed, a crucial and increasingly untenable gap remains in our understanding of what is referred to as “BoP as producer” ventures. In these ventures, those at the BoP are the producers of goods, such as agricultural products, handicrafts, and many other materials of economic importance.
In the previous blog, we touched upon the fact that motivating the BoP to emerge as producers requires a hand-up approach. Social entrepreneurs create sustainable solutions. They look at people at the BoP as end users and design their products and services to solve their real-life problems; like training small farmers in community farming, sourcing apparels designed and stitched by BoP women and creating a market for it.
They do not consider BoP as a monolithic segment but one that comprises several segments with differing needs. But what good is having BoP as producers if there is no access to the right markets?
Access To Markets Through Marketplaces
To reduce poverty, policymakers in developing and emerging markets have tried to connect producers at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) to high-income markets. Social enterprises are mobilising initiatives to make BoP self-reliant by helping them grow as Producers.
Sustainable products marketplaces have sprung up, creating a dedicated market for ethically sourced and socially conscious products. Right from apparels, food products, handicrafts, stationery to personal hygiene, these stores house them all.
In India, Goli Soda Store, pap.reeka and Bare Necessities are few of the well known sustainable product aggregators, providing a marketplace for BoP producers to sell their products to the end consumers.
Founder of Bare Necessities India – Sahar Mansoor on living a zero-waste lifestyle
Bhoomi Santhe, the farmer’s market at Bhoomi college, organises this event every month for the farmers around Bangalore to sell their organically grown produce.
Lauren Conrad and Hannah Skvarla started The Little Market to empower women artisans to rise above poverty and support their families. The online fair trade marketplace sells beautiful products handmade by artisans around the world. The Little Market has artisan partners practice fair trade principles, and every purchase from The Little Market generates meaningful income for the artisans and their families.
For over 70 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a pioneer of the Fair Trade movement laying the groundwork for sustainable change in over 30 developing countries by providing a space for people to take charge of their own lives and build something for themselves. It is absolutely commendable what they stand for and the fact that each piece of jewellery, houseware and decor is created by independent small-scale artisan groups, co-ops and workshops and are crafted with love using local materials and time-honoured skills.
Social Movement for Socially Conscious Products
Almost all the products made by BoP producers are ethically sourced, and made using socially conscious processes. This makes them sustainable and impactful. Consumers from the higher income class, buy these products for their rustic yet indigenous nature and hence the mass consumer grades them to be meant for the elite consumers.
But, not all products are priced premium. Most of them are within the affordable range of someone like you and me. The difference is in the mindset. Creating markets for socially conscious products is not sufficient. What is necessary is creating social awareness among the masses to opt for these products over the commercially manufactured ones.
Social enterprises that promote ethically sourced and socially conscious products made by the BoP have to go an extra mile to create social movements. There is a pressing need for initiatives that propel the end consumers to make a conscious choice in whatever they buy, by looking at the bigger picture.
EcoFemme, a for-profit social enterprise based in Auroville, Tamil Nadu, makes cloth menstrual pads. These pads carry the impact ingredient as they are made by local BoP women. Kathy Walking, Co-Founder of EcoFemme is driving a social movement to urge women to shift to hygienic and sustainable ways of managing their periods instead of using environmentally degrading pads available today.
“Women think that menstrual hygiene means using a disposable product, which is not true. We have a lot of biases against reusable products and the efforts involved in it and that is where our efforts are focused.”
Turning BOP communities into producers have made them self-reliant. Continued access to marketplaces and a high level of awareness about socially conscious and ethically sourced products among end consumers, will be crucial towards making this a mass movement and building a more equitable society.
Cover Image: Okahi.org