Teaching Interest

Business at the Base of the Pyramid (MBA)

by Shawn A. Cole


Target Audience

This is a General Management course aimed at potential managers, entrepreneurs and investment professionals who are interested in addressing the needs of low-income populations, especially in developing countries. The course seeks to provide an understanding of how business approaches can address low income markets that represent the largest components of developing economies, both in numbers of people as well as total income. The course materials explore the commercial viability of such markets, and looks at the impact of such commercial approaches on the social development of the populations involved, as well as the profits of the enterprise.


In the markets at the top of the socioeconomic pyramid, traditionally served by leading corporations, a global and "flatter" world has relentlessly increased the intensity of competition, and decreased profits. On the other hand, examples of enterprises focusing at the base of the pyramid capable of achieving both scale and commercial rates of return are beginning to be noticed by the business community. Meanwhile, the compatibility of financial viability and positive social change is a question being raised in economic and social development circles that is increasingly part of the political debate in developing nations.

Business at the Base-of- the-Pyramid (B-BOP) addresses these issues by examining enterprises that focus on serving low-income sectors from various perspectives. Roughly two-thirds of the cases in the course have commercial actors as the main protagonist, and the other third has social entrepreneurs as the key protagonists (including NGOs and government agencies as collaborators). The course is composed of an introduction and four main modules: After the introductory class, the opening module will look at business approaches to providing basic services, such as health, water and education. The next module will cover issues in social finance, including micro-finance. After a brief detour to look at technology, and how it can make a contribution, module 3 will look at the role of multi-nationals and how they approach this market, and finally module 4 will look at local businesses and their contribution. The cases used come from Africa, Asia and Latin America (with one case set in the United States.)