Editor's Desk

By Michael Hughes

In fighting poverty, there's a fortune to be had

Some fortunes can be found in the unlikeliest places.

Take the developing world, for example. Long a place where businesses focused on philanthropy and social responsibility, it's now becoming an area where businesses focus on business. Billions of people there live on less than $3,000 a year (a sector termed the base of the pyramid), but that market could be $5 trillion and growing, according to the World Bank's International Finance Corp.

So that geographical region is an appropriate area for the focus of this year's international edition of ISE magazine. And that's where Ted London and Colm Fay take us with their cover story, "Making Money by Fighting Poverty."

Regardless of income level, everybody needs food, shelter, healthcare and other services – things businesses in developed areas provide in abundance. So it stands to reason that enterprises could provide such services, increase employment, fight poverty and make a few bucks – a win-win-win-win.

But it's not as easy as hanging your shingle out as the Acme Mobile Phone and Pizza Parlor in Zanzibar. What works on Madison Avenue might not work in Myanmar. So London and Fay have examined businesses that succeeded in serving the base of the pyramid with things like building materials, financial services, sanitation and healthcare.

They've come up with a set of standardized frameworks that industrial engineers and managers can adjust to fit the conditions on the ground. After all, even developed world business frameworks need tweaking when they meet up with reality and the ever-changing market.

The goal of London and Fay, and other researchers working on base of the pyramid issues, is to bring the business and engineering tools of the developed world to tackle the problems that grieve poverty-stricken areas.

So click here and see what you think. Perhaps an IE or a hundred could take these standardized frameworks, apply them in developing countries, alleviate poverty, save the world and make a fortune.

Michael Hughes is managing editor of IISE. Reach him at mhughes@iise.org or (770) 349-1110.