In a recent post on his site, business guru Seth Godin talked about the opportunities to provide goods and services to the world’s poor. He says that just because it is going to take longer than it should doesn’t mean we should walk away, but we should remember that most of the tools of the Western mass market are useless when engaging emerging markets.
At one point he looks at how the cell-phone has “revolutionized” the lives of many and says:
If a business can offer a better product, one that’s more efficient, provides better information, increases productivity, is safer, cleaner, faster or otherwise improved, it has the ability to change the world.
Change the world? Sure. Because capitalism and markets scale. If you can make money selling someone a safer item, you’ll make more. And more. Until you’ve sold all you can. At the same time, you’ve enriched the purchaser, who bought something of her own free will because it made things better.
Not only that, but engaging in the marketplace empowers the purchaser. If you’ve got a wagon full of rice as food aid, you can just dump it in the town square and drive away. You have all the power. But if you have to sell something in order to succeed, it moves the power from the seller to buyer. Quality and service and engagement have to continually improve or the buyer moves on.
The piece is well worth a read and was inspired by this video from the Acumenfund: