What advice would you give for achieving success at the BoP?

Over the past 30 years, I have worked on many affordable technologies - and one thing has become abundantly clear to me: designing the technology is only 10-20% of the solution. The other 80% lies in an effective branding, mass marketing and distribution strategy, together with a business strategy that can be brought to scale. One success factor on any new technology is that it should create income generating opportunities for every key player in the distribution chain, including for the end customer. I have shared our experience with treadle pumps in Bangladesh here. The fact that the workshops who made treadle pumps, the village dealers who sold them, the well drillers who installed them, and the small farmers who purchased them all made money was critical to the success of the treadle pump program.

What advice do you have for achieving success at the BoP? What affordable technologies have you been working on or have heard about that have reached low-income communities at scale? What examples can you share of effective marketing and distribution strategies? How have you gone about creating market demand? What tools and resources have you found useful?

The problem so often overlooked it seems, is the final selling price of innovatory products and their cost value to the BOP consumer! Aid for Trade has successfully trialled a Business in a Box concept for BOP supply of affordable essential goods - it worked well. Would like to establish some means of scaling this up - any suggestions welcome!

Best regards

Mike Tyler


I know this is a bit cheeky, so you might want to delete, but we are trying currently to fill the post of MD for Twin & Twin Trading based in London. Fair Trade is one of the best ways of helping people out of poverty - paying fair prices and helping to improve the balance of the value chain in favour of producers. For more details of the job, please see www.oxfordhr.co.uk .

Thank you.

Hazel Douglas
MD - Oxford HR

367-ApplicationPackTwinTradingDecember12.pdf (540 KB)

Hi Hazel - thanks for sharing this great job ad! We're very pleased to say that we're launching a jobs board soon where Business Fights Poverty members can post and view job ads for free. Watch this space!

Hello, Paul,

Thanks for sharing and for raising the question.

Our focus (www.3xBL.com) has been on healthcare and access to medicines. In most cases, the medicines that we have been using have not been "radically innovative", expensive new medicines. They have rather been common generic medicines, affordable at a reasonable price, and sometimes packaged differently (smaller count).

Most of the innovation, exactly as you wrote it, has been in

- very inclusive business models generating (ethically correct) motivation for all the players involved

- including basic profit for the multinational companies participating in the effort

- good understanding of the specific wants, needs, attitudes and behaviors of local patients

- umbrella branding / mega branding, all adapted in local languages (e.g. India) and cultural sensitivities (e.g. STDs)

- creating trust by never disappointing

- the most useful technology we have been using has been ... cell phones

Some excellent illustrations have been listed by endeva, in cooperation with the German agency GIZ and Sanofi, at http://www.medicines-for-bop.net/report/

Looking forward to other ideas !



thank you for sharing Paul! i am a big fan of your work. i must apologize early, i am writing this from a small phone as i am working in a remote village in the great rift valley of Kenya. Therefore please pardon any typos or grammatical errors. we are working with farmers as they transition towards fruit and vegetable cultivation from herding and grain production.
For me success at the BoP comes from agricultural decelopment . As the majority of the worlds poor are involved in agriculture, developing successful agricultural applications can be a tremendous force in eradicating poverty. We must recognize that farming can be a very profitable business, though it is often the inputs that create the financial issues. My organization specializes in low cost,and low tech solutions to breaking input needy monocucultures. Diversification is one of the most important steps. For us at A Growing Culture we believe that the future of agriculture relies in blending.traditional knowledge with science to produce agro-ecology. Farming with the environment and not against it.
we are currently trying to.start test farms that work with local farmers to develop site specific solutions to agriculture. these agents of change will be trained as extension agents to take these technologies further into the field. this bottom up approach is key to getting techniques out. From my experience out of touch foreign specialists are the last thing you want pushing techniques. Building respect in the community is the first step. then creating a scenario where the community is responsible for the devemovement.

Hello Paul et al.

As you know, Nokero is focused on bringing solar lighting and mobile phone charging solutions to the BoP.

We, Nokero, haven't had depth or breadth of in-country experiences like you have. While I have been to a large number of countries (Kenya, Pakistan, Ghana, Senegal, Mexico, Rwanda, India, China...) to better understand the technical aspects (e.g. the 10-20% you reference) of our business, the real work is in working with commercial partners that have existing distribution in-country. These partners require one thing: PROFIT. Therefore, we work with a chain of bakeries in Fiji who now sell solar products. In India, we work with a 30 year old distribution company called Eureka Forbes as they have the experiences to move products there. In Haiti, it is a non-profit with a commercially minded approach (market approach) and they make a 40% higher gross for administering a rent-to-own program (to be sure, their expenses are about 40% higher too for handling this, but the volume is there).

With this background, I can tell you that the success we have seen is illustrative of a viable approach, but not the only approach. We are not reaching the millions of units in sales we want to achieve. To answer your specific questions:

  • What advice do you have for achieving success at the BoP?
    • Partner with in-country businesses with a financial motivation to succeed.
    • Make sure that the price is low--even if it means that features are deleted.
    • Make sure your technology solves an expensive problem.
  • What affordable technologies have you been working on or have heard about that have reached low-income communities at scale?
    • Solar Lights (*Depends on how you define 'at scale')
    • Solar Mobile Phone Chargers (*see above)
  • What examples can you share of effective marketing and distribution strategies?
    • Mobile phone sales through Africa via the Chunking Mansions in Hong Kong. The book that documents this reality is called Ghetto at the Center of the World. In the book, the 2006 +/- estimates are that 20% of all mobile phones in Africa passed through this one building in Hong Kong. This is low-end globalization at its best.
  • How have you gone about creating market demand?
    • Doing news-worthy things and making sure that they are run through our PR machine. From CNN, to the Economist, to the Denver Post, HKTDC, Air France, Engadged, Gizmodo....etc. Basically banging on pots and pans to cause inbound leads.
  • What tools and resources have you found useful?
    • Project Management Systems (we use activeCollab); immediate fulfillment systems for shipping products nightly; google apps; box.net; youtube; vimeo; onebox;
    • Resources include relationships with people who have been there and done that, like you--Paul-- as well as the wonderful folks at SCU's Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI), etc.

Hope the above helps some of the readers.....Nothing earth-shattering, just nuts and bolts of how we run business at Nokero.


Steve Katsaros, Founder and CEO of Nokero

Dear Paul & Co,

Thanks for the post and for raising such important questions. I enclose some highlights and reflections of initiatives that might be useful:

At the BOP Global Network (www.bopglobalnetwork.org) we are creating an online innovation platform precisely to help answer some of the questions being raised, such as what affordable technologies are more appropriate for BOP success, how to scale-up initiatives that have proved positive local impact on community development and how to engage as strategic partners BOP communities. This network, formed by 18 innovation labs from different countries, will host a Global Meeting in Sao Paolo (most likely october 2013) to share lessons learned and enhance the BOP agenda.

Among the group, the BOP European Network has been very active leading the identification and implementation of innovation practices at the BoP, and you can find insightful reports and case studies produced by groups such as the BoP Innovation Center in the Netherlands (http://www.bopinc.org), Endeva in Germany (www.endeva.org), the Alto Global Compact in Finland (http://www.aaltoglobalimpact.org/), the Danish BOP Learning Lab in Denmark (http://www.boplearninglab.dk), ESSEC in France (http://iies.essec.edu), or ourselves in Spain (www.globalcad.org), among others.

One very interesting initiative is the recently created International Institute for Sustainable Enterprise in India (www.theiise.net) with the ambitious goal of creating the disruptive changes necessary for a more sustainable world.

Among all BOP Global Network members, we are working on a new publication that will be published this year focusing on how to promote BOP innovations beyond current practice, highlighting successful stories and most relevant tools and methodologies.

Another interesting initiative is the one under the framework of Entreprise 2020 led by IMS Entreprendre pour la Cité (http://www.imsentreprendre.com/), CSR Europe (http://www.csreurope.org/) and GDF Suez (http://www.gdfsuez.com/), where jointly with BOPINC and ourselves, we are aiming to create a Manual documenting practical analysis on shared challenges, solutions and lessons learned from BoP strategies; an advocacy document/ Policy paper with focused recommendations to the European Commission for a better enabling environment for BOP innovations; a proactive platform to foster collaboration and incubation between companies and stakeholders for field projects; and a best practice & business case compilation report. The status of all these initiatives will be presented on a high level meeting in Paris this coming March.

Anyway, as you can see there are a lot of initiatives going on this 2013 raising your questions. I hope this gives us a chance to interact more and promote joint synergies throughout this year.. looking forward to it.

Best regards,




Just came across this great video interview of Paul:

Hello Mike,

Paul would definitely agree with your statement! The final selling price must be affordable to the customers/consumers, and must pay for itself at least three times in the first year. Here is a great article in which Paul talks about this, and scale: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-polak/post_3556_b_1627100.html

Here is also a video of Paul speaking on Scale. Hopefully this video and the above link will be of some help in your goals of scaling: http://eclips.cornell.edu/clip.do?id=15806&tab=TabClipPage



Paul Polak's Team

Hello Olivier,

It is great to hear about 3xBL! What you have written nicely mirrors a lot of what Paul writes and speaks about, particularly on profit, understanding the specific contexts, branding, and the idea that "If somebody has already invented it, you don’t need to do so again" with your use of selling generic medicines at an affordable price. These are all important for achieving success at the BOP.

Paul did an interview with Next Billion in December that you may find of interest:


In general, the Next Billion Health Care website may be of use to you http://www.nextbillion.net/healthcare/

Best of luck in your endeavors,


Paul Polak's Team

Hello Loren,

I don't know if you've heard of them, but International Development Enterprises (IDE), a nonprofit founded by Paul Polak, works a lot with rural farmers and irrigation.

Agricultural development is definitely an important way of achieving success at the BOP, especially since, as you say, many of those living on less than $2/day rely on farming for food and/or income. Paul has worked extensively with ways to increase agricultural yields and finding ways to grow and sell cash crops during off season to help lift many farmers out of poverty, described in detail in his book, Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail.

What sounds great about your work is that you focus on learning from the people what their needs are, and focusing on their specific contexts. The work you're doing is inspiring. My question then is, how do you plan to scale this? My opinion is that scale is very important... once you have found something is successful, to achieve success is to then scale it to reach millions of people to lift them out of poverty.



Paul Polak's Team


Very interesting information, thank you for sharing! Paul would agree that Profit is important, especially in reaching scale.



Paul Polak Team

Hi Fernando,

Interesting stuff! In particular, does the BOP Global Network have a twitter account? We would love to check it out and use it as a way to keep updated!



Paul Polak Team

Hi Hazel - great news - the Business Fights Poverty Jobs Board is now live, and you can post jobs on it for free! http://snipbfp.org/VLBvrm