The Embedded Social Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs who operate in impoverished regions of the world face a quandary: Even though the need for their products and services is enormous, the challenge of bringing those products and services to market can be nearly insurmountable. Without access to mass media or even mass communications, entrepreneurs have no established channels through which to reach potential customers. Few of those customers, meanwhile, are accustomed to evaluating new products. But a handful of ventures that serve communities at the base of the pyramid (BOP) have overcome this challenge by embedding their solutions into the circumstances that define and give structure to their customers’ lives.


Creative entrepreneurship in BOP markets is vitally important not just because it can help lift billions of people out of poverty, but also because it generates lessons that apply to social ventures in the developed world. Entrepreneurs everywhere, for example, should consider structuring their ventures around in-person social networks that give them access to high-value, high-touch referral systems.

Instead of trying to alter customers’ habits, entrepreneurs could adapt their delivery and usage models to mesh with customers’ routine activity cycles. Marketers, meanwhile, should steer clear of newfangled terms and should instead frame their value proposition with reference to customers’ existing mental models. Designers, for their part, should develop and test new products in a context that reflects the current product constellation of their customers. In sum, even companies that operate in mature markets can improve their performance by adapting their business models to suit the habits and behaviors of their customers.


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