Business Model Innovation at the Base of the Pyramid

This information is for the 2013/14 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Harry Barkema


This course is available on the MSc in Development Management, MSc in Health, Community and Development, MSc in Management, MSc in Management, Organisations and Governance and MSc in Public Management and Governance. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.


Students are required to submit a 500 word statement explaining their motivation to take MG438, and a CV detailing their education or experience related to countries in abject poverty. Either the student will have worked in these countries with NGOs, social enterprises or charities; or studied courses related to development poverty or business models.

Course content

This is a timely and innovative topic for study. Over the past four decades, the developed world has transferred around $2 trillion in aid to emerging economies. However the impact, in terms of a positive permanent transformation, has been limited. NGOs have focused on a variety of needs, but despite enormous achievements in many places around the world only a small fraction of these needs have been served. More recently, an interest has been created around new business models that are economically sustainable. Some popular writings have even argued and presented anecdotes suggesting that "a fortune" can be made at the Base of the Pyramid. Despite significant effort there have been only a few successful ventures of multinational corporations (MNCs) at the BOP in only a few industries (in e.g., food, cell phones) and little evidence of NGOs and social entrepreneurs taking economically sustainable business models to scale. The course will include guest speakers from industry and will encourage students to assess the evidence to date and to think critically about the process of business model innovation at the base of the pyramid.

The course will assess the evidence to date and will encourage students to think critically about the process of business model innovation at the base of the pyramid. It will monitor progress by MNCs and entrepreneurs as new business models are developed and delivered.

The 1.0 unit course leads to in-depth understanding through 10 class sessions, additional training in relevant methodology for the field work (data gathering and analysis) to arrive at stronger consulting projects, and actually going over to the local enterprise (company, social enterprise, NGO, etc.) to do the field work and work for a week during the Easter break with the actual organization on the ground.


30 hours of lectures in the MT. 24 hours of seminars in the LT. 6 hours of lectures in the ST.

Formative coursework

One 1,200 word essay. Students choose one example of business model innovation at the base of the pyramid from those posted on Moodle by course members, or choose your own. Use theory underlying and developed in this course to explain how the business model innovation may support the relevant organization's goals.

Indicative reading

Morduch, J., 1999,The Microfinance Promise, Journal of Economic Literature, 37, (4), 1569-1614 (Jstor)

Banerjee, A., Duflo, Esther, Glennerster, R., Kinnan, C., 2009,The miracle of microfinance? Evidence from Randomized Evaluation. Please download from

Lerpold, Lin, Harry Barkema, ; Anders Sjoman, 2008,Hand in Hand in India, SSE Teaching case (posted on Moodle).

Karamchandani, A., M. Kubzansky, P., Frandano, 2009,Emerging Markets, Emerging Models. Please download from

C.K. Prahalad, 2005,The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Eradicating Poverty through Profits, Wharton School Publishing

Simanis, Erik ; Stuart Hart,The Base of the Pyramid Protocol: 2nd Edition

Aneel Karnani, 2007,The Mirage of Marketing to the Bottom of the Pyramid: How the Private Sector Can Help Alleviate Poverty, California Management Review, Volume 49, no 4, Summer issue.

Johnson, Christensen, ; Kagerman, 2008,Reinventing your Business Model, Harvard Business Review, December issue.

Segel, Arthur, Michael Chu, ; Gustavo Herrero, 2007,Patrimonio Hoy: A Financial Perspective, Harvard Business Case 9-207-059, November 1


Essay (45%, 2000 words), project (45%, 5000 words) and class participation (10%).

Key facts

Department: Management

Total students 2012/13: 30

Average class size 2012/13: 30

Value: One Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Commercial awareness
  • Specialist skills