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LCS-MG201: Business Model Innovation at the Base of the Pyramid: Cape Town and Beyond

Professor Harry Barkema, Professor of Management, Department of Management, and Director, Innovation Co-Creation Lab, LSE

Course outline

Over the past decade, tens of thousands of Social Enterprises, companies and NGOs have started serving people at the so-called economic base of the pyramid (BOP): people who live on a few dollars per day or less. These organizations range from service providers (in solar, mobile banking, clean water, health care, etc) to those aiming at integrated solutions to reduce poverty (eg, job creation and training, micro-finance, etc.). When and how do these organisations reach social goals, in addition to being economically successful? Do they create positive or negative outcomes for the target group and for other groups in local communities? How can we design, implement, and scale Social Enterprises, companies and NGOs that create social value for people, based on a real understanding of their needs, aspirations and dreams?

This course combines theory with practical application, and requires participants to engage with real-world issues in partnership with a successful highly innovative social enterprise based in the Cape Flats communities to the west of Cape Town. You will design, with your student team, an actual new business model, working with a local entrepreneur. This involves a site visit for briefing with local budding entrepreneurs, a full day of on-site research, and presentation of final designs to the local community concerned.

The course begins with an understanding, anchored in anthropology and development, of the economic, social and political opportunities and constraints of people living in poverty. Next we discuss key insights, concepts, theories, methodologies and tools for designing, implementing and scaling up organizations – companies, social enterprises, and NGOs – to maximize social outcomes while being economically successful.

The course builds on the successful “Business Model Innovation at the Base Of the Pyramid” Masters- and executive-level courses at the LSE. We also share insights from our Innovation Co-Creation Lab, for instance our research in Africa and India on which leadership styles, social networks, organizational learning and innovation mechanisms enable social outcomes (ie, when, how and why, and for whom?), and how this varies across different stages of organizational growth. We will share insights from research on actual social outcomes for target groups and other groups: what these effects are, positive and negative, and what causes them. We will also share insights from our design and implementation workshops with our ecosystem of partners in South America, Africa, and Asia.

While we will discuss numerous examples of organizational innovations at the BOP in South America, Asia, and Africa, we will also focus on real issues in townships in Cape Town. The format is interactive lectures. However, we won’t just talk. Students will also train new insights, concepts, theories, methodologies and tools by designing, in groups, new business models for one of the townships, aimed at maximizing social goals while being economically successful.

Full course outline|

About the instructor


Professor Harry Barkema is Professor of Management at the London School of Economics and founding director of LSE’s Innovation Co-Creation Lab. The Lab generates and diffuses knowledge on organizations and their social impact at the economic base of the pyramid (BOP), and leads practice workshops with companies, social enterprises and NGOs in South America, Africa, and Asia.  

Harry has published dozens of articles in top management journals, and was twice an associate editor of the leading empirical management journal twice (Academy of Management Journal).

Harry teaches a range of masters and executive courses on social innovation for people living in poverty. He has worked with 100+ organizations designing, implementing and scaling up new business models, including with dozens of companies, social enterprises, and NGOs addressing poverty in South America, Africa and Asia.

The Teaching Assistant for the course will be Juli Huang,   an Anthropology PhD student at LSE. Juli has just completed two years of ethnographic fieldwork exploring two dominant intersecting tropes in international development: bottom-of-the-pyramid (BOP) entrepreneurship, and information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) in India and Bangladesh. Her research deals with aspiration and agency, patronage and dependency, and the opportunities and frictions inherent to social entrepreneurship models. She serves as a director of LSE's Innovation and Co-Creation Lab. Juli previously conducted long-term research among Qashqa'i nomadic pastoralists in southwestern Iran. Her book, Tribeswomen of Iran: Weaving Memories among Qashqa'i Nomads, won the prestigious Latifeh Yarshater Award.

A number of guest lectures will be delivered by Dr Francois Bonnici|, Senior Lecturer in the UCT Graduate School of Business, and Director of the Bertha Centre for Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship| at UCT.