Business Model Innovation at the Base of the Pyramid

This information is for the 2015/16 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Harry Barkema NAB4.24


This course is available on the 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 poverty. Often the student will have worked in these countries with NGOs, social enterprises or charities; or studied courses related to development poverty or organizational models.

Course content

This course is about organisations serving social goals, in particular for the 4 billion people living in (extreme) poverty. It’s about designing, implementing, managing and scaling innovative social enterprises, NGOs, government organisations – and ecosystems of them – addressing social issues such as job creation, income, health, education, and the intended and unintended transformations these organisations imply for clients, families, and communities. 

We will discuss what poverty is and what its causes are, and then how social enterprises and other social businesses, NGOs, and government programs influence these causes, and why, and under which conditions. Insights from novel research are presented on how organisations interact with their social environment, and why, combining insights from management (incl. organisational behaviour, social networks and leadership), development and anthropology.

Half of the course consists of theory-based critical discussions, often of innovative examples of social enterprises or NGOs and their social impact, in class and within our Facebook community, which includes hundreds of alumni of this course. In the other half of the course student groups do an in-depth research-based consulting project with one of our ecosystem partners, ranging from innovative start-ups (social enterprises or NGOs) to global companies such as IBM. Students go over for local data gathering. Many students also design their own innovative social enterprise, NGO or charity, and have gone on to compete in – and win -- global competitions, and/or start up in Africa, South Asia, and South America.

The 1.0 unit course leads to in-depth understanding through 10 class sessions, with additional training in relevant methodology for the fieldwork (data gathering and analysis) to build skills for evidence-based management consulting projects. This course has all the (5) lectures of MG437 but also lectures with new research outcomes on organisations and social transformations. Students complete an in-depth, research-based consulting project, while actually going over to the local social enterprise, NGO for fieldwork or to work with the local organisation for 7-10 days during the Christmas or Spring break.


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

Students on this course will have a reading week in Week 6, in line with departmental policy.

Formative coursework

One 1,200 word essay. Students choose one example of an innovative social enterprise, NGO government program or charity. Use theory underlying and developed in this course, and gathered by yourself, to analyse the strengths and weaknesses of the model in relation to intended or unintended social implications.

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.

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

Prahalad, C.K. , 2006. The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Eradicating Poverty through Profits. New Jersey: Wharton School Publishing. (Chapter 1)

Karnani, A., 2007. The Mirage of Marketing to the Bottom of the Pyramid: How the Private Sector Can Help Alleviate Poverty. California Management Review 49 (4), 90-111

Dolan, C. and M.J. Johnstone-Louis, 2011, Re-visiting Corporate Responsibility: The Making of South Africa’s Avon Entrepreneurs, Fiscaal: European Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology, 60 (Summer) 21-33.

Shakya, Y, K. Rankin, 2008, The Politics of Subversion in Development Practice: An Exploration of Microfinance in Nepal and Vietnam, Journal of Development Studies, 44: 1214-1235.

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

Johnson, Christensen; Kagerman, 2008, Reinventing your Business Model, HBR


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

Key facts

Department: Management

Total students 2014/15: 28

Average class size 2014/15: 31

Controlled access 2014/15: Yes

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