“…The bottom-of-the-pyramid marketing movement tries to profit the developing world and make a profit at the same time.
The first slide comes up on the white-walled lecture room’s double display screens. In capital letters, it declares: “EMPATHY.”
The 40-odd Stanford students gathered in a semicircle of plastic chairs on the cement floor blink at the screen, awaiting explanation. Almost all of them are pursuing graduate degrees in some form of engineering or business — disciplines known more for unemotional logic and bare-knuckle competitiveness than getting in touch with someone else’s feelings.
Erica Estrada, a recent Stanford mechanical engineering grad with long, loose black hair, clicks to the next slide. “You need to experience what you think the end users of your product experience,” she says. “Immerse. Observe. Engage,” read the screens.
Estrada brings up a photo of herself with a Burmese farmer in a rice field in Myanmar. It was taken a few years ago, when she was a student in this same class. Her team’s project had been to invent a product to help the rural poor in the isolated Asian nation.
The next few pictures show her and her fellow students politely watching the Burmese farmers at work. But soon, one of the Americans has taken off his shoes and is hauling giant watering cans through ankle-deep mud alongside the villagers. “That’s what I’m talking about,” Estrada says.
May-June 2011 The class, dubbed “Entrepreneurial Design for Extreme Affordability,” is premised on a counterintuitive idea: You can enrich the poor by selling them stuff.
It brings together teams of graduate students from business, design, engineering and other disciplines to research a specific problem in developing-world communities, design a product to address it -
- and then, with the help of local and international organizations, sell that product as cheaply as possible to as many people as possible. The course has yielded some impressive results.
Students have designed low-cost solar-powered lanterns, extra-efficient irrigation pumps and other useful products now being used by tens of thousands of people from India to East Africa.
“We are not treating the poor as recipients of charity, but as customers,” says Jim Patell, a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business who founded the program. “That means you need to figure out what they really want. That means treating them as equals. Charities don’t have to do that.”…”
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