Has the concept of Bottom/Base of the Pyramid delivered on its promise?
Sixteen years ago, Prahalad and Hart (Strategy + Business 26:2–14, 2002) introduced the possibility of both profitably serving the poor and alleviating poverty. This first iteration of the Bottom/Base of the Pyramid approach (known as BoP 1.0) focused on selling to the poor.
In 2008, after ethical criticisms leveled at it, the field moved to BoP 2.0, instead emphasizing business co-venturing. Since 2015, we have witnessed some calls for a new iteration (BoP 3.0), with the focus broadening to a more sustainable development approach to poverty alleviation.
In this paper, the authorsseek to answer the question: How has the BoP approach evolved over the past 16 years, and has it delivered on its early promise? They conducted a systematic review of 276 papers published in journals in this period, utilizing a rigorous correspondence analysis method to map key trends, and then further examined the 22 empirical studies conducted on the BoP approach.
The results suggest that the field has evolved, passing through a number of trends and coming full circle—with the authors’ analysis pointing to more recent BoP literature emphasizing similar themes to those espoused in the initial BoP iteration (i.e., treating the BoP as consumers), rather than reflecting the principles espoused in either BoP 2.0 or BoP 3.0.
The analysis also points to a lack of clear evidence that the BoP concept has delivered on its promise either to businesses (that they can serve BoP markets profitably) or to BoP participants (that involvement by multinational corporations will help alleviate poverty).
Krzysztof Dembek, Nagaraj Sivasubramaniam & Danielle A. Chmielewski. 2020. A Systematic Review of the Bottom/Base of the Pyramid Literature: Cumulative Evidence and Future Directions.