The new face of development: The ‘bottom of the pyramid’ entrepreneurs (Respond to this article at http://www.therai.org.uk/at/debate)

Authors

  • Catherine Dolan

    1. Fellow at Green Templeton College and a University Lecturer in Marketing, Culture and Society at Said Business School, University of Oxford. She is working at the interface of business, international development and social change. She specializes in the cultural economy of development, primarily in Africa, and over the past 15 years has directed and researched interdisciplinary programmes on global commodity chains, rural livelihoods, corporate social responsibility, and women's economic empowerment. Her email is Catherine.dolan@gtc.ox.ac.uk
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Abstract

In recent years, ‘bottom of the pyramid’ (BoP) initiatives – from Grameen Phone Ladies and Solar Sister, to Women First and Living Goods – have captured increasing attention, not only in corporate boardrooms where the desire for untapped revenue streams looms large, but also in the arenas of development policy and practice, where entrepreneurship is celebrated as a way to repurpose ‘informal’ and/or ‘subsistence’ workers through new forms of private sector engagement. Based on fieldwork with BoP schemes in Bangladesh and South Africa, and cases drawn from other regions, this paper explores how development is outsourced through the figure of the BoP entrepreneur, the ‘poor’ woman who travels door-to-door delivering a range of branded manufactured goods across the ‘retail black spots’ of developing countries. These women are actively converted into entrepreneurial subjects through a set of ideological and material practices that aim to produce and hone the requisite traits of industry, market discipline and entrepreneurial distinction to succeed in global business; subject positions that can bring tangible rewards to those who successfully assume them. However, the process of outsourcing development to a reservoir of ‘informal labour’ unsettles BoP claims of ‘inclusive capitalism’, as an ethos of meritocracy and individual responsibility not only deflects the responsibility for development onto the poor themselves, but remakes their subjectivities in service to global brands.

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