‘Focus on sustainability not for compliance, but innovation’

Nov 28 2009, 21:02 IST
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SummaryCoimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad has been again named the most influential business thinker in the world. He has topped The Thinkers 50 list for a second consecutive..

Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad has been again named the most influential business thinker in the world. He has topped The Thinkers 50 list for a second consecutive time. Instead of getting carried away, it makes him focus more on his work. He has just come out with the revised edition of his game-changing book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. The edition carries an update on the private sector’s changing role in poverty alleviation, lessons learnt by MNCs while tapping into the bottom of the pyramid markets, development of new market opportunities, and evolution of rules that drive the engagement of businesses with emerging markets. In a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review, he has talked about sustainability as a key driver of innovation. During his recent visit to India, the Paul and Ruth McCracken distinguished university professor of strategy at the University of Michigan took time off to talk to FE’s Rajiv Tikoo & Saikat Neogi and assess the impact of his work and the road ahead. Excerpts:

It is five years since you came out with your best-selling book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. Though it is too short a period to assess the impact of any such work, how satisfied are you when you look back?

A lot more than one could reasonably expect. All the leading development agencies have more or less accepted that the role of the private sector is quite integral to poverty alleviation. It’s not peripheral any longer. It’s not an option, but an imperative. It is a big change in the debate.

Let me give you an example to indicate the paradigm shift in thinking. When the Millennium Development Goals were laid down originally, the initiative was seen as a governmental, inter-governmental and multilateral effort. The first time the private sector was involved was in the UNDP report that came out in 2004. And I was a member of the UN Commission (on Private Sector and Development) that brought out the report. Most of the examples in that report about the private sector’s involvement in poverty alleviation were from my book. So, since 2004, we have come a long way. If I look back over the last five years, there is a great sense of satisfaction that the issue is not anymore a question that is open to debate. The debate has now shifted to how to do it.

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