24 Feb 2008

Make Poverty Business

Book Review: Make Poverty Business
by Craig Wilson and Peter Wilson
Greenleaf Publishing Ltd 2006
192 pages, US$36 (available online at www.greenleaf-publishing.com)

There is a book by CK Prahalad titled The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, but the Wilsons' book is different. It doesn't talk about marketing approach to make cheaper products for the poor community. Instead, it addresses ways of helping the poor in getting jobs, earning sustainable incomes while linking them to the mainstream of business. This book can help managers make better day-to-day decisions, and not all about money. Companies can play huge roles as catalyst, advocate, problem solver and convener using their tangible assets.

In the context of helping the poor, a company can often call on development resources (aid agencies) to undertake actions that have least obvious business cases or that require unfamiliar skills. By doing so, the company can focus on areas closest to its core competencies.
This book tells a lot about direct impacts of local economic development for poverty reduction and what companies can contribute to a vibrant enterprise sector. There is a real case of a multinational company that was revived from its downturn after undertaking a closer approach to its stakeholders and local community, through outsourcing and indigenous labor. Business linkages between foreign affiliates and local suppliers offer mutual benefits.

Interestingly, the authors dislike the term "CSR". Their interest is in running the core business more profitably and in doing so playing a role in poverty reduction. The authors clearly suggest that CSR is about finding new ways of dealing with the poor in order to create new sources of competitive advantage.

The only thing that is not fully covered in this book is the absence of any incentives relating to the reduction of poverty, which remains a question to all of us to identify and explore.
Surely, this is an excellent book for managers. As explicitly mentioned as the subtitle, this book helps companies achieve higher profits at lower risks if they include poverty perspectives in day-to-day decision making. Many CEOs have recommended it too.

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