You Are Probably Part of the Global 1%. So What Will You Do About It?

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There are roughly seven billion people on the planet, and most of them are poor.

It may seem hard to believe for most Americans, but earning $32,000 a year is enough to put you in the top 1% of global wealth.

“Most people don’t live like you. They don’t transact like you, they don’t have access to markets like you, they don’t have access to healthcare, education,” said Ross Professor Ted London at the recent Positive Business Conference hosted by Michigan Ross. “One of our challenges is realizing that the way we see the world isn’t necessarily the way most people see the world.”

Speaking as part of a panel on “Bridging the Gaps that Divide Us,” London made the case that opportunities among the poor — those at “The Base of the Pyramid” — can make great business sense as well as having a positive social impact.

 

“When we tend to think of the poor as a cost, there’s a lot there that we don’t see,” London said. The key is to work with them, he stressed — they are just as smart as anyone — and not just give them what we think they need.

“We tend to solve problems for the poor. We want to help the poor. We have to solve problems with the poor,” London said. “Until we give them the respect they deserve, we’re never going to solve the problem.”

London — who is also senior research fellow at the William Davidson Institute, which tackles Base of the Pyramid challenges, among others — said those of with more resources should view people in poverty as colleagues, partners, and advisors. Then, the logic for business development lines up with the logic for making a social impact: Alleviating poverty creates value.

“Sustainable, scalable enterprises that truly alleviate poverty” is what London calls “The Base of The Pyramid Promise.” He concluded: “We have to do this. We have to build enterprises that serve the poor in a meaningful and scalable way.”

Learn more about the William Davidson Institute

Learn more about the Positive Business Conference