Somewhere in the world today, a person is dedicating his or her life to a pressing social or political injustice that they believe must be corrected. They will fight discrimination, create solutions for clean drinking water, or push for legislation to provide quality education to young people. They will be inspired by Mahatma Gandhi, but read from the playbook of CK Prahalad and develop a business model like Muhammad Yunus.
On October 2, 2019, the world will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Mahatma Gandhi. Over the course of his life, Gandhi led multiple social and political movements across, what is today, twelve nations in Africa and South Asia. He also became the role model for the most successful political movement leaders of the 20th century – from Martin Luther King to Lech Walesa, Cesar Chavez and Nelson Mandela. More so than any individual in modern history, Gandhi was able to build an organization and mobilize tens of millions of people in the fight for independence and equality.
Fifteen years ago, Dr. CK Prahalad’s ground-breaking book, “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”, called on the private sector to look at the poor – in rural areas and urban slums, as potential customers and apply the principals of innovation, R&D, pricing and supply chain management to sell them products and services that would also improve the quality of their lives. Prahalad advocated that if multinationals and entrepreneurs could figure out how to sell food, medicine and quality housing at prices the poor could afford, they would create 3 billion potential new customers in the developing world.
The subsequent award of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize to Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh for his leadership in the field of microfinance proved that this strategy was not just academic, but could be globally transformational in less than a generation. Today, microfinance is a mainstay of banking and finance among NGOs, multinational banks and fintech entrepreneurs in much of the world, including the United States.