I met Sammy Gitau on the shores of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin, on a windy day in November 2004. Sammy had never been to Wisconsin before or to the United States. In fact, Sammy had never been out of Africa. To be even more precise, he had spent his entire life in Kibera, a slum in Kenya. (Note: Details in this chapter have been changed slightly, but not materially.)
Kibera is the second-largest slum in Africa after Soweto. Its one million inhabitants occupy an area about three-fourths the size of New York’s Central Park. To put this in perspective, that’s a population density equivalent to nearly eighty games of football (or futbol) taking place at once on a regulation-size field.
Because it has been considered an illegal settlement for the last forty years, the Kenyan government has tried to overlook Kibera entirely, although it is home to one-third of the people of Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. Kibera lacks essentials such as sewage pipes, paved roads, and title deeds to homes and property. The government provides no water, schools, or hospitals either.
Kibera is made up of ramshackle houses with corrugated metal roofs, rivers of mud, and open sewage. And yet it has shops, restaurants, and a vibrancy that attract the few people able to afford to escape the squalor and dangerous environment.
Sammy was an energetic young man in his early twenties with an easy smile and lively eyes. He used to carry a plate, a fork, and cup throughout the Kiberanslum because he was never sure where he might get a meal or where he might sleep for the night. By day, Sammy organized a community resource center in Kibera. The centerpiece of the resource center was its library, a small, hot room inside what was once a wooden shipping container. Sammy took great pride in his efforts to provide books, educational guidance, and even an opportunity to use computers to help slum children stay and succeed in school.
What was he doing in Racine, Wisconsin, on that blustery November day?
The Base of the Pyramid Protocol
A year before, Enterprise for a Sustainable World (ESW) had convened forty individuals from around the world (including me) for a four-day gathering to develop a “Base of the Pyramid (BoP) Protocol.” The hopes for the protocol were simple. For the past few years, ESW, a nonprofit group led by Stuart Hart, had been hosting meetings with companies and other organizations from around the world to explore the opportunities that lay at the base of the pyramid. But no one was really sure how to take advantage of them. Those in attendance at the protocol meeting hoped to produce a clear path forward.
The protocol meeting took place at Wingspread, a set of buildings designed and inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright now used by the Johnson Foundation as an international educational conference facility. The Johnson Foundation has progressive instincts. With keen interests in sustainable development and the environment, its aims were quite consistent with developing a protocol.
Those attending the protocol meeting were from the for-profit, nonprofit, and governmental sectors. They were academics, businessmen and businesswomen, and members of international relief organizations. There were North Americans as well as representatives from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and Australia. Some were steeped in a market- and business-oriented ethos, and others were highly mistrustful of business.
What united the attendees was a common passion for improving the lives of the poor coupled with experience in addressing the issues. Finding common ground among the widely diverging perspectives that people brought to the meeting would not be easy—but that was the point. In this diverse mix was the promise of broadly informed, powerful ideas about alleviating poverty.
The Johnson Foundation supported the invitation-only protocol development meeting in the spirit of promoting “thoughtful inquiry … in an atmosphere of candor and purpose.” At times, candor and purpose nearly erupted into chaos and mudslinging. The diversity of perspectives proved to be a combustive mix. The invitation to attend Wingspread said that participants would together create guidelines for creating new businesses at the base of the pyramid that drew on each participant’s expertise and techniques, where appropriate.
Rarely, of course, did anyone feel that techniques and skills that they had spent their careers acquiring were less than perfectly relevant and appropriate—no matter what others thought. Yet consultants differed in thought, appearance, and custom from international development professionals who had spent years in the field. A sociologist favored businesses focused on socially responsible growth, especially those supporting the very poor and the self-employed who owned tiny businesses in the “informal” economy. A business executive preferred businesses on a much larger scale, desiring growth through market-based opportunities above all else, even while operating responsibly and ethically. Some felt that political and gender issues had to be addressed before any headway could be created in alleviating poverty through enterprise. Others felt it was time to just jump in with both feet and learn by doing, despite all the disagreements.
Slowly, the hissing and spitting of the first couple of days died down as Hart and co-facilitator Gordon Enk led teams through a series of exercises. By the meeting’s close on the fourth day, with participants having begun early and worked late into the night each of the previous three days, the principles of protocol and the code of conduct governing its use had been outlined. More impressively, every one of the Wingspread participants had agreed to sign off on the document, providing a ringing endorsement of a new means of business development.
So when I met Sammy Gitau on the shores of Lake Michigan in November 2005, one year had already passed since the Wingspread meeting had taken place. Or I should say Wingspread I, since he and I were now chatting during a break in Wingspread II.
In the year between the two Wingspread meetings, the protocol had been drafted and had begun to be put to the test. Enterprise for a Sustainable World led its implementation in the field. The SC Johnson Company sponsored the effort and would reap the benefits.
Logic at the Base of the Pyramid
The SC Johnson Co. has had a long-standing commitment to responsible business. As the manufacturer of Raid, Pledge, and many other spray products, SC Johnson was the first company to remove ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) from its product line worldwide. It did so voluntarily, unilaterally, and before all the scientific data were in—for one reason: because it was the right thing to do to protect the planet. Three years later, all U.S. companies were required to follow suit. SC Johnson is also one of the funding sources for the Johnson Foundation, with which it has an arm’s-length relationship.
Over the past several years, SC Johnson has been in the vanguard of companies that understood the logic and opportunities at the base of the pyramid. Its leaders feel that doing business at the base of the pyramid is not only the right thing to do socially, but the right thing, too, as a long-term growth strategy for their business. The BoP lead at SC Johnson was Scott Johnson, vice president of Global Environment and Safety, but no relation to the SC Johnson family that runs the business.
To understand what SC Johnson and ESW were trying to do, a bit of a history lesson is in order. In 2002, after years of being turned down by other journals and magazines, C. K. Prahalad and Stuart Hart published an article titled The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid in the magazine Strategy + Business, put out by the consulting firm Booz, Allen, and Hamilton. It has since become a business classic.
As the article’s title provocatively suggests, the world’s poor, in aggregate, control a lot of money. The world’s population today is between six and seven billion people, and approximately four billion of them have incomes below four dollars a day (in terms of what that amount of money could buy in the United States). Plainly and simply, about two-thirds of the world is extremely poor.
Though these four billion people have tiny incomes, together they have $5 trillion of purchasing power, more than the gross national income of the world’s second-largest economy, Japan. On top of this, residents of the base of the pyramid often have small, untitled real estate holdings and microbusinesses that are part of the informal economy. When estimated, the combined value of these was approximately $9 trillion, an amount equal to owning every share of stock of every company listed on the main stock exchanges in the world’s twenty largest countries. And an amount that is only slightly less than the gross domestic product of the United States.
Large companies would be foolish to overlook these opportunities, Prahalad and Hart pointed out. Or, should I say, potential opportunities, because the business conditions at the base of the pyramid are so vastly different from those in the developed world. The challenges include not only a need for new and different kinds of products and services, but new ways of making them, delivering them, and financing them—all of which must often be done in the context of extremely limited infrastructure, harsh physical conditions, rural populations far from city centers, and people who lack not only money but skills in literacy and numeracy as well. And people who may never have made a formal business transaction in their lives.
Yet in their article, Prahalad and Hart offered the logic for large companies beginning to serve these markets. For instance, citizens at the base of the pyramid are often charged very high rates for products—everything from food and water to loans and everyday sundries—even when the quality of these goods and services is substandard. So companies that can reduce prices, especially when they raise quality, would have a vast, new potential market. This is welcome news for large companies that have saturated the developed world with shoes and purses, microwave dinners and bottled waters, gels for your hair, and tonics for your soul: these companies have experienced flat business growth among the approximately half billion relatively affluent people in the world (living on more than $15,000 annually) so new markets with more than ten times the number of people look quite attractive.
Writing separately after the publication of their article, Prahalad and Hart each made another key observation, one that I believe is even more important than the sheer opportunity of selling to the poor. They argued that the citizens of the base of the pyramid could hold the key to creating the new kinds of businesses that their communities needed.
Prahalad emphasized that the meager conditions of those living at the base of the pyramid required them to create innovative solutions to deal with the circumstances of their lives. The same imperative for innovation characterized hospitals, banks, and other kinds of institutions and companies that catered to the poor. For instance, the Aravind Eye Hospital performs eye surgeries every bit as successfully as any hospital in the West but at only one-thirtieth the cost (and fifty times the volume of large hospitals).
Hart wrote that creating base of the pyramid businesses requires companies to turn their thinking inside out. Rather than selling their existing line of products or services to the poor, or even customizing them to make them more suitable, companies would do best by joining with the poor communities they would serve in the creation of new businesses. Instead of “selling” to the poor (and such “selling” can too often have the connotation of selling a bill of goods), companies needed to live alongside the poor, partner with them, and together create new opportunities that would benefit them both.
Hart began exploring this line of thinking with companies that participated in the Base of the Pyramid Laboratory meetings he held. These ideas seemed to pass the “smell test.” In other words, even though this way of doing business was inside out—and maybe upside down and sideways, too—companies resonated to the idea that this new way of thinking about creating businesses was inclusive: businesses would be accepted into the communityrather than being rejected as foreign antibodies, and the financial and other benefits that the businesses generated would surely include the poor.
But you don’t run a business by smell. Companies wanted to know how to put these ideas into practice—thus was born the idea of developing the BoP Protocol.
Implementing the Base of the Pyramid Protocol in Kenya
After Wingspread I, a group of us took a large set of documents produced by participants there and, guided by the general agreements all participants had made about what the protocol should entail, made multiple passes at fleshing out version one of a formal protocol document. The document was then circulated among all Wingspread participants, who suggested additional modifications. Finally, after several months of work, the first version of the protocol was produced and put on the Web. The document was created to be open source in the sense that it would not only guide efforts in the field but be modified and informed by them.
By spring 2005, SC Johnson decided it wanted to implement the protocol in the Kenyan slum of Kibera. The company already had a small business presence there, but one that in no way catered to the base of the pyramid. The company mostly hawked its traditional product line to whoever could afford it, and the extent to which their products ended up in Kibera was more a matter of happenstance than part of any base of the pyramid strategy. With this knowledge and with the completed protocol document, ESW began its work with SC Johnson.
In version one, the protocol was long on principle and philosophy but short on practical guidance. This was intentional because the protocol was designed to be applicable to any product or service—from any company, any industry, anywhere in the world. Yet even with such broad applicability, the protocol described the stages that any project would pass through. And, of vital importance, it defined the code of conduct for responsibly engaging a community that companies were to promise to follow.
The ESW team was split between an on-the-ground field team and an advisory team who provided strategic guidance and support. The field team comprised two business students from Cornell (where Hart teaches), Justin DeKoszmovsky and Catherine Burnett; one business student from Michigan (where I teach), Nyokabi (Kabi) Kiarie; an anthropologist, Tatiana Thieme; a business consultant, Patrick Donohue; and a PhD student whose studies focused on the base of the pyramid, Erik Simanis. The advisers were Stuart Hart, Gordon Enk, and I.
The first order of business was to train those who would be active in the field. The field team’s training took place in the United States over several months preceding members’ departure for Kenya. The purpose was to ready the field team to undertake a new kind of business development in Kibera. Business school training would be insufficient for what the team was supposed to do. Business schools, not surprisingly, define a model of business development with a business always at the center that has strong ideas about what kinds of products or services it wants to create. The team in Kibera, on the other hand, would go to the Kenyan community to create deep partnerships and only then co-create new business opportunities.
The training was led by Erik Simanis, the field team leader, who held weekly teleconference meetings on a set of assigned readings. The topics of these sessions included the following:
- The rationale for Western companies to engage with the base of the pyramid
- Business development that puts the perspectives of a local community ahead of those of a business
- Social science methods useful for helping team members take stock of the community they would be dealing with “with fresh eyes”
- Methods of facilitating workshops to promote active, “participatory” community engagement to support business co-creation
- Ecological, sociological, cultural, and political dimensions of Kenya and Kibera
Much of the training included practical methods that have long-standing application in other disciplines. For instance, many interventions to promote rural and agricultural development demand that their team members develop similar community-based, participatory perspectives. The team borrowed from these liberally, and adapted them as appropriate.
The protocol defined three phases that base of the pyramid business development must pass through:
- Opening up
- Building a business ecosystem
- Enterprise creation
The first of these phases lowers the barriers between the team and the community. By the end of this phase, a broadly conceived business idea has been generated. The next phase is devoted to translating this business idea into more concrete terms and implementing a small prototype. The final phase aims to make this a more permanent business that is embedded in the local community and is understood well enough that it can, potentially, be replicated elsewhere.
The field team arrived in Kenya late in the spring of 2005. Their charge was to conduct the “opening up” phase of the protocol. Even though one of the team members had grown up in Kenya, the team recognized the importance of being affiliated with others who had a significant local presence in Kibera. A local nonprofit organization in Nairobi, Carolina for Kibera (CFK), filled this role. Carolina for Kibera was engaged in community-based development to address poverty and prevent violence. It played the essential role of introducing the team into the community by means of its own well-established relationships and the trust in the community that it had earned.
Carolina for Kibera introduced the team to various “youth groups,” a term euphemistically applied to what we might call gangs. They also introduced the team to Sammy Gitau, who was intent on providing opportunities for youth group members.
Even before this, CFK helped arrange community homestays. Modeled on a process used by the Peace Corps and others, a homestay allows a team member to live with an individual or family who is part of the community. For a period of two weeks, each team member lived the life of a local community member. Living apart from each other, members were immersed in situations that encouraged them to develop trusting relationships with their hosts. Living together, working together, eating together, sleeping together (sometimes in the same bed when a dwelling had only one), both host and team member began to open up, reveal themselves, and create a meaningful bond with the other.
Homestays were not the time for conducting interviews or taking surveys. They were certainly not meant to convey the idea that a team member was in Kibera to “save,” “improve,” or “rescue” the host. As impossible as it is to do so, homestays were an attempt for Westerners, who ultimately wanted to create a new business, to lay aside the mental models of the world they had acquired over a lifetime and to perceive, through African eyes, an equally valid reality.
When the homestay had been completed, the team returned to living together but still near their hosts. The relationships they had forged during their homestays remained important for identifying and building a new business and for demonstrating a genuine commitment to provide value to the community.
After the homestays, the ground team participated in a series of activities that led to the development of a broad business concept. These activities helped them better understand Kibera and answer questions such as What do citizens want? need? value? What resources, even if hidden at first from Western eyes, might become building blocks of a new business?
Of course none of these questions could be answered by the on-the-ground team acting alone. Using further introductions from CFK, their homestay hosts, Sammy Gitau, and others, the team recruited a set of community members to help them explore these questions and others pertinent to creating a new business. This group represented a cross section of the community who appreciated the possibility of co-creating a new business and committed to doing so. These recruits together with the on-the-ground field team from ESW made up an extended Project Team. Though the ESW members of the Project Team remained fixed, there was some fluidity in the membership from the community over time.
To imagine the enormity of the task before the Project Team as it embarked on co-creating a new business, imagine the following. You are a lifelong resident of Kibera. You have never made a direct purchase from a Western company. Everyone that you have ever known is black. The thought of starting a formal business is the furthest thing from your mind. And now, a group of mostly white foreigners, from a place you don’t know, representing a company you’ve never heard of, is suggesting that you become their partner to potentially make money for them, your community, and yourself.
In fact, I have conducted a variation on this exercise with groups of homeless individuals in the United States with whom I have employed the protocol. Without fail, and despite their typically desperate financial situation, the participants in these exercises say that they wouldn’t accept such an offer without knowing a lot more: Who is the company? Why would they want to do this? Do they have a track record? Who can vouch for them? How do we know that this will not be just another “bill of goods?” Just for starters.
But by working through such issues, these individuals can become valuable business collaborators. In Kibera, local Project Team members were just as uncertain about the project at first as were the homeless individuals in the United States whose skepticism I just described. And, like their counterparts in the United States, they became key collaborators during the opening-up phase of business development.
Co-creating a new business concept required effectively blending the skills and perspectives of Western outsiders with local Kiberans. This required a repertoire of methods designed to bridge the differences between both groups and build upon each side’s strengths.
Participatory rural appraisal (PRA) describes a set of established and to-be-invented methods to help local people understand and improve their lot. Two of the words in the phrase participatory rural appraisal can be misleading. Participatory rural appraisal can be applied in urban settings (although its roots are in agriculture). And PRA aims to change a situation for the better, not just appraise it.
But PRA is certainly “participatory”—in the sense that it allows the voice of the “underdog” to be loudly heard. Participatory methods are based on the conviction (proven by evidence and experience) that the poor and marginalized have more than adequate capabilities for understanding, planning, and acting to improve their lives, and then evaluating their efforts. PRA methods foster an environment that enables communities, and PRA practitioners themselves help bring selected members of the community together and facilitate the community’s understanding and progress toward its goals.
Participatory rural appraisal and other methods from anthropology and the social sciences such as Rapid Assessment Process (RAP) often guided the interactions between the ESW and community members who contributed to the project. The ESW members facilitated; the Kiberan residents “participated.”
It is important to recognize that even though business development was taking place in Kenya, on Kiberan’s “home turf,” the ESW team could be viewed as having the upper hand in terms of power. Locals perceived them (with some exaggeration) as foreigners from the West, extraordinarily well educated and extremely wealthy, able to return home whenever they pleased. Not your average Kiberan.
Thus many of the PRA activities aimed to neutralize and even reverse these perceived power imbalances. For instance, having Kiberans lead walking tours throughout the community (“transects”) to identify local resources, problems, and opportunities put them in the role of “teacher” and ESW members in the role of “student.” Similarly, PRA teaches the importance of “the passing the stick”—or in many cases, marking pen, chalk, or camera—to allow local citizens to draw, diagram, photograph, and otherwise depict critical aspects of their lives and important relationships among them. These activities generated important information as well as increasing the trust necessary for a co-created business to even be possible.
Early on, these methods were especially useful in helping identify individuals to support the project, either as part of the Project Team or as key informants. Later, participatory workshops were generally focused on business creation. For instance, the partnership between SC Johnson and Kibera was based on creating “mutual value.” Thus a topic that became ripe for exploration was the value and benefits that both sides hoped to achieve to make the partnership work. More subtly, a discussion of mutual value reinforced the idea that both sides had to win for the partnership to succeed over time, and each side would benefit from viewing the other partner’s success as linked to their own. Other workshops focused on such business fundamentals as creating value for customers (rather than partners) and the business “value chain” through which a company obtains raw materials, transforms them into products or services for sale, and delivers these goods or services along with appropriate customer service.
As outsiders, the ESW Project Team members ran the risk of receiving a biased sense of Kibera—its needs, opportunities, strengths, and weakness—by relying on information furnished by a too limited number of individuals. To prevent this, the team took pains to examine and compare the information it gleaned from a variety of sources: conversations with local community members, of course, but also the drawings, diagrams, and photographs they produced, information gathered from walking tours, and their experience of more or less trying to “live life” in Kibera. By finding common threads among these sources of evidence about life in Kibera, as well as considering subtler and less frequently reported information, the team was able to quickly gain a rather informed understanding of the community. Such RAP inquiries allowed for cycles of ever-deepening understanding of the community and the business opportunities there.
With this critical, preliminary work completed, the Project Team began its most important task: coming up with the concept for a new business. Employing a process used in many modern businesses (and still using PRA and RAP as appropriate), the ESW Project Team members used breakout sessionswith relatively small groups of community members to promote the divergent thinking useful for generating new and “unfiltered” ideas. These became input for larger community-based meetings focused more on critical analysis and convergent thinking to help refine them.
Over a period of several weeks, the Project Team engaged in several rounds of divergent-convergent thinking, each time trying to advance the discussion in the direction of a new business possibility. Finally, they identified a business concept attractive to SC Johnson, the community of Kibera, and various individuals affiliated with the project. That idea, left intentionally broad to allow the next phase of the protocol to explore different implementation possibilities, was to create a new business providing community residents with more hygienic, pest-free homes. For the first time ever, SC Johnson would be engaged in a service business. Even though their products would be used to support cleaning and insect-control services, this was quite a departure for a company that, throughout its entire history, had only sold products to consumers. This time, they would join with local Kiberan entrepreneurs and provide them with industrial-sized containers of relevant products (another first for a company whose history was in selling small cans and packages of their goods) that they would use to sanitize homes and rid them of mosquitoes and other disease-carrying insects. Thus was begun a partnership from which SC Johnson hoped to learn much—and profit eventually. The community stood to gain immediately, from new jobs and better living conditions. The opening-up phase of the protocol had successfully come to a close.
The six-person ESW team left Kibera after about a three-month stay. They had completed their main mission: to generate, with the community, a concept for a new business in which SC Johnson could participate. But they had also paved the way for Phase 2 of the protocol, the chief aim of which was to build an ecosystem of business partners to carry out and explore the new business idea. During their stay, Carolina for Kibera (the local community-based organization supporting the project) had introduced ESW to several “youth groups” who were taking part in a program they had launched called Taka Ni Pato (Trash Is Cash). These youth groups (or what we’d call gangs, if you remember) had created mini-businesses in which they first collected residents’ trash for a fee and then combed through it looking for items they might sell as recyclables or composting material.
The ESW team had met the youth group members—where else?—over an open sewer as team members were participating in a community cleanup just after their arrival. (You can’t expect anything to be “business as usual” at the base of the pyramid.) They used rakes and shovels to immerse themselves in Kibera and, on this occasion, the Kiberan waste that happened to be floating by. By the end of Phase 1, it was clear that youth groups could play a key role in the new business. They were young, hardworking, and entrepreneurial, knew the community, and had an established base of customers. When ESW returned to the United States, several of these youth groups were selected to work with SC Johnson’s Kenyan office and Carolina for Kibera to start the new business.
Sammy Gitau, with whom I was speaking on the shores of Lake Michigan in Racine, Wisconsin, had established a community resource center to support these youth groups. Sammy and I were planning a project that I would eventually work on with students from the University of Michigan business school to outfit the center’s makeshift library with additional books, a few new computers, and more reliable power.
If you recall, Sammy was in Racine for Wingspread II, a meeting that took place approximately three months after the ESW team had left Kibera. He had a digital camera with him and was taking pictures of Lake Michigan, the striking Frank Lloyd Wright buildings at Wingspread, and its magnificent grounds—things that other Kiberans would find difficult to believe existed, even with pictures. And he would join the ESW team in describing to the Wingspread attendees his life experience in Kibera and the status of the SC Johnson–Kibera business at the six-month mark after the ESW team first set foot in Kenya. To anyone wedded to the idea of “traditional business,” what he was describing would be no less surprising than the photographs he would show back home.
When Sammy returned to Kibera, the protocol-led development was entering Phase 2. Phase 2 was deliberately designed for learning by doing. In the place of careful forecasts and business planning, business ideas were quickly tried and evaluated to see what worked.
These pilot endeavors revealed several unanticipated developments, as was expected. First, it became important to organize each cleaning and insect-prevention mini-business around an individual rather than a youth group to create a stronger sense of ownership. But these individuals had no savings to draw upon as they built businesses that could not yet generate incomes sufficient for their living expenses. Thus SC Johnson had to subsidize them financially at the outset. And even though these entrepreneurs had previously hauled trash from residences in Kibera, their efforts to hire themselves out to provide in-home cleaning and insect-prevention services to new clients were met with mistrust and suspicion. This caused the business to shift its focus to common areas, such as latrines, where no one’s individual property was at risk.
The SC Johnson–Kibera Community Cleaning Services business is now several years old. More than 120 entrepreneurs have received training in public sanitation and in business, and they sell their community toilet-cleaning services to poor communities desiring more sanitary public toilets, the only type of toilets available to many Kenyans. The business, which began in Kibera, has expanded to other Kenyan slums, including Mathare, Mitumba, and Dagoretti. SC Johnson hopes that what it started in Kenya may take root elsewhere in Africa, and even on other continents.
Postscript: Happy Ending Despite the Odds
The story already has a remarkable postscript. When he was thirteen, Sammy Gitau’s father was beaten to death by a mob as Sammy watched. Sammy began to steal to support his family, got involved in drugs, and ended up living on a garbage dump. After surviving a drug overdose near the age of twenty, he turned his life around and started his community resource center in the slums to help others kick drugs. Built from old cargo containers, the center offers skills training, provides a library, and exposes its members to opportunities such as Cash for Trash, where they salvage items of value from garbage and sell them.At the garbage dump Sammy himself found treasure in the form of a flyer from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. It was an advertisement for a master’s degree program from their Institute for Development Policy and Management.
He wanted to attend to share what he had done and to learn from others, but there were a few obstacles. His formal education had ended in high school, and he didn’t have the money. Fortunately, the institute waived its admissions requirements, allowing Sammy’s grant writing and other means of demonstrating his intelligence to substitute for a college degree. They also provided a scholarship for Sammy to attend.
In December 2007, two years after our conversation in Wisconsin, Sammy received his master of science degree in Management and Implementation of Development Projects, with Honors.
The BBC noticed this accomplishment. In a web-plus-video presentation, it traced his arc from homeless individual, to creator of a community center serving more than twenty thousand people, to holder of an advanced degree. Interviewing him just before he received his diploma, a BBC reporter asked if the odds were impossibly long for others hoping to follow a similar path. He responded that they weren’t if poor people were willing to stick with it and work hard enough:
As I’m waiting to graduate, [I want to] tell them: “Don’t be afraid of expecting too much from life. Don’t be afraid of taking a huge dream [or] expectation. Take it, work hard at it, and be ready.” Because wishing and really taking it [are different] things. What I’ve learned from my studies is it takes a lot of time and hard work. If one is not ready to put the time and energy that it demands, it can be quite difficult.
And what has become of the on-the-ground team that ESW sent to Kibera to launch the protocol?
- Erik Simanis continued on the Kibera project, traveling back and forth to Kenya in a supervisory role during its last two phases. He continues to play a key role in creating businesses at the base of the pyramid.
- Patrick Donahue continued with the Kibera BoP Protocol effort and similar ventures, including ESW’s Protocol effort in Flint, Michigan, for Ascension Health directed at providing better health care and wellness outcomes for that community.
- Justin DeKoszmovsky joined SC Johnson’s London office, which oversees its business activities in Africa, and is specializing in base of the pyramid business development.
- Tatiana Thieme continued to work with ESW on several other BoP projects and is researching enterprise-based approaches to alleviating poverty.
- Catherine Burnett is a program officer at a charitable trust.
- Nyokabi (Kabi) Kiarie is now a financial consultant.
As for the Advisory Team:
- Gordon Enk continues to work with ESW on various BoP projects.
- Stuart Hart and ESW continue to play a seminal role in shaping how businesses think about the base of the pyramid and how to use the protocol to create businesses that serve poor communities.
- And me? I’ve continued my project work, too, and, of course, have written this book, which I hope you’re enjoying.