"To do the things we aspire to do, we can't just stop at inspiring people. We have to empower them."
University of Michigan professor Ted London believes embracing this concept would lead to poverty alleviation across the globe. And he sees entrepreneurs as the ones leading the charge.
A former business consultant, London had a growing itch to make a difference, rather than just help the wealthy become wealthier. "My work was interesting but not meaningful," he explained. "I wanted to make an impact in my career."
As he shifted his focus, he spent time observing the organizations who spearhead efforts to end poverty. But he became frustrated with the low level of success he found. Resources didn't seem to be used to create sustainable change, but rather temporary relief.
"The 4.5 billion poorest people on this planet, often referred to as the base of the pyramid (BoP), lack affordable access to goods and services that could dramatically improve the quality their lives. Despite decades of effort and billions of dollars invested, we have found that we cannot donate our way out of poverty," London explained.
He started asking himself if innovative companies, and more specifically the leaders within those companies, could be a more effective agent for change.
After extensive research, the conclusion he reached is yes- they can be. "Results from the field demonstrate that business can deliver value and impact to the BoP, and that the potential to do so profitably is enormous."
But there was still a problem. The missing piece was how to make that happen. London observed that "enterprise leaders have lacked a holistic roadmap that guides their journey to sustainability at scale."
And so London started creating that map and casting his specific vision on the intersection between business strategy and poverty alleviation, a method in which both for-profit businesses and BoP countries benefit.
He says an example of his vision in action are the mobile phone companies in developing countries. "These companies built a business model that made sense for both the companies and the end users. They weren't just giving out phones," he explains. London thinks this same, mutually-beneficial concept could play out in other arenas like clean water, healthcare and education.
Tulsans are invited to learn more about London's research and theories at an upcoming event at Oral Roberts University. As part of the ORU President's Performing Arts and Lecture Series, London will dive into "the opportunities and challenges of building successful businesses that target some of the world's poorest citizens." He aims to give attendees actionable strategies, frameworks and tools for developing sustainable, scalable enterprises in BoP markets.
The event is Wednesday, January 31 at 7:00pm at ORU's Global Learning Center. All attendees must present a printed ticket to enter.