Musings on market-oriented approaches to International Development
Most people don’t like to be at the bottom or base of anything. Bottom of the list. Bottom of the barrel. Bottom feeder.
On top of that, most people would never call an individual or group they seek to serve anything that sounds remotely derogatory. Professional service firms call their customers, ‘clients.’ A bar’s customers – ‘patrons.’
Outside of industry, society places a premium on the way groups and individuals are addressed. In 2011, to call an African-American, or a Black person in North America, ‘coloured’ might not generate a favourable response. On the other hand, some people from South Africa who may look like African-Americans to a North American may welcome (even insist on) being called Coloured.
Words in general, and names in particular, matter.
They matter because they help to indicate the value placed on the item or person. They matter because they affect the way a person sees himself or herself.
For these reasons, I dislike the term Bottom of the Pyramid, or BoP. A popular website on development issues, NextBillion, defines BoP as “the largest, but poorest socio-economic group. In global terms, this is the group of 2.5 billion people who live on less than $2.50 per day.”
Within some circles, people seek to treat the “BoP” as consumers. This can be achieved by, for example, providing smaller packets of goods, such as shampoo, at a price point that is more accessible to the “BoP.” It is claimed, that by treating the “BoP” as consumers, they are no longer a charity, but are in a better position of Respect. A position of Appreciation.
This claim almost feel fabulous at best, paradoxical at worst. How can someone feel greater self worth, when they are addressed as “Bottom” or “Base of the Pyramid?”
The sublime aim of improving livelihoods demands a certain sense of circumspect in how we address those we seek to serve. If we, who have devoted our lives to helping those who live on $2.50 USD/day, use the word “Bottom” of the pyramid (when many of us are at the top) – how will people who do not place primacy on poverty alleviation address individuals without adequate access to basic goods and services?
So, fine. What other term should we use? Admittedly, any term we use is likely to sound derogatory. Words have associations that can be hard to jettison.
Yet, I wonder – do we need a name? What about a less charged term and a more objective approach: Individuals who live below $2/day.
Not as sexy as “BoP,” and it need not be.
And definitely not perfect. I will never have all the answers.
All I ask is that you don’t call me, or anyone you care about, “base” of anything.