Business & Society Special Issue
New Perspectives on Bottom of the Pyramid Strategies
Nikolay A. Dentchev
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
U Calgary, Canada
Nottingham U, UK
LUMSA U, Italy
Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
A substantial part of the world population lives at the “bottom of the pyramid” (BOP). More
than 700 million people, or 10.7% of the world population, live in extreme poverty, with an income
of less than 1.9 USD per day (World Bank Group, 2016). When using a threshold income of 2.5 USD
per day to define poverty, more than 3 billion people, or more than 40 % of the world population, can
actually be considered as living below the poverty line. Poverty alleviation has been addressed by
sociologists, political scientist and economists, but in his seminal work, CK Prahalad (2005), a
strategic management scholar, developed an appealing new perspective to solve BOP problems. He
called upon multinational enterprises (MNEs) to address the issues facing the poor and suggested that
they could benefit from the market potential represented by the BOP’s potential customer base. In
addition to creating market potential, engagement with the BOP would supposedly lead to increased
innovativeness inside the MNE (Hart and Sharma, 2005; Michelini, 2012). Unfortunately, in spite of
this ‘doing well by doing good’ perspective, BOP markets have remained largely untapped by MNEs
(Karamchandani et al., 2011).
With the present call for papers, we would like to celebrate the upcoming 20th anniversary of
the BOP conceptualization by Prahalad and Hart (1999), while at the same time inviting a variety of
novel approaches to BOP poverty alleviation. Here, Kolk et al.’s (2014) literature review of the first
decade (2000 – 2009) after Prahalad and Hart’s (1999) work, suggested that the majority of initiatives
at the BOP were initiated by entrepreneurs, NGO and governments, rather than by MNEs They
explicitly call for a:
“better understanding of the different roles that large and small MNEs, large and small
domestic companies, social entrepreneurs, and non-for-profit organizations can play in BOP
initiatives.” (p. 353)
Hence, this special issue will encourage scholars to elaborate on new perspectives of BOP
strategies for poverty alleviation. We expect new perspectives to be developed from at least three
different directions, namely social entrepreneurship, BOP business models, and governance (which
do not constitute an exhaustive list). Below, each of these three themes is briefly described.
The recent special issue of Hart et al. (2016) in Organization & Environment extends the MNE
perspective of BOP strategies toward entrepreneurship, grassroots / social innovation and systemic
innovation. Here, the entrepreneurial perspective is clearly discussed, but social entrepreneurship as
a tool for addressing BOP issues remains underexplored. The potential of social entrepreneurs to
contribute to BOP strategies is highlighted in Zahra et al.’s (2009) typology, especially where they
describe social entrepreneurs with the most significant impact, the so-called “social engineers” who:
“…act as prime movers of innovation and change, engendering “gales of creative destruction”
to destroy dated systems, structures and processes to be replaced by newer and more suitable
ones. By fracturing existing and often dominant institutions and replacing them with more
socially efficient ones, Social Engineers can have a profound influence on society.
Consequently, they can be a powerful force for social change. This is especially true where
entrenched incumbents and prevailing practices have become formidable barriers to reform.
Given the “systemic” nature of the problems they target, Social Engineers often attack
national, transnational or global social issues.” (p. 526)
The above view suggests that the most ambitious social entrepreneurs aim to resolve the most
challenging societal issues, including BOP related challenges. Although the prime focus of social
entrepreneurs might be addressing social issues in their local communities, some challenges are
universal, and generic, best-practice solutions can be further tailored to different contexts. In this vein,
recent studies have pointed out that international social entrepreneurship is a relatively new concept,
“the process of creatively discovering and exploiting social entrepreneurial opportunities
overseas with the application of business expertise and market-based skills, with innovative
social goods and services, either with or without profit orientation, but with the pivotal
objective of creating societal value rather than shareholder wealth in the overseas territories
where the enterprise functions” (Tukamushaba et al., 2011, p. 286).
In other words, we can expect social entrepreneurs from BOP markets to have an impact
through disruptive social innovations in developed economies. Microfinance, for example, became a
worldwide practice, embraced in western economies, though it was initiated by Grameen Bank in
Bangladesh. Alternatively, social enterprises from the western countries can organize solutions for
BOP issues, based on specialised knowledge. There are many examples such as Close the Gap
(computers written-off in the west receive a second life in the south), Apopo (detection of landmines
and tuberculosis with rats), Waka Waka (solar technology lighting), and Mobile School (mobile
school for streetkids), to mention only a few. This leads us to the following list of questions:
What are the critical success factors of social enterprises with the ambition to resolve
BOP issues at the global level?
What are the enabling factors and barriers for “born global / BOP” social enterprises?
How can social enterprises collaborate across national borders?
What is the role of immigration in developing international/transnational social
enterprise ventures (SEVs)? What are the antecedents, successful factors and effects
of these enterprises in addressing BOP outcomes?
BOP BUSINESS MODELS
The BOP Global Network, coordinated by Professor Hart, arguably reflects best how BOP strategies
can be made actionable. In its call to join the network, it invites “companies, NGOs, entrepreneurs,
multilateral organizations, and academics”. And most of the time, one could expect that a joint effort
of all those parties will be necessary to generate solid BOP strategies (Kolk et al., 2014). Webb et al.
(2009) argue that MNEs should partner with NGOs to mitigate institutional voids. Sharma et al.
(1994) show that MNEs can be a strategic bridge between international development funding
agencies, local governments and entrepreneurs. At the conceptual level, cooperation among various
actors in BOP environments is nothing new. Yet, such cooperation proves apparently quite difficult,
due to institutional voids or overkill, knowledge asymmetries, cultural differences, motivational
challenges, resource incompatibilities, and sometimes even moral hazards.
Overall, the cooperation between multiple stakeholders requires business model analysis at
the meso and macro levels. A joint effort, with multiple logics, and depending on shared value
creation, is most likely characteristic for complex business models in BOP markets. Arguably, BOP
is faced with wicked problems that are considered with the very existence of the population, i.e.
health, food, shelter, and education. Hence, these issues require profound, systemic and sustainable
solutions. This view resonates with Boons and Lüdeke-Freund’s (2013) assertion to study how
business models can lead to systemic innovations. Also Schaltegger et al. (2016), in a recent guest
editorial stress on the necessity to study further business models for sustainability leading to industry
transformations, learning-action networks, and cooperative arrangements. Overall, business model
thinking seems to be a helpful lens to understanding the motivation of various stakeholders (Magretta,
2002) in the implementation of BOP strategies. The above leads us to the following list of questions:
What business models are suitable for the BOP, and why?
How can one build ecosystems in support of BOP business models?
How to manage, scale and innovate BOP business models?
How do digital technologies create new opportunities for BOP business models?
How does the sharing economy enable new forms of BOP business models?
Effectively solving wicked BOP problems requires effective governance. Here, government
undoubtedly has an important role to play (Albareda et al., 2007, Dentchev et al., 2017, Moon, 2002).
While various initiatives (from MNEs, NGOs, social entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs) could lead to
creative solutions, governments can play a material role in facilitating the establishment of ethical
norms, but also through formal institutions. It can support the development of BOP initiatives and
business models, and perform the role of catalyst.
Borrowing from CSR governance (Steurer, 2013), BOP initiatives will require not only
government regulations, but also self regulation at the industrial and organisation levels as well as
civil regulation. While comprehensive typologies for governance exists, the coordinating mechanisms
to steer across governance levels and across jurisdictions require further research. BOP strategies aim
at resolving complex and international issues, involving variety of partners and motivations to be
engaged. Hence, the topic of governance can help us understanding the key success factors of BOP
strategies. In addition to success stories, scholars may want to focus on unravelling data of failed
BOP strategies that seem to be abundant, and thus contribute to solid understanding on the
phenomenon. This leads us to the following list of questions for BOP poverty alleviation:
Different types of governance mechanisms: formal versus informal institutions to govern BOP
How to manage institutional voids versus institutional ‘overkill’ in designing BOP solutions?
What are the new types of firm-government interactions at the BOP?
What are the new types of firm-NGO interactions in BOP strategies?
What are the new types of inter-firm collaboration in BOP strategies?
How to guide asymmetrical network governance for the BOP?
How to organize the governance of global value chains (GVCs) for BOP value creation?
Overall, with this call for papers, we solicit contributions with scholarly rigor and practical relevance.
We welcome the submission of theoretical, empirical and conceptual papers. This special issue
especially likes to encourage submissions that study BOP strategies from novel theoretical
perspectives. In addition to commonly used lenses of the resource-based view (RBV), transaction
cost economics (TCE), entrepreneurship, and stakeholder theory, scholars may consider to study the
phenomenon from the perspective of stewardship theory, collaboration theory, structuration theory,
public choice theory, social network theory, bio-mimicry, ecosystem theory, for example. This is not
an exhaustive list, and the variety of novel theoretical perspectives can only enrich our understanding
of crafting BOP strategies.
To attract papers for the special issue, we will organise a variety of dedicated paper development
workshops (number to be decided). In addition, the special issue will be advertised at a conference in
Sofia (27-28 2018) on new business models, as well as at IABS and AoM. Presentations at these
conferences or workshops are encouraged, but are not a precondition to submit a paper for the special
issue. Since this special issue intends to celebrate 20 years from the BOP conception, we intend to
invite renowned scholars such as Stuart Hart, Sanjay Sharma, Aneel Karnani, and Ans Kolk to
contribute, since they can provide a visionary reflection on this field.
1 April 2019 – Full paper submission: Please note that the system will be open for submission only
in the timeframe of one month (1 March till 1 April 2019).
Special Issue Workshops:
Paper Development Workshops will be proposed at IABS 2018 (7-10 June 2018 in Hong Kong) and
at the 3rd International Conference on New Business Models (27-28 June 2018 in Sofia, Bulgaria)
Dedicated special issue workshops will be organized in the fall of 2018:
- Monday 3 Sept. 2018 in Brussels (Belgium) and
- Friday 23 Nov. 2018 in Rome (Italy).
Attendance to these workshops is recommended, but not a prerequisite for submission to the special
Prior to submission, please read carefully the submission guidelines of Business & Society:
Please submit your paper in the timeframe 1 March 2019 and 1 April 2019 electronically via
https://mc.manuscriptcentral.com/bas while indicating submission to the special issue “New
Perspectives on Bottom of the Pyramid Strategies”.
About the journal:
Business & Society is one of the leading journals at the intersection of business and issues of social
responsibility, ethics and governance. It is published by SAGE and its current two-year Citation
Impact Factor is 3.298 (2016). It was ranked 31 out of 121 journals in the Business category of the
2016 Thomson Reuters Journals Citation Report (ISI). For further details see
About the guest editors:
Name: Nikolay A. Dentchev
Bio: Nikolay A. Dentchev is Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship and CSR at the Vrije
Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and at KU Leuven, Belgium. He holds the Solvay Business School
Chair of Social Entrepreneurship at VUB, with founding partners Close the Gap, Kluwer Belgium
and Euroclear. Nikolay’s research is published in various indexed journals such as Business &
Society, Journal of Business Ethics, Business Ethics: A European Review. He serves occasionally
as guest editor to special issues in journals such as Business & Society and Journal of Cleaner
Production. Nikolay’s research interests are related to CSR implementation, social
entrepreneurship, sustainable business models.
Name: Alain Verbeke
Bio: Dr. Alain Verbeke is a Professor of International Business Strategy and holds the McCaig
Research Chair in Management at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary. He was
elected as the Inaugural Alan M. Rugman Memorial Fellow at the Henley Business School,
University of Reading, and is the Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of International Business Studies.
He is also an Adjunct Professor at the Solvay Business School, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).
He has published more than 30 books and numerous refereed articles, including many pieces in
leading scholarly journals such as JIBS, JMS and SMJ.
Name: Jeremy Hall
Bio: Jeremy Hall (D.Phil., University of Sussex, MBA and B.Sc., Dalhousie University) is the
Director of the International Centre for Corporate Social Responsibility (ICCSR) and Chaired
Professor of Corporate Social Responsibility/ Sustainable Business. He is also Editor-in-Chief of
the Journal of Engineering and Technology Management, a technology and innovation management
journal with a 2016 impact factor of 2.419. Prior to joining ICCSR, Jeremy was a Professor at the
Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University (Vancouver, Canada), an Associate Professor
at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary (Canada), and a Lecturer at SPRU,
University of Sussex (UK). Jeremy’s research interests include the social impacts of innovation &
entrepreneurship, sustainable supply chains and strategies for sustainable development innovation,
where he has collaborated with a range of natural and social scientists. A major stream of his
research is focused on innovation and entrepreneurship for social inclusion in Brazil. Jeremy’s
work has been published in for example Business Strategy and the Environment, California
Management Review, Ecological Economics, Energy Policy, Entrepreneurship: Theory & Practice,
Journal of Cleaner Production, International Journal of Production Research, Journal of Business
Ethics, Journal of Business Venturing, Journal of Management Studies, Journal of Operations
Management, MIT Sloan Management Review, Research Policy, Research-Technology
Management, Small Business Economics, Technological Forecasting & Social Change and
Technovation. He has been awarded over $1.3 million in research support from for example
Genome Canada and the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada among others.
Name: Laura Michelini
Bio: Laura Michelini is Associate Professor in Management at LUMSA University of Rome, where
she teaches Management and Social Entrepreneurship. She has worked for several years in
UNICEF, where she was in charge of managing profit/not-profit global partnership. Her main
research interests involve: social innovation, inclusive business models, social entrepreneurship,
sharing economy and corporate social responsibility. On these topics she is authored and co-
authored of over 50 publications.
Name: Jenny Hillemann
Bio: Jenny Hillemann (PhD, Vrije Universiteit Brussel) is a postdoctoral fellow at Vrije Universiteit
Brussel, Belgium. She is a Visiting Fellow in International Business and Strategy (2016-2019) at
Henley Business School, University of Reading, UK. Her research includes the managerial analysis
of multinational enterprise strategy and the broader governance challenges facing international
firms. To date, her research contributions have been published as edited book chapters in well-
known book series, and refereed articles in leading scholarly journals such as MBR, IBR and JIBS.
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