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Amitava Chattopadhyay


Amitava Chattopadhyay
Emerging Market Multinationals - Amitava Chattopadhyay


Social Innovation

Transforming a Supply Chain Into a Social Enterprise

For conventional, profit-seeking companies, moving into social impact carries huge contradictions. An ad hoc, small-scale initiative is an inexpensive way to do a bit of good and receive a nice warm glow in the process. But any attempt to achieve more serious impact through scaling the initiative will likely trigger awkward discussions about how much that warm glow is worth to the firm. Thus, the ceiling remains low on social impact unless it can be justified in “win-win” terms. Needless to say, this is no easy feat.

My recently published case study[1] about Swedish oils and fats producer AAK’s “Kolo Nafaso” programme in West Africa describes how one company redefined “win-win” by creating a sustainable and scalable shea butter supply chain. In so doing, AAK was able to use business as a tool for maximising social impact, creating ripple effects with strongly positive implications for the firm’s most important stakeholder relationships and future activities in the region.

Building Sustainable and Socially Impactful Businesses at the Base of the Pyramid

Estimates suggest that four to five billion people live in poverty. Businesses engage with the base of the pyramid (BOP), typically through corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. Such efforts are laudable but are limited by their budgets. An alternative model would be to engage with the BOP as a sustainable business opportunity. The BOP can be customers as has been shown through the work of Unilever. The BOP also often own assets, such as small parcels of land or a few head of livestock. Likewise, the BOP has skills and labour. These can be sustainably leveraged to the betterment of the BOP. In this paper, I describe three initiatives that are profitably engaging with the poor as customers, providers of labour and providers of raw materials, while at the same time helping the target group lead better lives. Abstracting from these initiatives, I offer a framework for building profitable businesses at the BOP.

Novartis: Building a Sustainable Business at the Bottom of the Pyramid

Inspired by CK Prahalad’s book on the “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid,” Novartis was exploring the possibility of building a sustainable business at the BOP in India. The goal was to create a business that would improve access to healthcare for the poor while being financially profitable, unlike Novartis’s traditional philanthropic and corporate social responsibility approaches. To successfully develop a sustainable business Novartis needed to answer a series of strategic questions: Which BOP patients were the best targets for reaching the social and financial goals of the program? Which diseases should the program cover, and with what types of products (patent protected, generics, OTC)? Which stages of the patient journey should the program address? Which stakeholders should be targeted? What communication channels should be used? What should be the program’s scale? Where to put the social business group in the Novartis organization?


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