Dr. Prahalad Found a Fortune at the Bottom – and Shared it with the World

Last week, the world lost a great mind.  Dr. Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad, better known as CK, was highly regarded as one of the most intellectually gifted consultants and professors in the world of international business.  His contributions to academia and the business world are recognized as some of most insightful to date, and will be appreciated by generations yet to be born.  But more importantly, he leaves a legacy that honored the billions at the bottom, who all too often seem to be ignored in the discussions of international business.   Nowhere was this better represented than in CK’s book “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid.”

When discussing Dr. Prahalad, one realizes how he was a man destined to live in the time he did.  Some of us feel that perhaps we were born in the wrong century, but Dr. Prahalad brought a series of intellectual insights at the time when they were most pertinent.  In the era when the word “globalization” became global, he knew what this would mean for the world of business and commerce. He specialized in synthesizing the roles of managing multinational corporations with the multinational opportunities that existed.  He re oriented the foundation of global commerce in many ways, but with one fresh perspective in particular: he wanted to nurture the poor and their talent – and as his book’s title suggested, he wanted to provide them with dignity and choice.

The native of Chennai was famously quoted once as saying that the dynamics of global economics could change, “If we stop thinking of the poor as victims or as a burden and start recognizing them as resilient and creative entrepreneurs and value-conscious consumers.”  This opened the floodgates for a new approach to marketing, in the form of single-serving distribution – the idea being that the less privileged may not be able to afford an entire bottle of aspirin, but selling a single dose could leave both buyer and seller with maximum utility.

In “Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid”, Dr. Prahalad offers some keen insights, including the fact that business development at the lowest level would lead to a better bottom line for the company – and poverty alleviation for the region.

Allow me to share some of the best insights from his greatest work:

He shed light on the “Growing recognition that marrying the local knowledge of the nongovernmental organization with global reach of the multinational firm can create unique and sustainable solutions…” (p. 5)

He expressed the essence of his research when he proclaimed “We have to start with the respect for individuals irrespective of their current conditions.  Deciding ‘what is good for them” is against the very spirit of co-creation.  Yes we can educate them on the risks and benefits of choices.  But they must exercise their choices.  Those of us who have had the pleasure to see firsthand the extraordinary intelligence of the “uneducated” and how they “make do with what they have” are convinced that capability building for personal choice is a critical component of democratization of commerce.” (p.57)

And my personal favorite, the excerpt where he explains how better business practices served for better commerce opportunities for both farmer and distributor and improved through a new fairer version of direct commerce. (p. 96)

These insights, to me, represented his greatest trait. Dr. Prahalad would study and teach at the world’s most prestigious universities, and would help guide the boards of the world’s most prestigious companies, but he never forgot his roots. 

Not unlike Dr. Prahalad, India is an entity which has come a long way, in a short period of time.  But, I’m sure that Dr. Prahalad’s early exposure to the realities of India in his childhood helped shape his purpose in life. His legacy is not only a gift to academia, nor exclusively a gift to business, but a gift to the world.

Dr. Prahalad, you will be missed; but rest assured, your legacy will be recognized with great appreciation in the book of history.

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