Bottom Of The Pyramid

Ranjula Senaratna Perera CRPsouth2013 Mysore, India
ABSTRACT This paper investigates the factors that influence formalization of poor micro-enterprises (MEs) in urban locations in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. The paper draws from a multi-country survey of information and communication needs of poor MEs in Bangladesh, India and Sri Lanka in the second quarter of 2013. Through logistic regression, it models business registration among such MEs to understand what affects the decision to formalize within these environments. The paper also looks at the barriers to registration and the policy implications from these findings. Using descriptive statistics and models we find that the MEs lack of formalization is explained to a significant level by their level of education, gender, size of the enterprise and awareness levels.
Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have embarked on government funded e-government and telecenter initiatives, with internet access at telecenters as a central delivery channel for e-Gov services. However, are telecenters still relevant in the delivery of citizen services and should they be subsidized by government? To answer this, a survey was conducted amongst 2,750 poor citizens, who have had a government interaction and who live within 5km of 275 randomly selected telecenters in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Higher awareness and use of telecenters was seen in Bangladesh, with 68 percent of the Bangladeshi sample having heard of the telecenter, and 52 percent having visited a telecenter and used its services. Telecenter awareness in the Sri Lankan sample was lower, at 46 percent, with usage even lower, at 16 percent amongst those who were aware.
We want your comments and suggestions in Teleuse@BOP4 questionnaire design In our most recent demand-side ICT study, Teleuse@BOP3, we asked bottom of the pyramid (BOP) phone owners if and how often they used their phone (mobile or fixed) for business purposes or any other financial or work-related purposes. The responses we got were quite encouraging: Teleuse@BOP4 is almost underway. This time, we have decided to seek out the wisdom of the crowds in designing and fine-tuning some of the questions that we ask in Teleuse@BOP4. Responses to the question of business use of phones are important in this research cycle, where we are trying to understand , inter alia, what services (including telecom) would better equip SMEs (many of which are owned by or employ people at the BOP) to participate in the knowledge based economy. Similarly as important are the reasons that prevent greater use of phones for these purposes (trust, alternatives, cost, culture, etc).
It is a measure of CK Prahalad’s fame that I read about his demise in a Sinhala weekly. I had missed the story because I was teaching in Cape Town and then on the road until the end of April. But today, as I glanced through this low-circulation, but high-impact, weekly, I learnt of his passing. Last year, I was discussing the possibilities of inviting him to give lectures and interact with business leaders in Colombo and southern India. Our business partner was of the opinion that Professor Prahalad was not known widely in Sri Lanka and that we would have to do extensive marketing.
We’ve been saying that most people will reach the Internet through mobile platforms for some time. And for some time, our colleagues have been looking at us as though we have sunstroke. But we like to break new ground and know that skeptical looks are part of the package. Now we have a powerful ally: the New York Times. With the majority of Internet traffic expected to shift to congestion-prone mobile networks, there is growing debate on both sides of the Atlantic about whether operators of the networks should be allowed to treat Web users differently, based on the users’ consumption.
As part of LIRNEasia’s 5th year anniversary conference, “research -> policy -> knowledge based economies“, a photo exhibition was commissioned at the event to capture different aspects of the use of mobile phones by those at the Bottom of the Pyramid (BOP). The images which were sourced from Flickr from both budding as well as professional photographers (and used with their permission), showcased the varied nature of mobile connectivity and use facing the people of Asia from the BOP. An online gallery has been created to as a companion to the actual exhibition and can be viewed HERE.
A m-HealthSurvey Certification Exercise was carried out as part of the m-Health Real-Time Biosurveillance Program (RTBP) to measure the usability and adoptability of the m-HealthSurvey mobile application. The exercise was conducted with health workers in Sivagangai District, Tamil Nadu, India and in Kurunegala District, Sri Lanka. The final results of the exercise will be published in the near future. m-HealthSurvey is a mobile application developed by indian Institute of technology Madras’s Rural Technology and Business Incubator (RTBI) for collecting near real-time patient disease, syndrome, and demographic data for rapid detection of disease outbreaks. It is a J2ME midlet that allows users to select categorical data as well as type information to generate patient clinical records to be submitted via GPRS to a central database.
LIRNEasia‘s recent research on ICT use and remittances among migrant workers was released in Dhaka on 28 June 2009. The study of over 1,500 domestic and overseas migrant workers in six Asian countries (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Thailand and Sri Lanka) has yielded some interesting insights in Bangladesh, with important policy implications. Demand for communication among Bangaldeshi migrants surveyed was particularly high compared to the other countries surveyed; a significant number of overseas migrants even used the Internet to call home. Bangladeshi migrants were sending home around half of their salaries on average, mostly through banks, and hand-carried in cash. Mobiles play a key role in coordinating remittances; a small number of overseas migrants were even sending money home through their mobiles.
Teleuse@BOP3, LIRNEasia’s six country study has shown that between 2006 and 2008 there has been significant uptake of mobiles by the BOP in emerging Asia. Access to computers on the other hand (see here for numbers)  in these countries at the BOP is minimal.  Together with the increasing capabilities of mobiles to deliver an array of services, which essentially boil down to what you can do on the Internet (information publication and retrieval, transactions, etc) this means that much of the BOP will have their first Internet experience through a mobile. The current issue of Nokia’s Expanding Horizons quarterly magazine highlights LIRNEasia’s Teleuse@BOP3 study findings from India, illustrating this point. Mobiles are now the most common form of communication, pushing public phones into second place… The rapid evolution of the mobile into a multi-purpose communications and knowledge tool combined with its fast adoption by the BOP, means they and the majority of people in the developing world are likely to have their first Internet experience via a mobile.
Just five years ago, the Indian telecom industry’s massive momentum barely included the poor.  The country had slightly over seven access paths (fixed and mobile connections) per 100 people, but in rural India 100 people were served by only 1.5 access paths.  Even in urban India, the poor were unconnected. But now, the picture is different.
An article published by the Business Standard, India, states that telecom operators should focus on their most profitable customers, those at the top of the pyramid or TOP, instead of following bottom of the pyramid (BOP)-focused strategies. The article cites a study by BDA, a consulting firm in India, which finds that the TOP contributes a greater percentage to revenue than their lower-income counterparts.  An interesting debate has ensued, here and here,  on the economics of serving the BOP. Although such figures appear to economically justify abandoning BOP-focused telecom strategies, some argue that there seems to be more to the picture than first meets the eye.  Rob Katz of Nextbillion.
One seemingly less important budget proposal made yesterday by President Mahinda Rajapakse – many might have missed it – is the eligibility extension of the popular ‘low cost’ UPAHARA package by Mobitel to clergy and employees of co-op societies. Only public sector employees plus retirees had the privilege before. No doubt, a private company, even a one with govt hand in it, can offer special rates for a niche market, which it finds lucrative. However, when that is recognized more as govt policy, and spelled in a budget speech, inevitably eyebrows go up and questions arise. The most deserving beneficiaries of low cost teleuse are the poor – or the so called ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ (BoP).
This episode of The Interview features an interview with Executive Director, Rohan Samarajiva on telecom regulations, disaster mitigation, preparedness and early warning, mobile phone usage at the BOP and a number of other technology related issues. The Interview – Rohan Samarajiva from CPA on Vimeo.
In the end, Microsoft’s best intentions may not satisfy what locals want. The company surveyed 8,000 people in emerging markets and found their most pressing needs for technology often revolved around entertainment and surfing the Internet. “It reinforced for us that the emerging middle classes are sort of like the middle classes here except they don’t have as much money,” Mr. Toyama said. “It’s sometimes easy for us to get caught up in things and forget we are serving the needs of real people.
An article entitled, ‘Teleuse at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Beyond Universal Access’, co-authored by Harsha de Silva and Ayesha Zainudeen, has been published in Telektronikk, a leading telecommunications journal, published by Telenor, Norway. Appearing in the journal’s second issue for 2008, aptly titled, ‘Emerging Markets in Telecommunications’, the article explores the extent to which “universal access” to telecommunications has been achieved  in Asia, based on findings from LIRNEasia’s five-country study of the use of telecommunication services at the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’, namely in India, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand. Very high levels of access, but low levels of ownership are found. The paper then looks at the potential benefits that these non-owner users are missing out on, and then goes on to look at the key barriers to ownership that are faced by them. The paper estimates that there could be close to 150 million new subscribers at the BOP in these five countries by mid-2008.
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