Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise Announces BoP Essay Contest Winners


Competition Evaluated Innovative Business Solutions for Low-Income Markets

The Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise at Johnson at Cornell University is pleased to announce the winners of its fourth annual Base of the Pyramid (BoP) Short Essay Competition. Sponsored by USAID and International Finance Corporation (IFC), the competition highlights the challenges of doing business in underserved markets and identifies innovative business experiments or solutions for those challenges.

“The Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise promotes applied research on innovation and new market creation in underserved communities, otherwise known as the Base of the Pyramid,” said Monica Touesnard, associate director of the Center. “This year, applicants were asked to provide financial models illustrating the success of their business and its impact in improving the livelihoods for the world’s poorest people and communities.”

The worldwide competition attracted more than 100 submissions from 27 countries, illustrating a diverse array of business ideas and solutions in 36 different countries. Judges with expertise working and investing in businesses in low-income communities used a double-blind review process to select the winners. They evaluated the quality of writing, as well as whether the initiative illustrated a unique approach to poverty alleviation, through a current business model, product, service, or technology. The winning submissions were able to clearly articulate a business challenge that an organization is, either a non-profit or for-profit enterprise, is working to overcome in low-income communities.

First place, with a prize of $4,000, was awarded to Reshma Kamath, a graduate student in International Cooperation at the Graduate School of International Studies (GSIS) at Seoul National University (S.N.U), South Korea. She is deeply interested in issues at the intersection of corporate social responsibility and law, and wants to enhance productive capacities in developing countries through public private partnerships. Her interest in this field prompted her to write her winning essay titled, “Jayaashree Industries: The Low Cost Sanitary Napkin Maker,” which she hopes will shed light on an often neglected issue of women's reproductive and menstrual health.

Second place went to Khuram Hussain, an Acumen Fellow implementing operational improvements at Ecotact, a pay-per-use toilet business in Nairobi, Kenya. Based on his experience at Ecotact, this essay highlights the importance of creating novel business models to address the complex problem of inadequate sanitation, and provides lessons for enterprises targeting BoP customers.

Third place went to a three-person team that included Diana Jue, a graduate student in MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning, International Development Group; Ashutosh Sinha, CEO of Villgro Stores; and Suresh Shanmugam, head of operations of Villgro Stores. Their paper about Villgro Stores explores the challenges of disseminating innovative livelihood-enhancing products and services throughout rural India.

There were two honorable mentions. The first went to Sarita Bahl of Multi Commodity Exchange of India Limited (MCX), who wrote about Gramin Suvidha Kendra, a strategic alliance between MCX and India Post to create rural service centers throughout India. The second went to Zoe Wong, an undergraduate student at Cornell University, whose essay on Shokay discusses the creation of luxury yak-down products to alleviate poverty in Western China.

You can read the winning essays here.