A Different Kind of Journey: Co-Creating a Book
With the rise of BoP business, a robust debate has developed about the business opportunity, poverty alleviation benefits, and environmental impacts associated with such activity. There is growing concern, for example, that BoP business will result in nothing more than “selling to the poor”—in other words, that it’s the latest form of corporate imperialism. Others fear that BoP business will spur consumerism among the poor, resulting in accelerating environmental destruction. Some even question whether the profit motive is compatible with sustainable development. If the BoP domain is to fulfill its grandest promise—that is, as a business and development strategy grounded in a synergistic relationship between the generation of economic returns and the solution to social and environmental problems—these issues must be taken seriously and addressed head-on.
This book thus reflects our view that the BoP domain has reached a crucial juncture. The time is ripe for critically assessing what we have learned so far, for exploring the opportunities to incorporate new thinking, and for charting a roadmap that can guide future action. With these goals in mind, we decided to bring together a group of BoP “pioneers”—thought and practice leaders who represent a variety of perspectives—to reflect on the state of the field and creatively consider the opportunities and challenges in moving the domain forward. We were delighted when Al Hammond, Bob Kennedy, Jacqueline Novogratz, Erik Simanis, Madhu Viswanathan, and Patrick Whitney agreed to join us and create chapters for this book.7 C.K. Prahalad also enthusiastically accepted our invitation to participate in this endeavor. While his declining health ended up preventing him from contributing a chapter, he was nevertheless instrumental in the development of this book.8
We viewed this book as an opportunity to connect and catalyze the thinking among the authors; our goal was to co-create a book and infuse it with the latest ideas from the BoP domain. We also wanted to avoid a potential flaw found in many books with multiple contributors: a collection of interesting but often disconnected individual contributions. We believe that stimulating a dialog among the authors and other thought-leaders, rather than simply commissioning various experts to write specific chapters in isolation, offered the best path to a final product that would both enrich the recommendations for field-based activities and improve the intellectual development of the domain.
How did we pursue this vision? In May 2009, the coeditors and authors of this book convened for a two-day retreat in Ann Arbor, Michigan. In this intimate setting, each author presented their preliminary thinking, followed by critique and discussion. Gradually, the contours of the book began to emerge, with each of the contributions fitting together to form a cohesive whole. The tangible outcome was a shared vision for the book and an agreed-upon path forward for each of the authors. Each author then began to develop a full draft of his or her respective chapter.
Next, in October 2009 the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan and Cornell’s Center for Sustainable Global Enterprise hosted a conference during which the authors presented their thinking. Limited to 100 invited attendees, the conference was designed to stimulate dialog and provide a venue for frank conversations and honest feedback. We owe a great debt to those conference attendees, whose names are listed in the appendix at the end of this book. They provided us, as authors, invaluable insight into how to refine, enhance, and even reframe our ideas. They also gave us a welcome recharge of our intellectual batteries with their strong support for the value proposition of this book as well as for the concept of reframing the conversation around creating a fortune with the BoP. This helped us to the finish line, which is the final product you see here.