Market-based solutions to alleviate poverty have become increasingly popular in recent years. Unfortunately, there are very few examples of profitable businesses that market socially useful goods in low-income markets and operate at a large scale. This article examines three case studies of multinational firms that tried to market unquestionably useful products—clean water, eyeglasses, and nutritious yoghurt—to the poor but did not succeed commercially. The article also discusses two positive examples of profitable BOP ventures: mobile phones and detergents. Developing strategies for marketing socially useful goods to the poor, far from triggering a revolution in business thinking, requires firms to get back to the basic principles and rules of economics and business.
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