Monday, December 7, 2009

The Top Down (Approach).

I remember reading the vault guide and always wondering when in real life I would ever use the “top down” vs. “bottom up” approach.

And today, as I sat in Ahmedabad, Gujarat inside my friend's WagonR, it happened.

The answer to the “bottom” is the top down approach. In my mind, there are two very hot topics in the development space:
1. Climate Change
2. Bottom of the Pyramid

How do you reach the bottom of the pyramid, and do it in an environmentally sustainable way? The key: you start from the top down!

The answer potentially doesn’t lie in India, or if it does, it doesn’t lie in the slum community. In fact, in order to get those at the bottom of the pyramid to use more environmentally friendly products, or take loans to buy solar lamps instead of battery powered lamps, we need to start at the top. We need to start with influencers.

Who are influencers?
  1. Heroes – ex. Doctors (Okay not just any doctors, but doctors that live in small villages, they are huge influencers in small communities)
  2. Builders (builders higher contractors, laborers, and day workers, who all use tools, equipment, and supplies that are consumed by the top of the pyramid)
  3. Those with buying power (everyone idealizes those with buying power, people want to have the liberty to make the choices that others have, and they would probably make the same choices if they had the money to have that chance)
  4. Westerners (I am just going by what I see and hear here, this is not because I have an ego or something… even bollywood idealizes Americans)

Although we may educate the slum community on the benefits to the environment when using “green cement” or “solar powered” lanterns, if we aren’t using them ourselves, and if they aren’t being idealized on television or in movies (television and movies that get to the bottom of the pyramid), then why would someone want to take a loan to buy these things, or why would they want to pay more for them?

Let’s look at the typical buying pattern for any consumer when looking at solar lanterns as an example:
  1. Is the quality better? (perhaps, but not on cloudy days)
  2. It is cheaper? (initially no, but in the long run yes)
  3. Do most people use it ? (no, people generally have electricity lines running directly to their house)
  4. Is it better for the environment ? (yes, but remember initially it is more expensive)

A consumers will typically buy something if it is “popular” or they need it. And when they need it, they go for what is most reliable, and definitely what is cheaper. Secondly, most consumers like instant gratification. So why would someone want to get something expensive, when it only pays off in the long run?

In any case, besides the “top of the pyramid” being the influencers, they are also the highest consumers of excess crap. I mean even I’m guilty of it. I probably didn’t need to buy Nutella yesterday, but I did, because well, I like it. Okay so this doesn’t really have to do with Nutella, but more with not buying new things until we really need new things. Or not buying stuff, we really don’t need. What I mean to say is as influencers, policy makers, etc. , we should essentially start with ourselves.
So what is the conclusion? I am encouraging all of you to go and buy solar lamps, wind turbines, etc. to light your houses, instead of using the grid. Since I know that is not holistically practical, what I would like to do instead is to tackle the influencers one at a time. Maybe the doctor in the local village, or the builders who build things, or bollywood. In any case, please don’t take my examples as the end all, instead please understand what I’m trying to say.

This blog post is dedicated to Hasit and Elizabeth, the sidekicks who embarked on this journey and influenced my thinking.


  1. Mmmmmm ... Nutella with crepes ... ;)

  2. Nutella??? Henri, I thought as a BIS you would be more in love with my use of XY Diagrams.

  3. it's WagonR Bijal.

  4. normally x and y axis are independent of each other. Here power to influence is derived from the ability to create an impression...

    what do you say?