When Franz Schubert wrote the first two movements of Symphony No. 8 in B Minor in 1822 (what would come to be known as the “Unfinished Symphony”), little did he know that he was modeling the behavior and skills needed to successfully create the markets of the future at the base of the world income pyramid in the 21st century. Indeed, it is telling that, as we enter the second decade of the 21st century, the only real BoP business success stories come from the developing world itself-microfinance and mobile telephony for the poor.
Billion dollar companies like Grameen Phone in Bangladesh, Compartamos in Mexico, and CelTel in Africa still stand out as the few iconic examples of business success cited by BoP analysts and advocates from around the world. In fact, no global conference on the topic is complete without significant reference to at least one of these “home run” examples.
This raises the question: Is there something about microfinance and mobile telephony that has enabled such stunning success? When you examine each of these industries closely, it quickly becomes apparent that each is really a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. In other words, microfinance and mobile telephony are not end products that people seek to buy, like consumer goods. Rather they are enabling platforms that facilitate people to accomplish any number of tasks and deliver a wide range of functionalities. They are, in short, the equivalent of “unfinished symphonies.”