A nurse treating a patient in rural Tamil Nadu (Image: Tommi Rimpiläinen)

Opportunity Identification at the Base of the Pyramid Tommi Rimpiläinen

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  • More than half of the world’s population live on less than $5 per day in local purchasing power and are excluded from the global market economy. These people in the developing world form the so called “Base of the Pyramid” market. I studied contextual factors and local health care systems while on a four-week ethnographic field study in rural India. Interpreting this into narratives of cultural, social and physical market environment, I looked at how they translate into prospective elements of business opportunity.

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  • Setting the scene for the BOP

    10 May 2013


    The tribal area of Kolli Hills is located in the center part of the state of Tamil Nadu. It is roughly a two hour car travel away and a lot more if relying on public transportation from any town of meaningful size and services. The first hour of the journey is through picturesque agricultural landscape with lush tropical vegetation, palm groves and water buffaloes grazing lazily around. In the second hour, the road starts to coil through total of 70 hairpins up to the hill and finally reaches an altitude of 1000 meters above the sea level. During the ascend, vegetation adjusts to the noticeably cooler hill climate and abundant monkeys are approaching vehicles in a hope of getting food, which in fact many people are throwing out from the windows to them. According to the driver it is both for amusement and to provide good luck.

  • Kolli Malayalis -the people of BOP

    10 May 2013


    Kolli Malayali are the original people of the area and today there are around 50 000-60 000 of them living in 275 villages. Last census was carried out in 2001 and no-one knows the exact current population. They have been given a status of scheduled tribals, due to their economic and societal backwardness and they are entitled to certain government privileges and developmental favoritism in order to bridge the gap with other Indian communities. However, most of the people in the area are still living in intense poverty.

    The 98% Hindu population and few Christians are getting well along together and there is no history of religious conflicts in the area. Ethnically the people living in Kolli Hills look exactly like the lowlanders, but there are some differences in their appearance. Kollis are generally skinnier and there are very few obese people around, unlike elsewhere in Tamil Nadu, where good portion of upper and middle class seem to be overweight. Many Kolli people do heavy physical work and are used to walking a lot in the hills thus getting more than enough of physical exercise. There are also more unwashed people with unclean clothes. That is likely a consequence of hard laboring and general poverty. They also have rougher faces with more scars indicating of demanding life. Men are wearing more traditional lungis (sarong) instead of trousers, while many women wear loose night dress type outfits or saris.

    While people were generally very friendly and curious towards me, there are certain codes of conduct and taboos to be respected. For instance pictures cannot be taken of young women, little babies or religious shrines without permission. Even saying hello to a female can be considered highly offensive and trigger a conflict. I did not experience that in first hand, but were told on several occasions by my assistants to be careful when young women were around, as their relatives and companions might get wrong thoughts.

    Even if most people are living in substantial poverty, people appear to be happy and content in their lives. Most of them would not want to live elsewhere even if the opportunity arises, as their identity is strongly associated with their families, communities and to the land of the Kolli Hills.

  • Money, money, money and lack of it at the BOP

    13 May 2013


    “We are happy about the agriculture here and until our death our agriculture is most important thing in our life as it feeds us” (BOP5).

    Most of the people in Kolli Hills consider themselves poor, but majority seem to be content as their economic status have been steadily improving in the past, as a consequence to the favoring policies of the government. There are now more work opportunities for labor and the farmers are being paid more for their produce than in the past and the ones in most need are being given food rations by the government.

    Kolli Malayali is no longer a closed tribal system and the society is moving from subsistence agriculture towards commercial agriculture. Many Kollis have sold their traditional land to lowlanders, and now work for them in the fields, while there are also many small scale agriculturalists, who still own their own land. Cash crops, such as tobacco, tea, coffee, spices have replaced more traditional local produce and the harvest is also being sold to lowlands. Middle men are exploiting the limited opportunities to sell the crop in the hills and take substantial commissions for taking the produce to markets. The importance to have an access to a road cannot be overstated as without it, a farmer has to pay much more for the transportation and is losing out on the predetermined prices, as there is no organized sales network and they are more vulnerable to the buyers will.

    Banks are providing loans only to landlords and not to ordinary farmers, who are resorted to rely on credit from their family and neighbors or they can get informal loans from whom they call “estate people”. They charge much higher interests than the banks as the rates are added to the loan on a monthly, not on a yearly basis. Typical monthly rate is 2 %, which cumulatively can quickly become a massive burden for the borrower and result lifetime of indebtedness for the family.

    The size of a family obviously affects the family expenses and especially young children and girls are being considered solely as a source of costs for the family. Men are in charge of household economies and women do not have own money unless they go to work themselves. Therefore they are completely economically depended to their men. A local NGO employee explained that, “even if a daughter goes to work, she has to give all her money to the father. Whatever expenses she has such as to get a new sari, a meager amount is taken to her, but the rest goes to the father”. She is expected to earn her deposit for the marriage and she is being compared with the dowry monies of the other girls in the neighborhood and thus needs to save in order to get a good husband.

Masters of Aalto made possible by:

Helsingin kaupunki Antalis DMP Elisa Experq Hjelt Foundations Martela RGB Teknos Teurastamo Unigrafia Viinitie

Environmental awareness plays a significant role in the production of Masters of Aalto.
The event utilises the EcoCompass system of the Helsinki Environment Centre.