DSC00176David and I stood in a small room in front of a special machine used to visually sort coffee beans after they are harvested and dried. We listened carefully as the machine’s operator explained (through our translator) that this machine ensures only the highest quality coffee beans are packed and sold.

Marvin, a small-holder coffee farmer, stood by and nodded in agreement. The sorting machine was the last stop on our tour of PRODECOOP, one of Nicaragua’s 10 largest coffee co-ops, and as we emerged into the sun from the warehouse enclosing the small room, I squinted, taking in the lush green mountain landscape of north-central Nicaragua.

With an end goal of helping farmers capture more value from the coffee they grow, we had come to Nicaragua committed to achieving a better understanding of:

  1. how small-scale farmers make money, and
  2. how entrepreneurs in the coffee industry are challenging existing business models.

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by Santiago Bunce

Children playing with a dogThis week we open a parenthesis in our 7 post series about the positive impacts of BoP strategies to take a look at cases where profits trump development goals.

So far we have argued that offering products and services in BoP markets not only provides profits for companies, but also benefits BoP consumers socially and economically. Here are the 4 previous posts in this series:

Social Enterprise: Understanding the Base of the Pyramid
The Business Case for BoP Strategies
Distinguishing Between Demand and Need in the BoP
Incubating Expertise: Fostering Partnerships within the Community

Here we take a closer look at why companies also have the obligation to promote social and economic development.

Ideally, profits and development intersect in a way that creates shared value. But this is not always the case. When profits remain the main driver for companies, the services and products provided may have limited or no economic and/or social benefit for the community. Continue reading

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by Kristine Schantz

This post is an adaptation of Kristine’s Pecha Kucha  presentation in Detroit, Michigan, November 29, 2014


I left for Africa at the age of 22.

What was supposed to be two years turned into nine, as I became increasingly invested in the unique challenges and opportunities I discovered around me.

Working in the field of community economic development, the notion of sustainability became a constant presence in my life. Continue reading

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By Pavel Azgaldov

treesMorocco. Since childhood, I’ve associated the name with the taste of sweetest oranges. Casablanca. Marrakesh. Atlas Mountains. Berbers: All quickened my imagination. In my mind they were associated with adventure, luring me to visit one day. I recently fulfilled my dream, and my trip to Morocco was one of the most adventurous and memorable experiences in my life.

The chain of events was set in motion last fall when I was elected director of the Renewable Energy Case Competition, organized annually by the Ross Energy Club. During the case competition I met Pashupathy Gopalan, managing director of SunEdison in Asia; he proposed that I intern with SunEdison’s office in Chennai, India. I was to  conduct market research on the potential of more than 200 developing countries for solar irrigation pumps, figure out the most promising ones, and prepare go-to-market strategies. One of the countries that caught my attention was Morocco. Continue reading

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By Ida Kubiszewski, Australian National University

“At present, we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it GDP.” — Paul Hawken

Imagine if a corporation used Gross Domestic Product (GDP) accounting to do its books: it would be adding all its income and expenses together to get a final number. Nobody would think that’s a very good indication of how well that business was doing. Herman Daly, a former senior economist at the World Bank, said that, “the current national accounting system treats the earth as a business in liquidation.” He also noted that we are now in a period of “uneconomic growth”; where GDP is growing but societal welfare is not.

The good news is that there are several alternatives to GDP being actively developed, discussed, and used. One of these is the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). Continue reading

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By Santiago Bunce


d.light technology in Haiti sold by the NGO Community Enterprise Solutions/Photo credit: Community Enterprise Solutions

Welcome back to our blog series Social Enterprise: Understanding the Base of the Pyramid. Over the past few weeks we’ve been taking a look at how businesses can avoid some of the potential pitfalls in emerging markets. This week we examine the benefits of collaborating with local organizations to mitigate some BoP market barriers.

In previous posts we have noted some of the difficulties of providing products and services to the BoP.

  • Poor infrastructure in developing countries may limit distribution of products and services.
  • Limited households resources may make consumers less likely to purchase new products from unfamiliar brands
  • Products that are not easily integrated with day-to-day activities and lifestyles are unlikely to penetrate the market enough to insure profitability.

To some extent, these issues can be mitigated by partnering and collaborating with local organizations and experts. As demonstrated in the examples that follow, partnerships with local organizations and community leaders significantly increase the likelihood of a product’s successful adoption. Continue reading

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by Jill Carlson, Jenny Cooper and Marie Donahue


Detroit Skyline. Photo credit:  Andrew Langdal, Flickr

Cities across America and around the world are feeling the impacts of climate change, and in their long-term planning efforts should be incorporating climate change—both reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and adapting to the impacts of climate change—into their decision-making.

A key step in the development of such urban climate change policy—a climate action plan—is understanding how much greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions the city produces, and a baseline for these emissions. In other words, conduct a GHG inventory.

This week, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice and the University of Michigan Center for Sustainable Systems published the first-ever comprehensive GHG inventory of Detroit, which was written by a team of University of Michigan graduate students from the School of Natural Resources & Environment and the Erb Institute (U-Mstudents complete Detroit’s first comprehensive greenhouse gas inventory). The GHG inventory will serve as a critical component of the work of the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative, a grassroots multi-stakeholder effort to develop a climate action plan for the city of Detroit. Continue reading

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by Tamar Koosed


A VisionSpring entrepreneur screens a potential customer for reading glasses. Photo credit: Gaurav Parnani,  Erb Institute MBA/MS Program alum.

Welcome back to our seven-post blog series, Base of the Pyramid – The Underlying Potentials and Pitfalls of the Pyramid. Check out our first and second posts:  Social Enterprise: Understanding the Base of the Pyramid  and  The Business Case for BoP Strategies  to contribute to the dialogue.

This week’s blog discusses a common mistake made by companies entering BoP markets: assuming that social needs quickly manifest themselves as market demand. We provide three examples of how companies have had to change course in search of demand and profitable and sustainable business models. BoP markets face many challenges including lack of reliable distribution channels for scaling up efforts, limited product awareness and understanding, scarce after-sale support, and cash poor consumers, to cite just a few. Continue reading

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