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Exploring the Bottom of Pyramid Markets in South Africa


On the final day the MV Explorer was docked in Cape Town, South Africa professor Susan Muller took her class to visit the vibrant nearby townships. During this rare field lab, students had the opportunity to meet local entrepreneurs in a variety of different subjects such as retail, financial services, and housing in an effort to better understand the “bottom of the pyramid markets”.

Pierre Coetzer, from Reciprocity leads the class discussion regarding the nearby townships and ‘base of the pyramid’ markets.

This field lab was designed to be a personal experience and journey for each student enrolled in the Global Comparative Social Entrepreneurship class on the Spring 2015 voyage. The objective of the field lab was to change the student’s conventional thinking about low-income communities and to understand “how innovative business models improve the lives of people in low-income communities”.

To accomplish this, Muller partnered with Nicolas Pascarel and Pierre Coetzer from Reciprocity, a South African-based consultancy that specializes in working with “base of the pyramid” markets. Professor Muller explained why she chose to partner with Reciprocity for this field lab, “Reciprocity helps corporations understand low-income segments and expand their activities in these markets. Due to their experiences and their close ties to the people living in townships, Reciprocity was able to put together an amazing learning experience for my students. We met local entrepreneurs active in diverse areas such as shack building, carpentry, fashion design, and small grocery stores”.

Throughout the field lab the class was split into two smaller groups, in an effort to achieve a more intimate experience with these local entrepreneurs. As the class traveled throughout the townships to talk with the locals, the objective was to “learn how innovative business models improve the lives of people in low-income communities”.

Section two of the class meets with the designers of T-Squared Clothing

Muller explained, ‚ÄúIn class, we talked about the largest and poorest socio-economic group, a market comprised of 3 to 4 billion people that is often referred to as the ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’. For businesses, this market is highly interesting and provides huge entrepreneurial opportunities. This field lab gave us the opportunity to gather some insights into ‚ÄòBottom of the Pyramid‚Äô markets and recognize the huge diversity in these markets‚Äù.

She continued, stating what she hoped her class took away from the experience, “I hope the field lab challenged some of the prejudices and stereotypes we might have with regard to low-income communities and poverty. Meeting with the local people in the townships showed how capable and business savvy these people are. With the right framework conditions, education, and institutions they will flourish”.

Throughout the day students participated in a unique, immersive experience – one that will forever linger in their memory as they reflect upon their time in South Africa with Semester at Sea.

  • Business
  • Education

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