Where others see poverty, C.K. Prahalad sees opportunity.
Prahalad, a Business School professor, yesterday highlighted
various corporate projects ranging from educating women to fitting
prosthetic limbs, which he said give impoverished people
opportunities to earn a living while allowing companies to still
make money.

Prahalad, who is known globally for his work consulting
companies, spoke to 500 University students, staff and faculty at
the 38th William K. McInally Memorial Lecture at the Business
School’s Hale Auditorium yesterday.

The major focus of his lecture was the topic of his new book,
“The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating
Poverty Through Profits,” in which he regards the poor not as
victims, but as consumers. “How can we change the image of
the poor from people who are pitied to entrepreneurs?”
Prahalad asked in his lecture.

One solution that Prahalad pointed to is Project Shakti (or
Project Strength), which teaches women in India how to develop
marketing networks and sell products with no previous business
experience. Women form self-help groups, which in turn are offered
loans to start businesses.

Another is the Jaipur Foot project, which allows people in need
of a prosthetic limb to be fitted and receive one within a day for
only $25, compared to the average $10,000 cost in the United
States.

Both are projects which allow companies to help impoverished
people while still making a profit, Prahalad said.

“The lecture was very informational. It showed that there
are ways other than philanthropy to help the impoverished,”
LSA sophomore Natasha Motwani said.

Prahalad also sponsored a project that sent 10 students from the
University’s Business School to developing countries to
research and observe the changes that took place after new
technology, advances in health care and literacy programs are
implemented.

Praveen Suthrum, a Business School graduate student, took part
in the “Transaction Governance Capacity” research
project in to Hyderabad, India, for several weeks. Along with
Prahalad, he interviewed politicians, businessmen and poor people
to study the effects of technology in the community .

“It had once taken three hours to complete something as
simple as paying an electric bill, and with the changes they made
it only took seven minutes,” Suthrum said.

He added that many people could learn from Prahalad’s
broad perspective, and that Prahalad encouraged him to challenge
new ideas.

“Being a student, I didn’t expect a teacher of his
stature to allow us to think freely and really experiment,”
Suthrum said. “I witnessed, first hand, his work and his
unique perspective.”

In reaction to Prahalad’s lecture, LSA senior Brian
Gallagher said, “It changed my outlook, it makes me much more
aware of what is going on in the world.”

Other students also expressed similar sentiments. LSA senior
Justin Singer echoed that he was inspired by Prahalad’s
message that social change and profit can be pursued at the same
time.

“I think it’s a good outlook to have, to look at the
poor as more than just welfare (candidates) — there is money
everywhere,” Singer said. “If you can make money while
doing a good job, it shows you don’t have to be charitable to
be beneficial.”

Not only were the students inspired, but also many of the
faculty said they were fascinated by Prahalad’s speech.

“You can tell he really believes in his project. His heart
comes through,” said Audra Asher, an assistant to Business
School Dean Robert Dolan. She said she hopes the students
understand Prahalad’s message that business
“doesn’t always have to be about money.”

Even though many members of the audience said Prahalad’s
message was groundbreaking, some said they were not as
impressed.

“He was good, but not revolutionary,” Indian native
Sunita Mudaliar said. “Being a businesswoman (in India),
I’ve seen these kinds of programs in India for a very long
time. He needs to stop exporting, and reiterate his message here in
America, while branching out to India.”

But Mudaliar, who traveled from Bombay to attend
Prahalad’s lecture after reading his book, added that the
world could nevertheless improve in many ways if “more people
would listen to him.”

— Daily Staff Reporter Victoria Edwards contributed to
this article

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