The Base of the Pyramid (BoP) has become the common term to describe the two thirds of the world´s population that live at the bottom of societies on less than 2 US Dollars per day. When so many people in so many countries live in such poverty, the service systems of human society are clearly failing. For the BoP, basic services are not adequately delivered, such as health, education, public safety, transportation, energy, sanitation, and such life support services as food, water, and shelter. Impoverished people in every country suffer from failing basic service systems. Surely our species can do better!
In a forthcoming Journal of Service Management article (Fisk et al. 2016 — Ray Fisk, Laurie Anderson, David Bowen, Thorsten Gruber, Amy Ostrom, Lia Patrício, Javier Reynoso, and Roberta Sebastiani), entitled Billions of Impoverished People Deserve to Be Better Served: A Call to Action for the Service Research Community, we issue a call to action for our service research community to form a global movement to help the BoP improve their lives.
Our SERVSIG community is capable of accelerating the pace of change by developing research that might lead to new service systems and redesigned service systems for impoverished people. Also, we can collaborate on multi-country research that sought best practices for poverty remediation that worked on a global scale. Teaming together with impoverished and underprivileged people to better understand and solve problems is the key for the success of such an endeavor. In our article, we argue for adopting a pro bono logic in future service research projects: “If researchers pursued just 10% of their many research projects on behalf of the poor, we would quickly broaden the relevance of our service research to all of our species, not just the affluent.”
Many of you may have already worked on research projects with the main goal of changing the life situations of impoverished and underprivileged people. We want to use this newsletter to help connect SERVSIG researcher who are also interested in similar topics, who would like to follow our call for doing 10% pro bono for a good cause, and/or who have already done projects or research in this area and would like to share their insights.
Please use the form at the end (click here) of the article to get involved in Pro Bono for the Base of the Pyramid with other SERVSIG members and suggest what SERVSIG might do as an organization on this. If you have already done research in this area, please share some information about your project.
The service problems of the impoverished people on our planet are urgent. Help us change the future for billions of impoverished people!
Forming such a movement requires that each of you reading this find the reason why you care enough to get involved. To help our readers with this, in the quotes below, each of us states our reasons why we care and urge you to join us:
Ray Fisk, Texas State University, USA
As a young scholar, I found service research important because of the bad service that was rampant in the United States. Those problems seem very trivial now. As a senior scholar, I think our service field needs to work on much bigger problems that are harder to fix but much more important than merely improving customer satisfaction. Progress in global health care provides inspiration because many diseases have been nearly eradicated from our planet. Our service research community needs to view poverty as a disease and work to eradicate it. As the founder of SERVSIG, I see an opportunity for our global SERVSIG community to play a key role in forming the global movement needed to take on the many service system failures in the BoP.
Laurie Anderson, Arizona State University, USA
“You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.” ~Pablo Casals (Spanish Cellist. 1876-1973)
“I recently heard of someone who left a vacation in a country early because there was too much poverty there! I don’t want this to be us in service research. I don’t want us to just ignore and leave when there is, in our view, unpleasantness. And we must see people not just poverty. I grew up in developing countries. My father was an agricultural economist focused on the well-being of people at the bottom of the pyramid (BoP). This strongly affected me in a number of ways related to BoP and my work. I learned to be more of a relativist – I do not believe there is one “right” way; there are many different ways of doing things that work. Second, I try to look at people’s strengths. I am constantly amazed at the creativity that I see from people at the BoP. And third, I do not believe that we can only look at people being accountable for themselves – “taking personal responsibility.” That is easy for a person from affluence to say. There are structural and system aspects that we must be concerned with because they interfere with well-being. This way of growing up played a role in my focus on collaborative action research and services at the BoP. And now, it is so inspiring and fun for me to work with people in service research who are truly concerned and “walking the talk” with regard to well-being and the BoP.”
David E. Bowen, Thunderbird, Arizona State University, USA
“In 2012, turning 60, I realized I was becoming too good of an academic, a word the dictionary defines as “theoretical or hypothetical; not practical, realistic, or directly useful”. I had a sabbatical — a break from not being directly useful! — upcoming and went to Malawi for a couple of weeks to help supply rural villages prior to the rainy season, also known as the season of death. This setting forever reframed the meaning of the term “service failure” for me. And my work on climate for service in banks and luxury hotels does not hold the key to recovery. What if the “impact” of our service academic community was measured not just by Google Scholar Citations but by the number of people at the Base of the Pyramid for whom we performed deeds that provided benefits they dearly and desperately valued in-use?”
Thorsten Gruber, Loughborough University, UK
“At Loughborough University in general and in the Centre for Service Management in particular, we are aiming at conducting “research that matters”. By that we mean research that is driven by society’s need to address real-life issues and that makes a difference to people’s lives. I therefore feel very honoured and privileged to work together with wonderful colleagues to help improve the lives of impoverished people worldwide.
Amy Ostrom, Arizona State University, USA
“As a parent, my greatest hope is that my son will grow up healthy, happy, and able to realize his full potential. While he has advantages that help make that possible, for parents at the Base of the Pyramid with the same desires for their children, the myriad of challenges associated with poverty and service system failures make that much more unlikely. As a service researcher, I want my work to make a difference. Given the sheer size of the Base of the Pyramid and the interconnectedness that poverty has with many issues related to well-being (ill health, lack of education), I can think of no area where the potential for true impact is greater than research focused on the BoP through which we can strive to both learn from as well as enhance the everyday lived experience of the individuals, families, and communities at the BoP. Currently, all indications point to there being more global interest in doing well-being oriented service research than ever before. The time is right to come together as a service research community and make meaningful contributions to advance well-being at the BoP.”
Lia Patrício, University of Porto, Portugal
“Coming from service design and technology enabled service areas, I am thrilled with the evolution of technology and how it enables service innovation. Service research has played a key role in studying and leveraging the impact of technology on services, such as new channels, wearables, or smart services. However, many of these service innovations remain targeted to affluent customers in western economies. Wonderful examples like MPesa, the mobile phone-based money transfer, financing and microfinancing service, show that service innovation focused on creating value for the BoP can build upon affordable technology to have a huge impact on improving the lives of the underprivileged. The service research community has the opportunity to play a more active role in promoting service innovation and impacting people’s lives at the BoP.”
Javier Reynoso, Monterrey Institute of Technology (ITESM), Mexico
“Life presents us with different paths in curious ways. In 1997, our late friend Liam Glynn helped organized a special service conference for SERVSIG in Dublin, Ireland. At that conference, I made a presentation to start creating awareness about the importance and value of conducting service research at the Base of the Pyramid (BoP).. Unfortunately, in the early years, resonance to the BoP was very limited. In 2014, I invited Ray Fisk and Lia Patricio to join me in launching the BoP Service Research Network, an institutional project supported by Tecnologico de Monterrey, aiming to create awareness on the importance of conducting service research in this huge socioeconomic segment. Almost 20 years later, I am glad these initial efforts are bearing fruit now. Today, this note in the SERVSIG newsletter could not be a better way to continue that journey.
Poverty and inequality at the BoP is embedded in all levels of human systems and all have a role in this collective service failure. We also have failed by considering people living at the BoP just as passive aid recipients and consumers. We need to realize many of them are also creative, proactive, entrepreneurial innovators who are constantly co-creating solutions to survive the struggles of their daily lives. It is exciting that our SERVSIG service research community has the opportunity to help them escape from the service failures of the BoP. By doing so, concepts, models and theories so far known in service research can also be further explored and expanded thanks to the largest segment of society.”
Roberta Sebastiani, Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
“I would like to quote the words of Pope Francis in his speech at the United Nations on 25th of September 2015:
We have to be “…constantly conscious of the fact that, above and beyond our plans and programmes, we are dealing with real men and women who live, struggle and suffer, and are often forced to live in great poverty, deprived of all rights. To enable these real men and women to escape from extreme poverty, we must allow them to be dignified agents of their own destiny. Integral human development and the full exercise of human dignity cannot be imposed. They must be built up and allowed to unfold for each individual”.
This sounded to me as an inspiration to orient my work as an academic in a new and challenging direction. I think that our community has a unique opportunity to gather together to develop a collective consciousness of such huge problems in an inclusive perspective and to direct our research efforts to higher aims.”
Fisk, Raymond P., Laurel Anderson, David E. Bowen, Thorsten Gruber, Amy L. Ostrom, Lia Patrício, Javier Reynoso, and Roberta Sebastiani (2016), “Billions of Impoverished People Deserve to Be Better Served: A Call to Action for the Service Research Community,” Journal of Service Management, Vol. 27, No. 1, (Forthcoming).
Photo credit: Inter-American Development Bank