WRI Officially launches NextBillion.net

The World Resources Institute has officially launched NextBillion.net, an online community focused on the intersection of business, innovation and poverty. We were lucky enough to get an early look at NextBillion, and WRI was kind enough to quote our impressions in their press release. See for yourself!

New WRI Blog Targets 'Next Billion' Consumers Dollars

WASHINGTON, May 27, 2006 - The World Resources Institute has launched an interactive blog focusing on business's role in eradicating world poverty. The organization hopes to position its new "NextBillion.net -- Development through Enterprise" blog as "the world's premiere online water cooler and conference room" for socially responsible business development.

Previously, there have been e-mail lists for such business developers, but NextBillion.net allows development and poverty reduction to reach a new level by offering a bottom-up educational resource and threaded-discussion tool for everyone from multinational executives to small-business entrepreneurs.

Representatives of companies such as Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Pitney Bowes, DuPont and SC Johnson (as well as many innovative individuals) have already begun posting comments and discussions on the blog. For instance, noted author Stuart Hart posted exclusive content this week detailing issues highlighted in his new book, Capitalism at the Crossroads: The Unlimited Business Opportunities in Solving the World's Most Difficult Problems. Additionally, with today's official launch, NextBillion.net's creators expect to quickly establish the site as the top news feed and content resource for corporations, foundations, the business-school community, poverty NGOs, development organizations, and many others.

"The site is a lot of fun," said Allen Hammond, WRI's vice president of special projects and innovation. "And it's a way of continuing the intense discussions begun at our Eradicating Poverty Through Profit conference last December. We think many people will find the information already posted and the ability to track our news feed on their browsers very useful. But the real draws are the insights and comments of so many dedicated and talented people - and the potential to work together to create business strategies that can really reduce poverty."

As part of its already-rich content, the site offers many avenues for users to create their own content; the latest relevant news stories; original and up-to-date expert commentary on the homepage; links to other useful blogs and Web sites; WRI conference summaries and videos; Friendster-like profiles; and topic areas that include telecommunications and IT, successful business models, policy, financial services, consumer products, agriculture, health, education, energy, and strategy.

The overriding theme of NextBillion.net is that there are four-billion poor people at the "bottom of the pyramid" who represent purchasing power for an immense undeveloped marketplace. For example, in just 18 of the world's countries, the so-called BOP amounts to a potential $1.7 trillion market - roughly equivalent to the annual gross domestic product of Germany. Like those at the "top" of the pyramid, low-income communities demand quality goods and services tailored to their specific needs - and because they have less disposable income, they can be even more demanding. Additionally, the poor are not simply a cheap labor pool, but also a source of innovation. Both corporations and poor people can win when they gain access to more-affordable basic goods, like food and clean water, and critical services, like micro-financial and communications services.

"Eradicating poverty through profit cannot be a static idea," said University of Michigan business professor C.K. Prahalad, a fan of the site and author of The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. "To create good jobs and the capacity to consume at the bottom of the pyramid will require innovation at all levels. NextBillion.net is a place to come together and have a dynamic discussion about the role of business in development, and for that reason, I think it is something we all need to pay attention to."

The blog is already fostering a rich conversation of "lessons learned" about various successful business-model templates, increasing technology innovation aimed at the needs of low-income communities, and accelerating business investment. These trends have aligned to make NextBillion.net the go-to Web community at the perfect time. It is an enabler for people - a woman in Bangalore or a recent graduate in a socialist country - who previously had no rights to go into business for themselves or build employment skills. It is also an enabler for companies looking to expand their markets or development agencies interested in private-sector approaches to alleviating poverty.

Discussions already taking place at NextBillion.net include the growth of m-banking (mobile banking) in African countries where banks and credit-card companies have little sway, micro-franchising and micro-finance investment funds, and wind-powered cell phones created by students in India. Because of the massive influx of money being sent by immigrants in developed countries back to their family and friends in developing ones, as well as the kinds of actions being discussed at NextBillion.net, poor people in devastated economic areas are buying water filters for 90 cents, $35 cell phones, and, perhaps soon, $100 laptops.

Large, international companies that typically sell only to rich, upper-class consumers can now view poor people as a market, not simply as an obligation. Although the profit margin is lower, the market itself is huge. In addition, companies that create new, affordably-priced products for low-income households can gain efficiencies and learn new approaches useful in saturated, high-income markets. The companies that fail to foresee new technologies, markets and opportunities are creating their own destruction.

Users of the site agree. John Ikeda, a project manager at the World Council of Credit Unions, said, "As far as I know, this is the first site of its kind to really attempt to bridge the divide between the business and development communities. I use it to track developing trends and news in the overlapping areas between development and business. Although this area is still in its infancy, I think unique partnerships based on bottom of the pyramid-type ideas will only grow more prevalent in the coming years."

Patrick Donohue works for BRINQ, which promotes the innovation and toy design capabilities of poorer communities in Latin America. He said, "If NextBillion.net can help continue the many hallway discussions that attendees had at a WRI conference in December, the site will be tremendously valuable. Much of what we do is done in country, but a lot comes from Internet sources too. Yet searching on the Internet for that type of innovation - the intersection of poverty, innovation, and business - can be really difficult. Given that, the gravity that a site like NextBillion.net provides to attract those hard-to-find stories is invaluable for us."

Michael Sauvante, who specializes in technological innovations as CEO of both Rolltronics Corporation and SEER, added, "We plan to use the site as a major networking tool for us to carry out both our corporate mission and our hearts' desire."