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What Corporations Will Look Like a Decade From Now

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Why Give a Damn:

There are more than three billion untapped customers by current market standards. There is HUGE market potential to create products and services to reach these people.


The author of this post, Paul Polak, has brought 20+ million farmers out of poverty. His work is dedicated to designing products for the Other 90% (the 2.6 billion customers who live on less than $2/day).

The Future Corporation will remain competitive in the global marketplace by creating vibrant new markets serving $2 a day customers at scale. 

Four years ago, General Motors, the biggest, most powerful corporation in the world, was brought to its knees by failing to react quickly and effectively to competition from Japanese imports, which were smaller, more fuel efficient, and cheaper cars.

Companies like Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft will soon face the same do-or-die crossroads General Motors did if they don’t react quickly and effectively to the challenge of earning attractive profits at scale from emerging markets.  This will require nothing less than a revolution in how businesses currently design, price, market, and distribute their products. I plan to spend the rest of my life helping foment that revolution.

The opportunities to create profitable businesses serving three billion bypassed customers are almost limitless.

Thirty million people shop at Wal-Mart every day.  But, there are three billion people in the world who will never set foot inside a Wal-Mart store. They include 2.6 billion potential customers who live on less than two dollars a day. Most live in rural areas in developing countries and earn their livelihoods from one or two acre farms.

Many more live in urban slums and live on what they can earn from informal enterprises like small shops selling consumer items or tailoring enterprises. I’ve had long personal conversations over the past 30 years with more than 3,000 of these customers who are routinely bypassed by existing markets, and they have become my teachers and my friends.

Coca-Cola sells what amounts to aspirational branded fizzy sugar-water for about 25 cents a bottle in villages all over India. In those same villages, 50 per cent of the children are malnourished.  What would happen to Coca-Cola if a well-financed Chinese company started selling a nutritious soft drink at a nickel a pop in millions of villages around the world? I believe  Coca-Cola could quickly find itself in the same position General Motors faced four years ago.

The Gates Foundation has helped millions of people move out of poverty, and improved the health and education of millions more. But as far as I know, Microsoft, the parent company, does not make a single product that sells to the 2.6 billion people in the world who live on less than $2 a day.

The opportunities to create profitable businesses serving three billion bypassed customers are almost limitless. For example, there are a billion people who will never connect to electricity.  That’s about the same as the total population of the United States and Europe combined. There are another billion people who don’t have access to safe drinking water. Many of them get sick and some of them die because of it.

Why aren’t existing businesses successfully involved in emerging markets? There are three main reasons:

  1. They don’t see a profit in it.
  2. They don’t have a clue how to design the radically affordable products and services that poor people need.
  3. They don’t know how to design and operate profitable last-mile supply chains.

Three key practical strategies need to be incorporated by businesses serving $2/day customers:

  1. Small margin x large volume = attractive bottom line profits. Supermarkets used this formula to replace mom and pop grocery stores, and Wal-Mart improved on it. For emerging markets, it’s really the Wal-Mart strategy x 100.
  2. Design for radical affordability. A movement, called design for the other 90% is gaining a lot of momentum: learning to design things that are affordable enough for people who live on less than $2 a day and that also are income generating.
  3. Implement profitable last mile supply chains. Spring Health, the company I’ve started with my partners in India will, if successful, will create a model platform for profitable last mile supply chains to small rural villages in India

The outcome of this revolution will be to create millions of new jobs, help more than a billion people move out of poverty, and take a giant step toward ending environmental imbalance on the planet.

Four years ago, I started a private company, Windhorse International. This year, I started a related company operating in India, called Spring Health. The mission of Spring Health is to sell safe drinking water at scale to people who don’t have access to it now. There are some 300 million people in eastern India alone that don’t have access to safe drinking water. Most of them live in small villages with 100 to 300 families, and those villages have little in the way of markets. But every one of these small villages has three or more mom and pop shops. They sell everything from cigarettes to soap to candy to cookies and all kinds of consumable household items. What Spring Health has done is build a 3,000 liter cement tank for about $100 beside each shop, and then purify the water in it using a radically affordable water purifier liquid. The shopkeeper sells the purified water at a cost of less than half a cent a liter to people in the village. Our customers, most of whom live on less than $2 a day, report that they are experiencing a major drop in illnesses and medical bills — each family estimates that they pay between $25 and $250 a year for medicines to stop diarrhea, visits to clinics and doctors, electrolyte replacements, IVs, and hospital stays to treat the illnesses they get from drinking bad water.

HealthSpringThe mission of Spring Health is to provide safe drinking water to five million people through 10,000 village shops within three years, and to provide safe drinking water to more than 100 million people through shops in 400,000 villages around the world within ten years.

I believe there are thousands of opportunities for creating new markets and creating new companies to serve the three billion customers in the world who are bypassed by current markets. It will take nothing less than a revolution in how business designs, prices, markets and delivers its products and services to accomplish this. But the outcome of this revolution will be to create millions of new jobs, help more than a billion people move out of poverty, and take a giant step toward ending environmental imbalance on the planet.


My TEDxMileHigh Talk In Denver Colorado

Burning Question:

What do you think are pressing innovations that could reach these untapped customers?

Paul Polak

About the author

Dr. Paul Polak is Founder and CEO of Windhorse International, a for-profit social venture with the mission of inspiring and leading a revolution in how companies design, price, market and...

Paul Polak has written 20 articles for UNREASONABLE.is

  • Carolina

    I feel this idea is very innovating and useful. Its allowing
    for more people to have jobs. The author believe that with these new market it
    can benefit a lot of people by providing people in poverty with jobs. This could benefit many.

  • Peyton Howard

    This is an extremely innovative and beneficial idea. It would provide those who live in poverty with job opportunities in a new market that can benefit numerous people. It is a brilliant idea.

  • sam_rye

    Thanks for sharing this Paul – more of these stories need to be told to bend the long arc of social change, and speed up the adoption of radical market-based strategies to widespread social & environmental problems.

    I wonder what Coca-Cola would look like if they actually focused their business goals on their marketing spin? Instead of creating a lifestyle brand around their damaging product, what would it look like to create better products guided by core values like “Happiness” and “Sharing”? It seems like one of the most important shifts they need to take to stop being a force for health problems, and start being a force for Wellbeing.

  • Tolla

    Thank you Paul for your insights with your years of experience working with these population

  • Courtlyn Carpenter

    I really enjoyed reading about all of the work your organization has done to help provide safe drinking water to rural villages in India. I do have a few questions about this article, though. First of all, I agree that supplying jobs in developing nations to boost economies is a good idea, but I would like to see more of a focus on the right way to do this. I appreciated how your organization focuses on directly implementing water tanks to already existing “mom and pop” shops, and I would worry that following a similar plan to Wal-Mart’s plan could promote large businesses taking over and unfairly paid jobs without delivering important services. Also, I was curious about how this proposal affects the environment. In the conclusion of your paper, you mentioned that this plan for businesses could help aide in “ending the environmental imbalance on the planet,” but you did not elaborate on this much in your article. I was just curious how this point tied into the rest and how delivering more products and jobs to developing nations would be beneficial for the planet. Thank you for posting such a great article, though. I am very impressed with the work Spring Health is doing in India!

  • Angela Hoch

    Carolina,
    I also agree that this idea is very useful and allowing more people to obtain jobs. This new market can benefit a lot of people, and help change the poverty level. This article proved that by helping others, having an open mind, and being unselfish can truly make a world of a difference and create a stable consumer market. I wish more people would read this article to realize how beneficial this could truly be, and how creating these new markets could change our country for the better. This article could be so useful, and beneficial if more people were aware of this website! Time to re post and share! :)

  • kristinwagner32

    I completely agree with you and the author! This market not only benefits people but focuses on other aspects besides just making a profit. I think more upcoming businesses will need to look at the bypassed market if they want to survive in the future with a standing business; unlike General Motors. Thank you Paul for this blog!!

  • lepkowskjj29

    Thank you for this article. I agree that we need to start moving toward providing for the 3 billion people that are on an income of $2/day. I really liked the point of Microsoft needing to react before they end up like General Motors. My only concern is how do you make a product that is affordable for people on an income of $2/day and still make a profit for the company?

  • Willie

    Your insight is very keen and thoughtful. With that being said it is very easy to say these people need help but how and what can we really do to help them? Where do we even start? Also how do we reach people who are long distances away?

  • DuCharmeDR11

    Sam, after reading your comment about the article and the marketing tactics behind Coca-Cola, I continuously was nodding my head in agreement. Marketers and salesmen/women are great at what they do, but how much more powerful and purpose-driven could their jobs be if they looked at the big picture, with a broader goal outside of gaining profit, and really impacting the lives of others in a guilt-free aspect? Being a marketing major myself, this blog has inspired me to make sure and be passionate about whatever product/service I wish to involve myself with. Thank you for igniting a spark in which I plan to challenge others with.

  • GrycowskAJ17

    This was my exact thought. I couldn’t think of a way for people to make/sell a product cheap enough for those people, yet have enough of a profit margin to even surprise. I really wish there was a way, but just don’t see it.

  • WolfgramKA06

    This is such an inspiring article. I really enjoyed, not only how you stated the benefits of this idea, but also how to go about doing it. I feel like this could be a great idea for future businesses. I know I would love to work for a company like this. One that is concerned with the wellness of places with poverty. My question to you is, where would you start a business like this first? Which country would you think needs something like this the most?

  • katie yanke

    I am glad there are some companies out there that actually care about people rather than just making money. It is sad that some of us think we can not live without the new iPhone while people in India and Africa are dying from unclean water something many of us take for granted. I hope more businesses will shift their focus from profits to changing the world. Thanks for the article!

  • DrivenbySuccess

    Katie, thats so true. I have had both bad and good experiences with companies that cared and did not care and it was interesting to see both sides of things. I think that people are going to people and money is the most important things to people so changing the world will have to come from a different angle.

  • Marian326

    Paul,
    Thank you for your radical approach to helping the 90% of the world through simply changing your perspective, and allowing yourself to do a paradigm shift. You are the epitome of an options person, and options are what is needed when approaching the problems in our world.
    I am very impressed with your water tank idea, and I’m pleased to hear how peoples lives have been improved. As a student of Health, I am drawn to projects that meet people where they are, and betters their overall health and wellness.
    What other projects do you have in the works for the 90%?

  • ghilonipt09

    I agree with you 100% the market is becoming more and more competitive. You need to have that one thin which makes people want to come into your business rather than the business that is your competitor.

  • kristinwagner32

    Exactly. You need that spark or something that stands out from all the other companies/businesses.

  • Angela Killpack

    I think it should be a priority to get clean drinking water around the world. There are still countries that don’t have filters when I think those can be pretty cheap. I’ve also heard of that billboard in Mexico that takes water from the clouds and turns it into drinking water. http://www.producedirect.com.au

  • Brittney Glende

    I completely agree with you as well Angela, the idea here is to help more people obtain jobs. Knowing that the market is becoming more and more competitive, you will need that spark so that people choose your company over another.

  • Caitlin Donohue

    Very interesting article! Thank you for this advice. What’s one way to get existing businesses to see a profit involved in emerging markets?

  • Willie

    I totally agree very inspiring. Id like to think big corporations and business should already be concerned with the wellness of the population and community because without the consumers these companies wouldn’t be anything, yet their only motive is to suck you dry and take all of your money by any means.

  • Angela Hoch

    Carolina,

    I also agree that this idea is very useful and allowing more people to obtain
    jobs. This new market can benefit a lot of people, and help change the poverty
    level. This article proved that by helping others, having an open mind, and
    being unselfish can truly make a world of a difference and create a stable
    consumer market. I wish more people would read this article to realize how
    beneficial this could truly be, and how creating these new markets could change
    our country for the better. This article could be so useful, and beneficial if
    more people were aware of this website! Time to re post and share! :)

  • lex_alwaysMIA

    This is something that our economy needs now. Forget competition for a moment and focus on getting individuals to work for your company.

  • yencheskcj27

    Great article. Its great to see someone highlight that there can be profitability for a business that helps “the other 90 percent”. Most often the people who want to start a business that helps people focus too much on the traditional view of the bottom line. If they instead look at it in the way the author presented, (small margin x large consumer base) they will realize that a company focused on helping people obtain important products such as clean drinking water is not only feasible but profitable.

  • AmberDraina

    Instead of selling death to people to make profit we must realize that there is potential to make profit and make people healthier.

  • Kelly Martin

    This is a wonderful article. It gives help to not only people without jobs currently, but to people who have no money to even have clean water. With all of these recent advancements all over the world, the market just keeps growing. The fact that there is still room for growth means that there are many benefits coming to this world in years to come.

  • Trista Radloff

    Yes I agree! I think it’s interesting to learn that coca-cola sells coke in malnutritioned villages. Considering soda isn’t the most nutritious chioce I would like that water bottle companie would be more beneficial for the villages and potentially make more money because the health benefits are better that hopefully people would see that.

  • Lilla McMillan

    I think this article is awesome. But I still feel really frustrated after reading it. I understand that it’s about moving around these huge corporations and doing things for the greater good which in turn will generate massive profits for those who can implement necessary tech innovations quickly and effectively while also at low costs to the consumer. I thought the article skimmed over the potential for creating jobs for the people they are also targeting as the hypothetical market. I think the key is to solve problems like malnutrition, education, and equality there needs to be a holistic approach taken. We can’t just target these people and give them water to rid them of illnesses and disease, we also have to include these people as potentially new business owners, a form of advertisement, etc.

  • Hillary12

    I really liked how this article predicted that large corporations may end up losing to smaller more innovated companies. Based on how many people in the world are in need of clean water, like mentioned in the article, it is very easy to see how organizations like Spring Health can end up taking the upper hand. The whole idea behind Spring Health is amazing. It’s giving many people clean drinking water for minimal price and greatly reducing health issues. Imagine if a company like Walmart or Coca-Cola invested in something like this; there would be potential of getting clean drinking water to every person on earth.

  • mywa4360

    At one point in time, survival of the fittest meant that those who were at the highest level of physical capability were able to survive and pass on their genes. We have since lost this most fundamental part of our existence, relying instead on markets to help prove our “fitness” as an entity, where our capabilities are represented in the number of commas in our bank accounts. It is my belief that these companies, Coca-Cola and others, should abide by this new natural order. If there is a corporation that is able to provide these nutrition soft drinks at a fifth of the cost, then by all means we should be supporting these new, innovative organizations. What we should should not be doing is hoping for Coca-Cola to eventually come to their senses and “catch up” with the trend. Their century long practices have proven their mindset as a monolith with narrowly focused goals in mind [profit at the expense of beneficial public policy, a deviation from Monsanto relations, mass pollution/ resource extraction from plastic bottles, etc]. I feel that instead of pushing Coca-Cola or any other deep-rooted corporation to provide for these products, we should be supporting new corporations to come into the market and fill these unmet needs. Supporting a new industry gives us a greater ability to shape its structure, its stakeholders, its mission, and its goals far more than we can RE-shape and existing corporation that has proven itself inadequate at meeting these needs.

  • Justin Mulligan

    You are amazing Dr. Paul! I truly enjoyed reading your article. It is amazing how impactful your company design and plan is. Thank you for the added inspiration and new ways to see potential for big change.

  • cdcraig

    Those reasons why existing businesses aren’t involved in emerging markets seem like excuses. I think if this idea were to be implemented by those powerhouse companies, many economies would prosper. As stated above, this initiative would provide more jobs to then decrease the amount of individuals stricken with poverty. These companies have the tools they just need to use them.

  • dcanonic

    If big business were to focus on the $2 a day population they will find a huge economic boost in the global market. It will take innovation and research spending, but will more than pay for itself in the long run.