Innovation for the base of the pyramid: Critical perspectives from development studies on heterogeneity and participation

Saurabh Arora & H. Romijn


This article criticises current BoP approaches for under-appreciating two issues that play vital roles in projects targeting the poor at the BoP: heterogeneity among the poor, and the intricacies of participatory partnerships between TNCs, the non-profit sector (NGOs) and local poor communities in the global south. Our main contention is that the extant BoP literature has a naïve view of what working with the poor really involves, which grossly underestimates adverse power relationships and disregards the hierarchies between the poor and outsiders who administer development interventions. To unpack the hidden complexities associated with heterogeneity and partnership dynamics, we draw on extensive knowledge from the field of development studies, which has accumulated key insights about working in and with poorer communities over several decades.

Keywords: innovation and development, participation, poverty alleviation, TNCs

JEL codes: I30, M14, O19, O31, O32, Z10

UNU-MERIT Working Papers ISSN 1871-9872