In writing The Business Solution to Poverty, co-authors Paul Polak and Mal Warwick compiled the techniques that had worked so well in building profitable new ventures serving the bottom of the pyramid throughout the Global South. They called it “zero-based design,” deriving the term from zero-based budgeting, an accounting term that implies every line item in a budget is to be reevaluated on an annual basis, under the assumption that nothing should be sacrosanct.
Zero-based design requires that you begin from scratch, without preconceptions or existing models to guide you, beginning with your goal in mind — a global enterprise that will attract at least 100 million customers and $10 billion in annual sales within a decade, operating in a way that’s calculated to transform the lives of all your customers.
We believe that any effort at social innovation to address the needs and challenges of the world’s poor should be based on a similar set of techniques, beginning with the sine qua non of zero-based design: listening to your customers — lots and lots of them — before you lift a hand to design any product or service intended to benefit them.
Paul Polak and Mal Warwick’s award-winning book, The Business Solution to Poverty, highlights 20 “takeaways” that encapsulate much of the book’s essence. Today we have featured the seventh of those takeaways. Future posts will include others.