A few days ago I found a very interesting piece in the Nonprofit Quarterly. It may be targeted at the experience of the United States, but I found it to be all the more relevant to emerging countries. The article is about how many times fundraisers get too focused on the richest people to get donations and forget people who may not be as rich but who care about a number of social causes and the work nonprofits do. This leads to the notion of a “pyramid” where, as the author says, we may end up thinking that “people at the top are special and better”.
As you know, one of the best-selling ideas in business and international development in recent years is the “bottom of the pyramid”, according to which, companies have an untapped potential in the poor people in developing countries, and should aim to serve these customers. (Although I am not sure that the NPQ article relies on the same “pyramid” notion as Prahalad’s). Acknowledging its importance, the Inter-American Development Bank held an international conference a few weeks ago in Colombia to look at the results and the prospects going forward of this development approach in the region.
But few people seem to be paying attention to what this means for philanthropy and the overall nonprofit ecosystem in emerging countries. With an increasingly visible and prosperous middle class and equally increasing number of social demands, this is high time for philanthropic initiatives to take off in a number of countries. Yet, as the author rightly points out, we need to discard the notion that philanthropy is something that people at the top, who are special and better, do for the others, let’s say, below them in the “pyramid”. In this new stage of welfare, opportunities and increased advocacy efforts in emerging countries, philanthropy is at the crossroads and needs to be taken to the next level. This is a huge challenge that will require a lot of effort from local social entrepreneurs, nascent organizations, fundraisers as well as from existing and future donors and supporters to give this word a brand new meaning in each community and for each social cause. Crowdfunding, for instance, is a strategy that has become quite popular in recent years and has benefited many innovative ideas, providing them with resources from a large pool of anonymous but engaged donors. However, crowdfunding still has a long way to go in developing countries. Tapping its full potential and create other new tools to develop a “bottom-of-the-pyramid” approach to philanthropy, is but one of the challenges ahead.