Saturday, October 24, 2009

At the intersection of Walmart & Amway: the transformation of human civilization, brought to you by capitalism

I read a galvanizing Wall Street Journal article Wednesday on my morning flight to Chicago. The article focused on a new trend in India: companies that are designing and selling new products geared toward improving the quality of life for India’s poorest populations, and giving individual entrepreneurs the opportunity to build their own businesses along the way.

That bears repeating: Indian companies are now focusing their resources on designing and selling new products geared toward improving the quality of life for India’s poorest populations, and giving individual entrepreneurs the opportunity to build their own businesses along the way.

Those in the know in India have figured out that they don’t have to settle for scraps of hand-me-down technology and jobs outsourced from the West to sustain their economy. Armed with some of the best designers and engineers in the world along with a highly skilled workforce and motivated customer potential, they have decided to build their own internal engine – I’m not even sure they realize exactly what they are unleashing in their country. In addition to the obvious economic explosion coming their way, it will have incredibly profound and far reaching social and political effects.

It started when they channeled Henry Ford with the release of the Nano, Tata Motors tiny little $2,200 car that the bulk of Indians could afford to buy and could physically drive throughout their country’s widely varied road system. Here are some other examples:

- One company has produced a small refrigerator that runs on batteries designed for use in India’s rural areas that sells for $70. Although it is a “major appliance purchase” for small Indian farming families, it significantly improves the safety of their food supply and their quality of life at a purchase price they can afford and a low cost of use they can sustain. It’s kinder to the environment just by its necessary design. Its sale and distribution is handled by women who go from village to village with the small refrigerator on their bicycles.
- Another company has figured out how to open bank “branches” virtually: it has designed a special cell phone with a chip that can compute and transmit basic banking transactions using portable fingerprint identification technology for account holders. A bank representative basically sets up shop in any given small village with the phone and a lockbox of rupees. Customers sign into their accounts using the fingerprint technology, do their transactions electronically, and either deposit or withdraw the physical rupees from the representative’s lockbox. The representative takes the physical currency back to a brick and mortar branch at the end of his/her run.

These are just two examples of ways that Indian companies are transforming the lives of their own citizens. Along the way, they are also blazing a revolutionary path to economic recovery and growth for the entire global market. Want to use less energy? Look to India’s innovative uses of rechargeable batteries and low-power drain electrical devices. Looking to improve product affordability? See how India’s new technologies and production methods are reducing manufacturing and transaction costs. Racking your brain over how to create new business and job opportunities for your underclass? India is leading the way by working with their culture: building distribution channels with independent entrepreneurs and small local businesses that create local jobs, thereby improving standards of living in villages and rural areas all over India. Wishing you could recoup some of the losses you took in the stock market plunge? Has India got some investment opportunities for you, even if your available investment dollars are modest.

Sam Walton opened Walmart with the vision of bringing affordable products to people who needed and wanted them to improve their quality of life. Amway built its global company with the vision to provide a path to business ownership for anyone with the drive to be an entrepreneur regardless of investment capital or previous experience. Those two philosophies are revolutionizing the culture and the economy of India – it’s only a matter of time before they light the way for the rest of us to follow.

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