Max Havelaar Lecture 2017: How to reach the base of the pyramid?

More than 300 participants attended the annual Max Havelaar Lecture, which focused on including the so-called base of the economic pyramid – the four billion people that live in low-income markets – in economic development. The event, hosted by the Partnerships Resource Centre at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM), together with Max Havelaar and Young & Fair, took place on campus on 25 October 2017.

The keynote speaker this year was Professor Ted London of the University of Michigan. He is an internationally recognised expert on the intersection of business strategy and poverty alleviation, and author of the widely praised book The Base of the Pyramid Promise: Building Businesses with Impact and Scale.

“This is our time,” Prof. London told the audience, adding that they should not just launch a BOP venture, but build a sustainable scalable enterprise. “We have to professionalise, and when you go out running your businesses, think about creating value and seeking scale,” he said.

Other prominent speakers were Max Lawson, Head of Advocacy and Public Policy at Oxfam GB, and Buks Akinseye, Global Partnerships and Advocacy Manager at Unilever. They both addressed issues of economic inequality and how their organisation deals with this.

Akinsye said Unilever serves a large BOP market. He explained Unilever’s three principles of relevance, access and affordability, whereas Lawson said Oxfam mainly insisted that companies should pay their taxes and give their workers good labour conditions in order to fight inequality.

As part of the lecture, young entrepreneurs and RSM students pitched their inclusive business ideas for the KPN SDG challenge. The audience cast their votes, and Modern Tea won the €1,500 prize and Friendzone the student prize of €500! Modern Tea will invest the money in Nepali fair trade tea, whereas Friendzone will fight loneliness with an innovative app.

This edition marked the 10-year anniversary of the Max Havelaar Lecture. The event has become so popular that registration had to be closed early, as all the seats were taken. The morning programme, which included a workshop on Inclusive Business Strategies in Africa and a showing of the documentary 'Fair Trade in Nepal', also attracted a large audience.

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Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

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