Practitioners getting acquainted with collaborative innovation frequently ask the question whether the platforms of collaboration and co-creation work better in certain sectors (finance, technology) and in specific environments (B2B, B2C). Additionally, they also wonder whether these platforms are likely to enjoy greater success with customers who have a relatively higher socio-economic status.

Let’s leave the questions related to business sectors and environments alone for the time being and focus instead on the question related to the socio-economic status of the collaborators.  Specifically, let’s take an extreme stance and ask, does collaboration and co-creation work with those from the bottom-of-the-pyramid?  The answer is a most unequivocal – YES!

My recent HBR blog discussed how collaboration and co-creation can help shape the design and specifications of a $300 house.

It would be the easiest thing to conclude that for a poor person, a $300 house is an unadulterated blessing, an end in itself.  Paradoxical as it may seem, this is just not true.  The house is a means to an end, and having “those who know best,” individuals and agencies with good intentions but who are never going to live in the house themselves, design it would be a huge mistake.

The blog also urges the readers to be inspired by the Philips Design Chulha (Hindi for cooking stove) case study.

The chulha case study is an excellent example of how collaboration and co-creation, even with customers from low socio-economic strata, can be immensely successful.  Third party experts sitting thousands of miles away in another country did not design the chulha.  Instead, it was designed using inputs from a variety of stakeholders to generate desirable features and ideal designs; one of the main reasons why the chulha won the prestigious Index Award (Denmark) for the best innovation in its class.

Another very compelling example of a highly successful collaboration and co-creation program is provided by Swasthya Chetna (Hindi for “Health Awakening”), launched by Hindustan Lever, the Indian arm of Unilever.  Swasthya Chetna is the largest rural health and hygiene education program ever undertaken in India. It is not a government initiative, but is sponsored instead by Hindustan Lever’s leading soap brand, Lifebuoy.

The goal of the program is to educate 200 million people in India, approximately 20% of the population, on the importance of hand washing with soap. Health education teams, children, and health clubs co-create this educational, health, and hygiene experience. Health education teams visit thousands of schools and communities to teach children about the existence of germs and the importance of washing hands with soap. Children put on shows about fighting germs, and health clubs organize community events to ensure long-term change in hygiene behavior. The process of engagement, from initial contact to self-supporting health clubs, takes two to three years. In order to help consumers on low incomes effectively participate in swasthya chetna, the company has introduced a smaller, 18-gram bar of Lifebuoy, enough for one person to wash their hands, once a day, for 10 weeks.

Personally, I don’t like reading tealeaves and making predictions.  But you don’t need to be a soothsayer to recognize the tremendous contribution that the platforms of collaboration and co-creation can make in improving the overall quality of life of those who live at the bottom of they pyramid, especially in the areas of health, hygiene, education, and daily chores, like cooking.

About the author:

Gaurav Bhalla is a strategy, innovation, and marketing professional with global experience, having worked on three continents and with companies in over 20 countries. He is also owner and CEO of Knowledge Kinetics. The company focuses on the practice of customer-driven innovation and value co-creation.Gaurav previously was the Global Innovation Director, at Kantar-TNS, one of the world’s largest market information and insight companies. Additionally, he held positions in corporate strategy, brand management, sales management, and market research at companies such as Nestle, Richardson Vicks, and Burke.

Dr. Bhalla holds a BA (Hons.) degree in Economics and Mathematics from Delhi University, an MBA with a concentration in Marketing and Finance from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, and a PhD in Business from the University of Kansas. He has published research papers in leading technical journals dedicated to marketing, marketing research and statistics, and has presented before professional and academic societies in the USA and abroad. Dr. Bhalla has also served as an adjunct professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. He is currently associated with the University of Maryland’s Smith School of Business as a member of the Department of Marketing’s Corporate Advisory Board.