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Business model innovation in base of the pyramid markets

Heiko Gebauer (Business Innovation Group, Environment Social Science Department, Eawag, Switzerland)
Caroline Jennings Saul (Environmental Social Sciences Department, Business Innovation Group, Swiss Federal Institute for Aquatic Research (Eawag), Switzerland)
Mirella Haldimann (Environmental Social Sciences Department, Business Innovation Group, Swiss Federal Institute for Aquatic Research (Eawag), Switzerland)

Journal of Business Strategy

ISSN: 0275-6668

Article publication date: 17 July 2017




This paper aims to highlight how initial business models can be converted into a larger-scale solution for tapping into the emerging base-of-the-pyramid markets.


This study uses a qualitative, multi-case research design with 20 organizations tapping into the water market at the base-of-the-pyramid.


This paper explores three business models innovations: fostering value-in-context, allowing for modifiability and embracing organizational ambidexterity.

Research limitations/implications

Due to our qualitative research approach, generalizability of our findings is limited.

Practical implications

The description of the three business model innovations offers guidance for executives to make their business models financially more sustainable in base-of-the-pyramid markets.

Social implications

The water sector represents one especially interesting sector to examine business model innovations. For, among social goods, safe water remains a huge challenge to date where 700 million people remain without access to an improved water source.


Previous business model discussion in base-of-the-pyramid markets focuses on commercial goods. The authors focus on water as a social good. They demonstrate that the existing recommendations that business models in base-of-the-pyramid markets should be inclusive, complex, collaborative and scalable are mandatory, but not sufficient. In addition, business models should foster value-in-context, allow for modifiability and embrace organizational ambidexterity.



Gebauer, H., Saul, C.J. and Haldimann, M. (2017), "Business model innovation in base of the pyramid markets", Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 38 No. 4, pp. 38-46.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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