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Prof. CK Prahalad: A Tribute

Team YS
19th Apr 2010
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By Syed Nazir Rasik, cofounder, The Knowledge Foundation, Chennai

In the passing away of Prof. C.K. Prahalad, India has lost a star son and one of the best minds the world has produced. Some call him the Peter Drucker of India. In the CII awards function to recognize emerging entrepreneurs in Tamil Nadu, Gopal Srinivasan, Chairman and MD, TVS Capital, said Prof. Prahalad would have won Nobel Prize hands down if there was one for management. Mr. Srinivasan was his student at the University of Michigan in the 1980s. Fully devoted to India’s growth, Prof. Prahalad chartered a dream, a vision of how India should be in 2023 when it turns 75 after Independence.

His followership consists of idols in business and academia in their own right. He articulated a vision that is hard to ignore and forcefully drained his ideas into our collective wisdom. He has been most influential in creating new vistas like bottom of the pyramid, core competence, and cocreation of value. His contribution to strategy management will live for several decades as he was ahead of his times in thinking.

YourStory features a guest article by Syed Nazir Rasik of The Knowledge Foundation, Chennai. This is to show the true influence of Prof. Prahalad beyond the board rooms and classrooms.

"Go to the people,

Live among them,

Learn from them.

Love them.

Start with what they know,

Build from what they have.

But of the best leaders,

When their task is accomplished ,

Their work is done,

The people will remark

'We have done it ourselves ' " —Lao Tzu

The world witnessed the passing away of one of its great social thought leader Professor Coimbatore Krishnarao Prahalad (fondly known as CK) on April 16, 2010. He was one of the best social thinkers of modern times who had irresolute focus on inclusive development, rural empowerment, and citizen e-governance. Today we talk about crowd sourcing on the context of social media but a decade back Prof. Prahalad in his book Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid talks about co-creation where consumers are joint problem solvers. The book is one of the must-reads for any management professional and more so for any entrepreneur whose target market is India or any third world country where poverty is pervasive That was considered to be a radical thinking at that time is today an order of how businesses address market in India. A true leader is one who leads the people into such thought and action that end of the day they take total ownership in execution of the same.

Today India has several ambitious projects that focus on social transformation like Rural Health Insurance for BPL (Below poverty Line) families, OLPC (One laptop per child) , Hole in the wall project, UID project, Eseva Centers, LAICO (Lions Aravind Institute of Community Opthamology), HLL's Project Shakti, ITC's e-choupal, AMUL on a PPP (Public–Private Partnership) model. Most of these projects are a resultant effect to the shift in thinking process that was triggered by thought leader like Prof. Prahalad. Today the key mantra of the government is empowering rural India with inclusive development.

For decades, rural India had no access to banking funds thus making people resort to conventional money lenders who used to charge a hefty interest of more than 36% to 50% on unsecuritized funds. That money that we had access from our banks at a premium of 8–11 % was available to rural India at such exorbitant rates. Rural India spurned a larger movement in formation of self-help groups over the last decade. Today these SHGs are a prime source of financial access for rural entrepreneurs. They also stood to be excellent validation source for credit worthiness of an individual in rural India. Many social initiatives of the government that is related to healthcare, education, agriculture leverage on such models for greater reach and to avoid misappropriation of funds. The cogs of such change in rural India was triggered by the likes of thinkers like him. His theories helped in capturing best practices in inclusive development and creating a template model out of them.

Rural India is about volumes and today businesses like Reliance Mobile, Hindustan Lever, CavinKare distribute products at marginal profits or sometimes at cost thus making rural business models (MBO) feasible as well as sustainable. These corporates capitalise on cross-selling opportunities across their different product offerings. Some boldly went ahead with creating needs in newer segments. Ask Captain Gopinath and he will have more than a handful of stories/experiences of how rural India took up to low-cost flights.

Prof. Prahalad hailed from Chennai and has been one of the top 50 influential thinkers according to Times magazine had served as Professor at IIM-A, University of Michigan, advisor for UN and also for larger MNCs like TVS group, advisor on the board of TiE (The IndUS Entrepreneurs), and a Padma Bhushan recipient. At a personal level he has inspired us at The Knowledge Foundation to launch initiatives like Elements5 to look beyond on rural entrepreneurs. India needs to look keenly at such thought leaders to trigger growth.

"What makes greatness is beginning something that does not end with you…"

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