For over a decade I have been thinking about doing further study whether a masters, MBA, LLM or even a PhD. For various reasons I haven’t pressed the button on anything, although in 2019/20 I did get close.
I had just read a brilliant book called the “Prosperity Paradox” by Clayton Christensen which discusses why so many investments in economic development fail to generate sustainable prosperity, and how investing in market-creating innovations can create lasting change.
I was immediately hooked, although I was biased. I had focused my undergraduate business honours thesis on a former book by the same author called “The Innovators Dilemma”.
I found a few universities with suitable programmes and sent off applications. In the end I didn’t proceed with the offers but I thought it would be worthwhile to show the summary application and proposed research topic, approach and key areas to investigate. I still may look to explore this topic in the future albeit in a different way e.g. research, articles, consulting etc.
Proposed PhD Research title
“Developing Market-Creating Innovations That Drive Prosperity in Emerging Markets”
The historic approach to improving outcomes and prosperity in emerging economies has typically focused around ‘poverty alleviation’ whereby private-sector companies and start-ups exploit existing markets at the top or ‘bottom of the pyramid’ (Prahalad 2004), or other initiatives which ‘push’ international aid, grants, loans, outsourcing, or incremental (‘sustaining’) improvements to existing offers for established customer bases. More recently, a number of leading management researchers led by Clayton Christensen (2019) argue that more successful approaches may lie in creating or ‘pulling in’ new market innovations that enable significant numbers of non-consumers to easily and affordably find a product or service to help them overcome daily struggles or solve an important problem. Pursuing this strategy (distinct from other types of innovation including ‘sustaining’ and ‘efficiency’ innovations), established firms and founders typically see opportunity in the struggles of their respective frontier markets by targeting non-consumption in the broader market, creating not just products and services, but entire ecosystems, enabling infrastructure, networks and jobs to promote stability, prosperity and sustainable economic growth. Despite this opportunity, in 2016 alone, the OECD estimated that $143 billion was spent on official development approaches. Christensen (2019) however asks that what if this was instead channelled to support direct market-creation efforts in developing countries, even when those circumstances seemed unlikely? Some examples of market-creating innovations (MCI) are listed below:
- M-PESA: A mobile money platform that enables the storage, transfer and saving of money without owning a bank account;
- MicroEnsure: Affordable insurance for millions of people living on less than $3 a day;
- Celtel: A pay-as-you-go mobile phone service that enables customers to purchase cell phone minutes from as little as 25 cents;
- Galanz: An inexpensive microwave oven for the average Chinese citizen;
- Tolaram: A tasty, inexpensive, easy-to-cook meal in Nigeria that can be prepared in less than three minutes;
- Grupo Bimbo: Affordable, quality bread for Mexicans;
- Ford Model T: An affordable car for the average American in the 1900s;
My PhD research will seek to build on these themes and the work of Christensen (2019) and others (Prahalad 2006; Auerswald 2012; Quadir 2014) to better understand the following key questions: How do established firms and start-ups successfully build market-creating innovations (“MCIs”) in emerging markets? Why are some firms successful, and others are not? The research will address gaps in understanding highlighted by Christensen (2019) in terms of further defining the process by which new markets are created, the characteristics that set market-creating innovators apart, and more details into the role of non-consumers (‘non-consumption economy’) in this process. In addition, my research will improve understanding of the relative importance of external factors which facilitate (or inhibit) success, including government, ecosystems, NGOs, investors, skilled labour, infrastructure, networks, and partners. The extent of benefits that MCIs deliver for society in terms of driving inclusive, sustainable and prosperous development across sectors including education, health, financial services, energy, and communications will also be analysed. Finally, the findings will deliver practical guidance, frameworks and insight for a wide range of international companies, entrepreneurs, governments, investors, thinktanks, and NGOs who pursue (or are looking to pursue) strategies and investments in emerging markets, or alternatively use the learnings to apply in more developed contexts
C.K. Prahalad, The Fortune at the Base of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2006)
Philip Auerswald, The Coming Prosperity: How Entrepreneurs Are Transforming The Global Economy (Oxford University Press, 2012), 58
Iqbal Quadir, “Inclusive Prosperity in Low-Income Countries,” Innovations 9, no. 1-2 (2014): 65-66
Provide a statement of your research interests and intended research topics:
My research interests focus on how organisations innovate (across processes, practices, products, partnerships) in various contexts, including geographical (e.g. emerging or developed markets), new markets (e.g. non-consumption economy, consumer insight, go-to-market), operational (e.g. outsourcing, resource allocation, incentives, portfolio management, projects, change), offerings (e.g. new product development), technological (e.g. emerging technology), competitive (e.g. start-ups, business models), strategic (e.g. organic, M&A, JVs), human (e.g. leadership, culture, talent, skills), ecosystems (e.g. networks, partnerships, knowledge, public-sector), and sectoral (e.g. education, health, financial, energy).
I will use my many years of relevant professional experience working across most of the above topics (whether as an academic, lawyer, consultant, or founder) to ensure that the PhD research makes a substantial contribution to the academic research (see research questions), and provides practical insight for critical strategic and investment challenges for industry stakeholders (e.g. multi-national companies, investors, public sector, NGOs, etc).
My PhD research will seek to build on the themes of my research interests, and the work of Christensen and others to help answer the following question: How do established firms and start-ups successfully build market-creating innovations (“MCIs”) in emerging markets?
Core research questions include:
- What is the process by which these new markets are created?
- What is the MCI development process within established and new (start-up) firms? For example, opportunity identification, development, investment, launch and scaling;
- Why are some firms and efforts successful, and others are not?
- What is the role non-consumers (‘non-consumption economy’) play in this process?
- What are the qualities that set market-creating innovators and firms apart? For example, the ability to identify possibilities where there seem to be no customers;
- What are the characteristics of the most successful (and unsuccessful) MCIs? For example, business models, attributes, targeting non-consumption, value networks, ecosystems, partnering;
- What are the most important internal and external conditions which facilitate or inhibit this process?
- What commonalities exist across nations, sectors, firm size, age, or other variables?
- What is the role of other key stakeholders in MCI development? For example, government, NGOs, investors, ecosystems, networks;
- What are the key benefits for society, sectors (e.g. education) and stakeholders (e.g. government) from MCIs which deliver inclusive, sustainable and prosperous development?
- What are the future implications for private and public sector organisations (e.g. companies, government, investors, NGOs etc) who wish to facilitate the future development of MCIs, or take the learnings into other developing (or developed) markets?
The below diagram describes the research focus areas and questions relevant to be asked:
Some anticipated research parameters may include a focus on:
- Products/services and ventures which create new markets (“MCIs”) and benefits for large segments of the population, as opposed to product improvements (“sustaining innovations”) or efficiency gains (“efficiency innovations”).
- Sectors that play key roles in prosperity development including education, health, financial services, communications, food and water, energy, and technology;
- Data collection in a wide selection of geographies including BRIC nations, developing and developed nations (e.g. US), although the feasibility of this may prove problematic thereby requiring a more vertical approach (e.g. narrow to a few nations);
- A time horizon of MCIs created post-2000 to capture more recent examples of MCI development;
- An inter-disciplinary research approach given the wide-ranging research topic, building on academic researchers in fields including strategic management, strategic marketing, disruptive innovation, new product development, consumer insight, technology and operations management, innovation, organisational behaviour, leadership, emerging market strategy, international and economic development, and public policy;
- Hybrid data collection strategy: whilst the research scope (e.g. companies, countries, sectors etc) and data collection strategy has yet to be defined, it is expected that a hybrid approach which mixes both qualitative and quantitative methods with primary and secondary research might be the most appropriate. For example, face-to-face interviews, online surveys and case studies can help collect primary data to define firm MCI development processes. However, firm performance and development benefits (e.g. social, economic, and sectoral) will require quantitative analysis of public records and databases, as well as any additional internal data from private companies or government agencies.
 Examples of successful market-creating companies include Celtel (Africa), GrameenBank (Bangladesh), M-Pesa (Kenya), MicroEnsure (Africa), Jio (India) and Ford Motors (US) in the 1920s
 I have a range of sub-research questions but in the interests of brevity I have not included here.