Micro is Big

Where the telescope ends, the microscope begins; which of the two has the grander view? This question posed by Victor Hugo captures the essence of the contrast underscored in this article: some of the smallest of ideas can appear big, and have bigger impact, if seen through the right lens. Three prominent examples with relevance to emerging economies are discussed here.

First up, is our very own micro-credit movement. Whilst small scale lending has been going on for centuries, Dr. Muhammad Yunus refined the micro-credit concept and put it in practice at scale in the 1970’s. Grameen Bank started out with only 10 members in 1976. In 40 years, it achieved more than 7 million active members with loan disbursements over $16 billion, and a Nobel Prize.

Next, is the ‘sache-fication’ of many FMCG products. From bite-sized chocolate bars to single-serve shampoo packets, the miniature packaging of many consumer products have unleashed massive market opportunities at the turn of the century. As late C. K. Prahalad had pointed out, the shift into micro packaging has created macro benefits: on one hand, for the producers by unlocking previously unreachable market segments at the ‘base of the pyramid’ (BOP), and on the other hand, for the BOP consumers themselves by making world-class products accessible at affordable unit prices.

Last but not least, is the mobile apps phenomenon. These are software applications that are so micro in comparison to the behemoth PC applications, that even their name had to be abbreviated to ‘app’. They are also micro in price, most of them are about a dollar each (compared to hundreds or thousands for PC applications). And despite being small in size and price, they represent a new frontier in technology that is anything but micro. The global market for apps is estimated to be reaching over $50 billion. One of these apps, Whatsapp, was recently sold for a staggering $19 billion to Facebook. And given the nature of these apps (very focused, limited complexity), an army of micropreneurs around the world are engaged in this sector, many from emerging markets.

While the changes wrought by micros may be small at the outset, they have made history by building a human base for macro development. Some good things indeed do come in small packages.

This article was written by Shuvajit Mandal & Synthia Mallick