Reaching the Rich World’s Poorest Consumers

by Muhammad Yunus, Frédéric Dalsace, David Menascé, and Bénédicte Faivre-Tavignot

POVERTY IS NOT JUST AN emerging-market problem. In the United States more than 45 million people, or 15% of the population, are officially poor, according to the Census Bureau. What’s more, this percentage has increased every year but one (2006) since the 21st century began. At 16%, Japan is doing no better. And in the European Union almost 120 million people—one in every four—are classified as at risk of poverty or social exclusion.

In the past, businesses in the developed world have largely ignored the needs of these groups. To be sure, they know that not all their customers are rich, and many companies have invested ...

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