RIVER FOREST, Ill. — Al Rosenbloom, Ph.D., is a Professor of Marketing and International Business at Dominican University in River Forest, Ill. Rosenbloom has 20 years of teaching experience in international marketing and international business. His research interests include marketing in subsistence market environments, how business combines poverty alleviation efforts with sound corporate practice and the challenge of integrating poverty issues into the management curriculum. In his teaching, he draws on his experiences both as the owner of his own marketing consulting practice and as a Fulbright Scholar who has taught in Nepal and Bulgaria. Rosenbloom has his Ph.D. from Loyola University, Chicago. He is the author of “Socially Responsive Organizations and the Challenge of Poverty.”
How did you become interested in the issue of global poverty?
I was teaching marketing management as part of a Fulbright Scholarship in Kathmandu, Nepal, and three of my interests suddenly converged. First, I grew up in a family that was really interested in issues of human rights and social justice. I was an active participant in the civil rights movement. Second, I have a passion for travel. Third, I really enjoy teaching and think that marketing is the best, coolest business topic to teach, because fundamentally marketing is about understanding individuals and how to make their lives better through products and services.
I was in Nepal, on a local bus, going from Kathmandu to a rural town I wanted to visit. The roads in Nepal are difficult: often they are dirt, pothole ridden, and unstable. Monsoons often wash complete roads away. I was on this bus; we were rounding a hair pin turn in the hills and I looked out the window. It was a woman, sitting on the ground, with a large granite rock in her hand. She was using the large rock to break other rocks into smaller pieces. These smaller pieces were then passed to another woman who was doing the same: Pounding the smaller pieces of rock into even smaller pieces. Essentially these women were making gravel by hand. They sat in the hot Nepali sun doing this repetitive task, day after day.
Suddenly, I thought: This is the face of poverty and underdevelopment. So I wondered: How can my knowledge of business and marketing be used to not only help these two women but also how I can help my students experience and understand what global poverty is all about. Thus started my interest in global poverty.
You have traveled and taught in other countries. What made you decide to do so? How did those experiences shape your views?
I inherited a passion for travel from my parents. As a family, we took family trips around the United States and then to Europe. From that grew my desire to see the world.
People are endlessly fascinating. And people who are different from me are even more fascinating. Once I experienced the fun of being in a different part of the world, I wanted to have more of those experiences.
Learning from individuals and literally seeing with my own eyes the creativity, beauty, differences and similarities in various cultures and environments is humbling. There is something to be learned and appreciated in all cultures and situations. Having many of these experiences gives me an open, wondering view of the world.
What strategies are working on the ground?
What works is a combination of the worm’s eye and the bird’s eye view of markets. Yet both views should tap the creativity of the individuals with whom you are working and should be partnering with them. A really good example of the worm’s eye view of poverty markets is the work done by my friend, Madhu Viswanathan from the University of Illinois. He explores the lived, daily experiences of individuals in subsistence markets. By getting to know these individuals, in detail, we gain insights into the shape of their lives and the current way they interact with market systems, both formal and informal. Armed with these insights opportunities are identified for increasing the livelihoods of individuals living in poverty. In essence, innovation can percolate up. As a marketer, new products and new services can be developed that improve and sustain a better quality of life for the poor.
When these insights are coupled with the bird’s eye or more macro level view, then the integration of the poor from informal to formal markets can occur. Including the poor in various parts of the value and supply chain provides a platform for economic opportunity. The idea here is to build inclusive markets that provide opportunity for all.
How do business and poverty alleviation intersect?
As noted above, there are tremendous opportunities for all kinds of businesses. As I think of what is a “business” is I think of the one person hawker or seller, the solo entrepreneur, and more formally structured businesses, such small and medium sized businesses all the way through global corporations. But I also think of social businesses and social enterprises that develop products and services that support social, economic and human development and run their organization using sound business knowledge and practices. What all these businesses have in common is that they see mutual and sustainable opportunities in working to alleviate poverty.
As I noted above, both the worm’s eye and the bird’s eye view are important. I think of poverty alleviation and business in terms of ecology – many different types/kinds of businesses are needed to reduce poverty. Each must flourish within its own “ecological niche” and must work supportively, productively with other businesses.
Not every business will want to engage the poor. This is okay. But increasingly I think more and more businesses will. In part, this decision will be pragmatic: Where are the untapped, emerging opportunities? Some of those will be in low income, subsistence, marginalized markets. Additionally, I see in my own students, who might be broadly thought of as “Millennials,” a social awareness and set of values that will, over time, change the tone and perspectives of the businesses within which they work. They have commitments to social justice, the common good and human rights advocacy that will engage their organizations with the poor. I am hopeful.
If you could invest a billion dollars in improving the world, how would you spend it?
1. Develop projects that foster interfaith and cross-cultural understanding in communities of conflict.
2. Develop programs that build entrepreneurial capacities, skills and opportunities in the global youth.
– Nicole Advani