A Line Drawn on Water

The Buddha said that our lives are like a line drawn on water with a stick. It is short, limited and quickly vanishes.

Reading the obituaries of Dr.C.K.Prahalad reminded me of this vivid image. Dr. Prahalad was 68. Yet he clearly left his intellectual and personal stamp on this world. Even if you were not familiar with his work in the business sphere (his co-authored books, his consulting and his teaching), chances are very high that you have heard the phrase ‘the bottom of the pyramid’.

One might disagree with the phrase. Or take a stand on not just viewing the poor solely as customers and selling them goods and services, but also working with them as producers to improve their incomes. Yet, there is no denying that Prahalad brought a spot-light to an area that was viewed largely as charity and seen as being removed from the world of business.

He brought awareness to the fact that the poor are already paying for a large number of goods and services, so why not give them the choice of markets and products that the rest of society has access to? And he highlighted a number of organizations that were already using innovative business models to serve the poor. (Aravind was one of the many examples that he used in

The book that drew attention to business models that serve the poor

his book ‘The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ and his talks). His book got the business world to engage more closely with the social sector. It got people thinking about the ability to do good and do well.  It became a cool thing to be a ‘social entrepreneur’ in business schools all over the world.  I never met him and do not necessarily agree with all he said. Like an astronomer gazing at the night sky, however, I do feel like a large and bright star has gone out from my landscape.

A line drawn on water’s surface. Dr. Prahalad was 68. A similar time frame would give me a little more than three decades on this earth. Doesn’t seem like that much time, does it? There is a startling clarity that comes from viewing one’s time in such a fashion. A number of activities fall by the wayside. Like flattening a bed-sheet on a mattress, priorities get straightened out, unimportant issues tucked away and bumps smoothened out.

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