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Discussion of
Accountability and Bottom of the Pyramid
projects: the two sides of the mirror
Claudine Grisard
Université Paris-Dauphine, DRM
Jesse Dillard
Queens University – Belfast
Portland State University
“Accountability and the Bottom of the Pyramid projects” is a conversation that addresses
the issue of accountability within the context of corporate social responsibility, specifically
looking at the decision by corporations to target the poorest people for attention. In my opinion,
this is critical area of study for critical accounting. It brings us face to face with some of the
conflicts and contradictions associated with business and its social responsibilities, and quite
possibility the (im)possibility of capitalism to respond to its accesses .
As it stands, the conversation is a somewhat incomplete one, with more that needs to be
said after the parameters of the conversation have been agreed upon and specified. In other
words, the manuscript is somewhat of a work in process. As such, there are many obvious and
addressable gaps that can, should, and will, I have no doubt, be remedied as the work progresses.
I will not go through the grammar and syntax nor will I extrapolate into hypothetical directions
that might arise from ambiguities and incomplete specification except with respect to a couple of
central premises. My intent is to explore what is here and what is anticipated. Hopefully, I have
faithfully represented what is here as well as what may not here. Also, I have taken the liberty to
indulge into personal digressions in the presentation of the work to share thoughts that are
stimulated in grappling the author’s ideas. And I hope you enjoy imagining the potential as I
Organization of the presentation
Gaining legitimacy through accountability
Empirical study
a. A mean to be accountable toward stakeholders
i. Descriptions of organizational fields
ii. Dominant logics of the argumentation process: “doing well”
iii. Specificity of the relation: BoP as a means of accountability
b. A project, perceived as unrealistic or uninteresting from the inside point of
view of the company
i. Arguments develop by BoP managers
ii. Arguments developed in order to demonstrate that BoP projects
conform to the objectives of market
c. Beyond oral argumentation, a will to build tools to provide written
justification toward the two objectives
5. Concluding discussion
Summary of the ideas presented
The author states that the key areas addressed are: accountability, institutional theory,
Base of the Pyramid (BoP), and corporate social responsibility (CSR). The specified aim of the
research undertaking is to study accountability regarding economic and social issues by
clarifying the process whereby social objectives are related to economic aims of the company.
BoP projects refer to projects undertaken by the firm that attempt to reduce poverty though
market solutions. Micro finance is provided as an example of a BoP project.
Accountability is defined as a means of communication involving two entities interacting
at a certain level (organizational versus individual). The two entities exchange information in
order to clarify their own actions. They adjust their behaviors and expectations regarding their
perceptions of others, define themselves, and thus coexist in the same environment.
The process is investigated using as an example BoP projects, projects the author
identifies as intended to serve the dual objectives of making profits (economic) and reducing
poverty (social). Interviews were conducted with managers in charge of BoP projects in French
firms. The findings suggest that there two distinct modes of accountability: social and
economic. The social mode, which takes place between the firm and its stakeholders, involves
the institutional logic of ethics. And the economic mode, which takes place within the firm,
involves the economic viability of the BoP projects. The author claims to contribute to
institutional theory, CSR accountability, and BoP literature by interviewing actors involved in
CSR and showing how they account for BoP projects both within the firm and to outside
audiences. The author highlights the reasons for the differences between the two accountability
modes. The specific research question addressed is:
What is the accountability process on BoP projects with respect to each objective?
Using a qualitative methodology, 18 semi structured interviews were conducted in 14
French companies. (The author claims that since there are only 15 enterprises in France that
have such programs, the study constitutes a comprehensive survey of BoP programs in France.)
Institutional theory is used as a framework for understanding the observed behavior.
Institutional logics – those things that organize time and space and provide meaning to
social reality and provide actors with vocabulary, motives, and identity
Inter-institutional system – assumption that society cannot be presumed to be a
homogenous, well established set of principles
Embedded agency – assumption that interests, identities, values, and assumptions are
embedded within prevailing institutional logics
Decoupling is a useful concept as it conceptualizes the gap between expressed policies
and actual organizational practices.
The “institution” of concern – the legitimation of the BoP project both internally and
The creation of legitimacy of the BoP project is specified as the creation of an institution
– that is, to bring about a new understanding of the social reality.
The contribution to the accounting literature is proposed to be as follows:
Dealing in general with social objectives (e.g., CSR policies)
The not-for-profit sector
Poverty issues
Within organizations when social objectives are introduced, how managers give accounts,
and their motivation for doing so.
The author characterizes the set of reproduced actions represent a mimetic effect.
The author claims the findings demonstrate that:
There are two types of accountability related to a specific objective and to a specific
o Organizational field level – creating a BoP project is presented as a response by
the firm to stakeholders’ expectations regarding poverty reduction by the firm
o Organizational level – BoP managers have to demonstrate to their colleagues that
BoP projects are consistent with the profit-making objective of the firm.
The analysis of the interview data provide insights into:
How BoP projects are seen as a means of accountability to outside audiences (focus on
social aspects)
o Northern hemisphere constituencies (CSR generally)
o Southern hemisphere constituencies (assist/support local
o Customers (“responsible customers” care)
o Employees (help in recruiting workers and managers)
o Doing “good” emerges as an institutional logic
o Separates the “I” and the “me” in discussing different accountability groups
(There appears to be little direct communication with these external constituencies.
Firms built their strategies based upon their perception of what these outside
constituencies expect, based upon taken-for-granted beliefs.)
The difficulties met by BoP project managers as they attempted to convince others inside
the firm of the efficiency of the projects
o Focus on economic aspects with little reference to corporate social responsibility
Examine the strategies developed to show the BoP project was consistent with the
profitability aim of the firm
o Growth margins (long run margins and market share) in the “poor” markets
o Build a responsible image for the firm and reduce criticism (means are different
for North and South)
o Innovation (learn how to do business at the base of the pyramid)
Examine the dubious managers’ opinion about the present process of accountability and
their desire for specific accounting tools to provide proof that the program’s objectives
are being realized.
The need to develop tools that can measure and quantitatively represent the
effect of the BoP project
Issues for further consideration
Institutional theory is a well established and multifaceted theory that has itself morphed over the
years. A more in depth and nuanced engagement with the theory and its variants might prove
useful and provide useful insights from the data analysis.
Part of the justification of institutional theory is its conceptualization of decoupling. It might be
informative to return to this in the data analysis and discussion of the results. Was it found?
And if so, what are the implications for the issues studies?
The claim that BoP projects is quite new is debatable. The Gremeen Bank was established in
1976 and micro finance, for example, has become a major “industry”, exhibiting various levels
of “success” and ethical standards.
Equating the legitimacy for the BoP project with the creation of an institution is subjective and
might be more thoroughly argued.
Conceptualizing the firms that started BoP programs as constituting an organizational field
allowing accountability to be treated at a macro level needs to be more fully developed.
Generally, as stated in the article, an organizational field represents the context within which an
organization operates containing common: key suppliers, resources, products, customers,
regulatory regimes, and the production of similar products and services.
This leads to a more practical request which is to provide the reader with demographic, etc.
information about the firms interviewed. What industries are represented? Size? Etc. And do
these characteristics matter with regard to BoP projects and accountability?
Would it be useful to describe the nature of the BoP projects? The extent to which the project
related to the core business of the firm? Geographical proximity to the firm’s location? Etc.?
Only the managers of the CSR projects were interviewed. It would be interesting to also have
the perspectives of the other groups involved externally – such as northern hemisphere
constituencies, southern hemisphere constituencies, customers, employees, and internally – such
as CEO, financial management and operating management.
Would it be useful to differentiate between those firms that had implemented BoP projects and
those “about to start one"? Given that the first programs were started in 2005, is it appropriate to
classify those firms about to start a program innovators or would it be useful to segment the
Were the interviews supplemented, and substantiated, with other information such as publically
issued reports, news reports, NGO communications, etc.?
It might be informative if the quotes could be identified with the firm. If confidentiality is an
issue, then at least provide some identifying label so the reader can determine if the quotes
represent a broad range of the firms or are reflective of only a few of interviewees.
One of the things I found most interesting is that there is no exact translation of accountability in
French. What are the implications of this? Is there something cultural about the whole idea of
accountability? The author takes the definition of accountability proposed by Anglo scholars. Is
it applicable within a French context? What are the implications?
The “I”/“we” distinction used by the interviewees when referring to internal and external
discourses is also an interesting observation. Could that be more fully theorized and developed
It would be interesting to consider the extent to which “green washing” is being engaged in by
the firms. Some research suggests that those firms that are the less responsible (e.g., chemical
companies) are the ones most likely in engage in what are perceived to be “responsible”
activities such as alleviating poverty in the world. Again, it would be useful to identify strategies
withi the firms.
In closing, this is an interesting and important area in need of much research. While in my
opinion, there is need for substantially more theoretical and empirical development of this
manuscript, I would strongly encourage the author to continue working in the area as well as
developing the work presented here.