Piggybacking on other distribution systems?

Dsc01316 I’ve been ruminating over the challenge of getting a vital product out to those who need it the most in developing countries, the overlooked and the underserved at the base of the pyramid, ever since I read Rob Katz’ post on market creation at the BoP.

Thinking that I might be able to find something useful to point out in this conversation I started by understanding the situation faced by the non profit behind the Kickstart pump that Rob mentions in his post. This article by the Rotary Club of Estes Park sums up the challenge pretty well.

“Within less than a generation, poor families where social/economic change has happened, from the Russian States to Vietnam to many countries in Africa, have been thrown from essentially a subsistence lifestyle into a primarily cash -base economy. The ability to earn an income is suddenly a paramount skill. Yet approaches to encouraging development and aid continue to be based upon the assumption that the primary need of people in poor places in these new cash based economic systems is something other than a way to make money — better healthcare, education, water, housing and so forth.

That is not necessary so. Providing these will not end poverty. In a cash economy money is the primary means to securing other vital resources. If you ask a person in a poor place what they need most, they will tell you that it is a way to make money. The poorest people in the world are also among the most entrepreneurial-they have to be just to survive. They do not want hand-outs; they want opportunities.”

Essentially they want to create an entire market in the locations they wish to serve. IDE’s Indian website goes as far as to articulate that one of their goals is indeed market creation. And the elements that they highlight are as follows:

  1. Product
  2. Price
  3. Demand
  4. Availability
  5. Sustainability

Not quite Philip Kotler’s 4P’s of marketing or 4C’s is it? That’s what I realized while digging around on the basics of marketing. Yet its not quite the essence of logistics either, i.e. getting the right product to the right place at the right time to the right people. It seems to be a mash up of the two. Although, it must be said, that the function of marketing is to create a market. In fact, I’ve a feeling that this broad subject area will form the main focus of my ongoing research on increasing the understanding of the BoP customer and markets.

Thinking back to Nokia’s approach to rural China – product design and distribution, they only had to address point number 1, 2 and 4 from those listed above, because the mobile phone, while an enabler of opportunities is not, in and of itself, an innovation at this stage of the global product lifecycle. Ergo there’s already a demand and its sustainable.

And yet I think that there might be lessons in there for others facing the same challenge, how do you create a market for your product in a sustainable manner where there is no existing marketing infrastructure?

Can you, like Nokia did with small town entreprenuers willing to tote their phones around in backpacks by bus, piggyback on someone else’s distribution or promotion systems?

A quick trip into rural South Africa or India shows the proliferation of advertising by consumer product companies such as Coca Cola, Unilever or, in India, Dabur. Mobile phone operators and/or their airtime and handset resellers are everywhere there is a cell tower signal. Africa is Guinness‘ fastest growing and largest market globally. Can there not be a way that non profits can co-opt these supply chains for their needs?

I realize my naive ignorance of the realities and maybe asking simplistic questions but does strike me that if all those wishing to make a difference at the BoP are to be successful, basic infrastructure for the marketing and distribution of their products and services, not to mention awareness creation and accessibility must first be laid down. And the question I ask then is must each and every non profit or social entreprenuer invent their own wheels? Can’t everyone’s efforts, both for-profit and non-profits, be integrated for efficiency and speed?

This pondering will continue.

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