Friday, November 25, 2011

Marketing in Community-Based Social Enterprise: An Opportunity for Impact

From July to August 2010, I had the opportunity to work with a team in Jinja, Uganda to help develop a social enterprise for an HIV/AIDS NGO. Since returning, my coursework in the undergraduate IMC program at Northwestern University has encouraged me to consider ways in which the program could make an even greater impact on the lives of its participants, given the application of basic marketing concepts. The opportunities I have identified could potentially be scaled to similar social enterprises across the African continent.

The Social Enterprise

In Uganda, grandmothers (jjajas)
often care for young children.
Photo: David McCoy
Ugandan society has a tradition of extended family support, which has resulted in many families adopting children orphaned by HIV/AIDS. However, grandmothers and widows (called ‘jjajas’) shoulder most of this burden, and stretch their limited means to care for these extended families. It is not uncommon for a grandmother to care for a large number of dependent grandchildren due to the death of the grandchildren’s parents (the jjaja’s children). My host NGO initiated an education-based social enterprise program designed to help supplement these grandmothers’ cash income. This program, dubbed the ‘Demonstration Farm,’ teaches participants how to turn their small home gardens into profitable enterprises using innovative agricultural techniques.

Problem: Production Orientation

While the grandmothers have seen moderate success thus far, the enterprises have been primarily production-oriented, rather than market-oriented. The Demonstration Farm exists to expose grandmothers to profitable, unconventional opportunities in commercial (versus subsistence) agriculture, but the selection of crops taught through the farm is not currently based on measurable market opportunities. For example, the Demonstration Farm may teach the grandmothers to grow beans, potatoes, and tomatoes, without determining whether legitimate market demand exists for these crops.

Pigs raised on the Demonstration Farm for commercial sale.
Photo: Faustine Ngarambe
Miller and Levin’s writings on Zambian microenterprises suggest a similar conundrum pervades other social businesses. Holding that most “take a passive role in marketing” and market research, many of the social enterprises they studied faced an “unplanned approach to production and sales.” Instead, the authors suggest a shift from a production orientation to a market-based orientation, “producing what can be sold instead of trying to sell what can be made.”

Miller and Levin’s recommendation evokes Peter Drucker’s philosophy that “the purpose ofbusiness is to create a customer." Unfortunately, if current trends in social enterprises persist, sellers may begin to see market saturation due to a customer-ignorant production orientation. If local NGOs recommend the same mix of crops and animals to all of their clients, competition among them may increase and prices (and profits) could subsequently fall. Because most grandmothers operate on extremely limited resources, it is imperative their activities yield the highest profit margins possible.

Opportunity: Market Orientation

Jjajas sort mushrooms as part of the Demonstration Farm social enterprise.
Photo: Faustine Ngarambe
As such, a paradigm shift in which the NGO actively and systematically studies the marketplace, in order to identify and locate unique market opportunities and advertising channels, could create a significant competitive advantage for the jjajas’ ventures and help to ensure their limited funds are used most effectively for the highest, most sustainable yield.

The process of researching pricing, evaluating distribution channels, surveying local consumers, and developing insights requires time and mobility that are not readily available to the jjajas. However, another demographic of the NGO’s clientele, the HIV positive secondary school students in the NGO’s peer support group, may have these resources at their disposal.

Method: Educational Program

If secondary school students involved in the NGO’s teenage support group were connected with an experienced marketing professional to learn basic market research and culturally-relevant IMC planning, they could assist the NGO in making strategic, market-based decisions in its recommendations of crops and animals to the jjajas using the Demonstration Farm.

An “Intro to IMC” course for teens would have the following objectives:
  1. Develop the skills and accreditation of local HIV positive secondary school students by developing transferable business skills, specifically in market research and IMC fundamentals.
  2. Assist the NGO in being effective in its Demonstration Farm social enterprise by gathering data and insights from local market conditions, identifying and measuring local passion and trigger markets, and making informed recommendations to the NGO on profitable agricultural opportunities.
  3. Assist grandmothers pursuing individual commercial enterprises to identify effective advertising and distribution channels and promotional tactics through which to sell their products. 
Recently-constructed facility for the jjajas' Demonstration Farm.
Photo: David McCoy
The HIV-positive teens will enroll in a weekly course, set to meet before or after their regular peer support meeting. Taught by an experienced marketing professional, the course will teach students fundamental marketing frameworks, and assign tasks that will challenge them to think critically and creatively about local and regional opportunities. Throughout the course, students will apply their learning by developing research-based recommendations for the NGO’s Demonstration Farm. Upon completion of the course, they will receive a research certification and an opportunity for profit-sharing if their insights prove fruitful.

While the results of these research activities may not be as empirically sound as a report composed by a costly third-party marketing consultant group, they will nevertheless contribute to the effectiveness of the Demonstration Farm project. Most importantly, the education of local young adults serves as capacity-building that provides long-term benefits to students and their communities.

Moving Forward

The opportunities identified here have implications for both marketers and social impact professionals. Socially-conscious marketers should consider ways in which their practiced expertise, and internalized understanding of a market-oriented business, could contribute to social enterprises attempting to lift communities out of poverty (for a few ideas to get started, see Philip Kotler’s work).

Meanwhile, social impact professionals should consider educating their staff on IMC frameworks to improve effectiveness of social enterprise programming. If resources are limited (as they were in this Ugandan NGO), consider the assets of your NGO’s constituents, and promote incentives for clients to gather data and contribute marketing strategies that will help your organization improve their lives.

Aaron Faucher (@aaron_faucher) is a senior at Northwestern University studying Social Policy and Integrated Marketing Communications.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent article and one which you can tell is near to your heart. I would only recommend you add more search labels to get this article out to people likely to read it. You did the work and created a great blog deserve the readership on a topic like this.

    Consider sending it to social sites that deal with these types of issues to see if they will publish it as well.

    Nice job