How to Fund Holistic Water Quality Management

holistic water quality management

Governing common shared resources such as water supplies relies on layers of resource management. Each level of management has different roles and responsibilities, from neighborhoods and cities through to regional, state, national and international governance. Currently, the way many cities approach water quality is inefficient because resource management is not regional. Water agencies ignore problems upstream, where water quality problems start. Applying funds to upstream problems is a marketing decision related to how we price our social goods. Fixing those upstream problems reduces costs downstream for water treatment.

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Three Ways To Eliminate Low-Quality Charitable Products

low-quality charitable products

Are you designing and distributing low quality charitable products? How do you know? Just because your clients may benefit from, and even rely on, products that are free to them doesn’t mean you can give them crap. It also doesn’t mean they stop becoming savvy consumers just because something is free to them. Your products and services may be free to your clients, but in areas like healthcare and water they can also a matter of life and death.

Here are three lessons from two cautionary tales of low-quality charitable products.

Low Quality Threatens Healthy Babies

Low-quality charitable products can threaten healthy babies.

In India, TED Fellow Zubaida Bai encountered a midwife who used a small farming implement to cut umbilical cords after delivery. The sight stunned Bai. After delivering her own child in a modern hospital, Bai spent a year trying to shake an infection. What were women in villages going through?

She made it her mission to offer a low-cost kit of medical tools for delivering babies in the developing world. At first, she was thrilled to find that such a kit already existed. Her excitement faded when she final received a kit. Its contents were unhygienic, did not follow medical best practice, and turned off expectant mothers and midwives. Also, the kits were only available when there was charitable funds to support them.

Bai worked with midwives, mothers, and medical experts to design a better kit. For just $3, which was $1 more than the old kit, Bai’s company ayzh created the Jamma clean birth kit with proper and hygienic tools packaged in a purse that mothers could keep and use. So far, the kit has helped more than 600,000 mothers and babies.

Low Quality Threatens Clean Water

low-quality charitable products

Low-quality charitable products can also threaten access to clean water.

In Ghana, Kevin Starr saw the pioneering work of Saha providing clean water in arid, rural areas. The Saha nonprofit business model, supported by both donations and affordable client fees, was thriving in multiple locations. Saha’s ongoing testing at the water source and in client homes showed that their system consistently delivered bacteria-free water.

In one village, though, the local Saha provider was struggling after two years in business. During that time, three different charity programs came to the village, distributed free water filters, and left. While the filters worked, clients stopped using Saha. That’s not to say the filters were effective at removing harmful bacteria. Eventually, the filters clogged or broke, and there was no way to repair or replace them. If free solutions kept arriving and not working, they would kill the one effective method for delivering clean water.

Three Lessons About Low-Quality Charitable Products

Lots of lessons spring from these two stories, but in the context of this blog, three items stick out.

Design matters

Both Saha and ayzh invested effort to design products that were affordable, met measurable standards, and appealed to clients. Both organizations designed products with, and not just for, their clients. For both these companies, competing products that were poorly designed promoted infections that were harmful and potentially deadly.

Business model matters

Saha providers charge pennies for clean water, but compete against free water filters. ayzh charged $1 more for their clean birth kit than the competing charity version. Both companies have build business models with products that cost clients more than all-out charity. However, that additional cost fit within clients’ means and assured quality products with ongoing benefits.

Designing affordable solutions with self sustaining business models is the business solution to poverty and the best way to scale.

Sustainability matters

As Kevin Starr said, there’s an opportunity cost to failure. People in poverty have much less ability to absorb that cost. Solutions for vital services like clean water and health need to work reliably and continually.

Saha’s clean water solution works because it relies on local products and labor, receives revenue in exchange for water, and performs ongoing measurement to ensure quality. Clients don’t get sick and possibly die from infection. One-time interventions with products that wear out can’t match this.

ayzh’s clean birth kit keeps mothers and babies safe from infection. It might sound crass, but this helps sustain the market. ayzh receives revenue for the kit, which ensures ongoing support and product improvements.

Probably the kit’s most clever sustainability aspect is packaging the kit in a purse that the mother could keep. One, the packaging is reusable, making the product more environmentally sustainable. Two, it made the kit more appealing to mothers, sustaining interest in the product. Three, after the birth the purse became a promotional tool when the new mother carried it with her. That helps spread word-of-mouth about the product.

In the end charitable work, like business, requires dedication to a market. Anything less is a disservice and potentially harmful.


Read more about The Business Solution to Poverty.

 

(Images courtesy of Flickr and WikiMedia)

Government Investments, Not Government Subsidies

government investments

The terms we use matter when designing and promoting public and social goods. I don’t like the term “subsidy” when applied to government programs. It lacks the related themes and ideas that I think we want associated with public spending. The term has also taken on negative connotations that further hinder strengthening our communities through the marketing of social goods. I prefer to think about government investments.

I’ll illustrate my point with a personal story from my early career at Microsoft.

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Turning Bright Spots Into Products and Services

Turning Bright Spots Into Products and Services

Look for bright spots of success and hope among your market audience, and you may find your next big idea. Here are lessons from a story about how one underfunded aid worker used turning bright spots into products and services to change a nation.

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Our Social Nature and Health: Resistance to Viruses

Social inequity leads to increased public health threats

During flu season it’s good to remember that we’re social animals. Our social standing directly impacts our health; social inequity leads to increased public health threats.

The relationship between status and health showed up clearly in the Whitehall studies in the U.K. The first study tracked the health of men in the British civil service over a ten-year period. It found a strong, inverse relationship between rank in the hierarchy and death rates from coronary disease. Executives atop of the civil service enjoyed much better health than the menial workers at the bottom.

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Distribution: The Promise of Drones in the Social Sector

delivery-drone

In the United States, discussion of delivery drones usually follows stories such as this New York Times piece about Amazon testing product delivery drones. While Amazon may be aiming for an automated distribution channel, drones offer hope to public and social sector organizations as well.

Distribution is a pillar of marketing, and equitable and cost-effective distribution is a necessity for social goods and services.

This CBS News story showcases several efforts to employ drones in Africa for distributing vital public and social services in areas lacking other infrastructure such as roads and rail.

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Infrastructure: Build sidewalks to build community

sidewalks build community
Flow chart showing benefits of sidewalks and walking

Sidewalks are infrastructure and infrastructure is a reflection of our social nature. Sidewalks are, or can be, important public spaces. They might, or could, be the public space with which we’re most familiar. Sidewalks build community and promote the healthy lifestyle and walkable neighborhoods that many people say they want.

Consider what happens on sidewalks: chalk drawings, tricycle rides, dog walks, hopscotch, jump rope, lemonade stands, neighborhood conversations, holding hands.

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Organizational narrative: Lucky Iron Fish

organizational narrative example

Lucky Iron Fish is a certified B Corp working to improve health around the world, starting in Cambodia. They’ve made a short video, with the help of Google, to tell their organization’s origin story. The video is a great two-minute organizational narrative example that uses the five parts of Joseph Campbell’s mythological story form to tell an compelling story:

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The Social Progress Index: Measuring the quality of our social nature

Marketers often benchmark their goods and services against the competition. For countries, the main benchmark for nearly a century has been Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. The United States rules in GDP. While increasing GDP does correlate with some improvement in social conditions, it is purely an economic measure. As the measure of a country, a society, it’s narrow and incomplete.

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