At the World Economic Forum on Africa this week, I’ll be discussing some of the lessons I’ve learned over the past year in a session entitled “New Solutions: Scaling Up Social Innovation”.
Here are a few of my thoughts to get the discussion ball rolling:
1. Not all the people at the “base of the pyramid” (BOP) – ie the poorest group of consumers – are the same. The BOP market is segmented and different segments of the BOP may have to be marketed to differently.
It goes without saying that the needs of a household that is earning less than US$ 2 per day are completely different than those of a household earning double at US$ 4 per day. The US$ 4 per day household can easily replace their kerosene lamp with US$ 6 portable, rechargeable LED lights, whereas the US$ 2 per day household will fret over the decision, even after realizing that there will be longer term savings over kerosene. The US$ 2 per day household frets because they cannot afford to make a mistake in their purchases, as doing so may mean serious financial difficulty. They take more time to make decision and need a lot more reassurance.
(Professor V. Kasturi Rangan of Harvard University and others have a segmentation model that we fully subscribe to)
2. Don’t lose touch with what is actually happening on the ground.
“Don’t let others decide your destiny for you. You must get truly involved, especially during scale-up.” This is a lesson we learned from Manu Chandaria, a prominent Kenyan businessman who has built a billion-dollar enterprise with a presence in over 40 countries.
Why is this relevant? As we started to scale, going from 70 rural retailers (what we refer to as village-level entrepreneurs) to over 1,100 in a year, it was sometimes easy to succumb to the urge to leave complete operational oversight to middle management. As chief executive officer, I realized that I had to get involved with every step of the business to make sure the company was on track.
3. Don’t try to do it alone.
Find out who shares your mission and work together; leverage as many external partnerships as you can. In our case, our ambitious goal is to set-up 10,000 village-level entrepreneurs, and through this network we plan to distribute 2 million rechargeable Nuru lights by the end of 2016.
We have realized that we can’t achieve this objective alone. That’s why we have started to work with others who share our mission, which includes creating sustainable livelihoods, and providing clean, safe, affordable energy to the poorest of the poor.
By participating in the World Economic Forum on Africa, we plan to share our experiences on social innovation, but most importantly, solicit new ideas and kick-start new partnerships.
Author: Sameer Hajee is Chief Executive Officer of the Nuru Energy Group.
Image: A baobab tree in Senegal. REUTERS/Ricci Shyrock