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Social Franchising Models Proving Poor Bring Profits

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The four billion people in the world who live on less than US $2 a day have been described as the bottom of the economic pyramid, or BOP for short. In his book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, Indian business consultant and professor CK Prahalad argues that this attitude must be turned on its head: rather than seeing the world’s poor as a burden, only worthy of charity, Prahalad sees nothing but opportunity and unmet needs that business can address. In short, he argues, profits can be married with the goal of eradicating poverty.

Prahalad has gone so far as to claim this is a market potentially worth US $13 trillion, while the World Resources Institute puts it at US $5 trillion in its latest report, The Next 4 Billion.

One of the tools business is turning to reach the world’s poor is known as social franchising. The concept borrows from the business world and the highly successful franchise models that are more commonly associated with fast-food restaurants and computer and clothing retailers – wherever rapid expansion and scale are required to reach the biggest market possible. And there is no bigger market, social franchising advocates claim, than the world’s four billion poorest people.

In the past, most formal business in developing countries chased the small middle class or the even smaller elite or foreign expatriate communities. Traditional poverty eradication strategies have also been criticized for being too narrow, focused on a very small group, or for wasting time and resources replicating what has already been achieved elsewhere, and for ballooning and shrinking depending on aid grants or success at fundraising. Social franchising aims to bypass these weaknesses by finding models that work, making sure they are self-financing, and then quickly scaling them up to reach as many people as possible. It’s a model that is gaining more followers and the serious interest of big and small businesses.

One example is the Scojo Foundation in India, established to tackle the common problem of blurry vision as people age (presbyopia). Not a disease, the first symptoms occur between the ages of 40 and 50. Low vision affects 124 million people in the world according to the World Health Organization’s Vision 2020 campaign, organizers of World Sight Day 2007 on October 11.

Blurry vision is a serious disability for weavers, mechanics, goldsmiths and others whose livelihoods depend on near vision. As vision deteriorates, these people are unable to provide for their families. Yet it is easily treatable with a pair of eyeglasses.

Since, 2002, the Scojo Foundation (the social franchising wing of eyeglasses manufacturer Scojo New York, has launched operations in Bangladesh, Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador and Ghana. Its largest and fastest growing operation is in India, where it employs more than 560 entrepreneurs in rural villages, and selling more than 50,000 pairs of glasses since 2001.

It has grown quickly because the business model has been replicated by local staff who work as franchisees. It has followed the franchise model by building a network of “vision entrepreneurs” – low-income men and women, who in turn sell reading glasses directly to rural villagers throughout India. The franchise model enables the “vision entrepreneurs” to earn a good income, and gain respect from other community members.

Nico Clemminck, co-author of a case study on Scojo, found the price was very competitive with other options in India, and that the higher quality of the glasses made them attractive to villagers.

“The franchisees, or Vision Entrepreneurs as Scojo calls them, that we met were very involved with Scojo – some of them shifting away their focus from previous occupations to spend the majority of their time on conducting vision screenings and selling glasses. The main reason is that the business is quite profitable to them – they make a US $1 margin per glasses sold, which is very high compared to other retail products. A trend we did notice is that commitment decreases over time, as the entrepreneurs exhaust their immediate circle of relatives or target village populations, and the incremental sale becomes tougher to make.”

According to Clemminck, Scojo has been able to quickly and successfully expand to other countries by forming partnerships with existing networks that reach into villages.

The profit hierarchy works like this: the manufacturer charges US $1 for the reading glasses, Scojo charges another US $1, the franchisee a further US $1, and the customer pays US $3 for the glasses. By creating profit at each stage, the model ensures the financial incentives are there to keep the distribution network active.

Prior to Scojo, it was believed developing infrastructure in rural Indian communities is too high to sustain a franchising model for low-cost products. Scojo found it was possible to succeed with this model, by focusing on profitability and sustainability right from the start, pursuing aggressive growth through partnerships to build economies of scale, blocking competitors by having a strong brand and first-mover advantage, constantly refining the model across regions, and delivering a tangible social benefit, both economic and health.

On average, franchisees work 20-30 hours per month and earn US $15 to US $20 per month. Considering most franchisees were living on US $1 a day, the extra income is very welcome, Clemminck said.

“This project gave me insight into the large, untapped market opportunity that exists,” says case study co-author Sachin Kadakia, “and how the concept of ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ provides a tangible and significant improvement to the quality of life of people in these communities.”

Another social franchise gaining ground in India is Medicine Shoppe. As a chain of pharmacies, Medicine Shoppe targets underserved communities by offering entrepreneurs franchises. It is an offshoot of the largest franchiser of independent community pharmacies in the US, Medicine Shoppe International Inc.. It can draw on its strong brand and identity to appeal to potential franchises.

Acumen Fund fellow Nadaa Taiyab, who is working with Medicine Shoppe’s expansion to help the rural and urban poor, found it was important to learn lessons and adapt the model.

“When I arrived in December (2006),” she said, “we opened the first Sehat Clinic. Last weekend we opened the seventh, with an eighth shortly underway. The model has undergone a tremendous evolution in the past six months. We shifted our site selection strategy from relatively affluent areas with a slum nearby, to locating the clinics right inside slums. We redesigned the process through which we recruit doctors and created an employment package that allows us to hire experienced doctors at a salary we can afford.

“We also implemented an entirely new concept for Medicine Shoppe called community marketing outreach. Through this program, we hire local women in each area to make daily home visits, refer patients to the clinic, spread health education and awareness, and promote our free health camps and health clinics. In the past four months we have held over 35 health-plus-vision-testing camps, serving over 4,000 people.

“We have also made some changes to the look and feel of the clinics and shops and put all our marketing materials in the local language, to make our services more appealing to low-income markets.”

There are critics of the BOP approach, however. Aneel Karnani from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, argues from a for-profit perspective, business would be much better off targeting the needs of the growing middle classes, especially in countries like India and China. He, however, does acknowledge that social franchising businesses like above, where social responsibility is key, are relevant to meeting the needs of the poor.

Published: August 2007

Resources

  • A detailed and thorough case study of how the Scojo Foundation model works is found here
  • An excellent set of decision matrices to help budding social entrepreneurs and existing businesses to decide if social franchising is the right solution: www.createproject.org
  • The Social Enterprise Alliance has built a knowledge network and extensive range of resources (including 160 case studies) on social enterprise.

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Cooking Bag Helps Poor Households Save Time, Money

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

For millions of poor people around the world, life is lived on the economic margins and household and personal budgets are tight. There were 1.29 billion people in the world living on less than US $1.25 a day as of 2008 (World Bank), and 1.18 billion living on US $1.25 to US $2 per day. There was only a modest drop in the number of people living below US $2 per day – the average poverty line for developing countries – between 1981 and 2008, from 2.59 to 2.47 billion.

Since the global economic crisis erupted in 2008, the world’s poor have seen prices fluctuate wildly as the international financial system fights the effects of the turmoil. In 2008, this led to the Food and Agriculture Organization sounding the alarm about the harmful effects of rising food inflation.

Increasing hunger led to civil unrest and rioting that year.

Anything poor people can do to make their slim daily budgets go a little bit further means more money left over for better quality food and other expenses, like clothing, shelter, fuel and education. One clever invention from South Africa is trying to tackle household cooking costs and shave the cost of fuel required to prepare the family meal. The Wonderbag (http://nbwonderbag.com/) is a brightly coloured, puffy cooking bag that slow cooks a meal in a pot – be it a stew, curry, rice, soups – to save energy.

“The cost and savings per household are significant,” according to the Wonderbag’s inventor, Sarah Collins.

It has many other advantages, too: it is a time-saver, allowing people to spend the time doing something other than just tending the cooking pot. It can also reduce cooking accidents because less time is spent around the stove or fire.

It is an efficient cooking method that uses less water to cook meals. And it even avoids the risk of burning – and wasting – food.

“20 per cent of all staple food in Africa is burned, due to pots being placed on open fires and unregulated stove tops. With the Wonderbag, no burning happens,” confirms Collins.

To date, the Wonderbag has created 1,000 jobs and is looking to increase this to 7,000 jobs in the next five years.

Wonderbag bills itself as “eco-cooking that’s changing lives.”

Eco-cooking seeks to use every joule (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joule) of energy from the cooking fire or heat source to maximum effect. A pot is placed on the stove and brought to the temperature required for cooking the dish. Then the pot is placed in the Wonderbag. Since the bag is heavily insulated, it reflects back the existing heat in the dish and allows it to continue cooking for up to 12 hours. It can cook rice in one hour and lamb in two to three hours.

It works in four easy steps, summed up on the Wonderbag website: “boil it, bag it, stand it, serve it”.

The Wonderbag claims to use 30 per cent less energy than other cooking methods. According to cost breakdowns on the Wonderbag website, someone with a Wonderbag would use 2.4 litres a week of paraffin – a common fuel for cook stoves – compared to 4 litres without. This works out to a cost of US $2.40 a week with a Wonderbag and US $4.00 a week without.

The trade-off with the savings in money and energy is time – Wonderbag is not suitable for those looking for a quick meal. According to Wonderbag, meat that cooks in 20 minutes on the stove will take five hours in the Wonderbag.

Chicken that takes 15 minutes on the stove takes three hours in the Wonderbag. Vegetables that take five minutes on the stove will cook in an hour in the Wonderbag.

South African entrepreneur and inventor Collins originally developed the Wonderbag for people living in the townships of Durban (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Durban). She found many of the residents spent up to a third of their income on fuel for cooking. They would either use paraffin or spend many hours gathering wood or dung.

These common fuel sources for cooking give off toxic fumes and are a health hazard if used for long periods. The Wonderbag means households spend less time inhaling fumes from a stove.

“The Wonderbag will always be a work in progress for me as I look to adapt the bag in line with my consumers’ feedback,” confirms Collins. “For example, we are now about to launch Wonderbag 2, which has an even more efficient insulator than polystyrene and is more readily available and easier to recycle following feedback earlier in the year.”

In South Africa, the bags sell for R170 (US $22) and there are discounts for the very poor. Collins estimates that a family of four could save US $80 a year if they used the Wonderbag two or three times a week.

Collins has used clever marketing strategies to get the Wonderbags out to the public, and 150,000 have been sold so far. One promotion gave away a Wonderbag with every purchase of boxes of curry powder.

Wonderbag has also partnered with local communities. Swartland Municipality (swartland.org.za) purchased 5,000 Wonderbags and distributed them to 4,700 of “the most indigent and deserving households – the poorest of the poor.”

It is also running a promotion in the United Kingdom where, for every Wonderbag bought, one is given to a family in the developing world.

The popularity and success of the Wonderbag prompted the multinational food company, Unilever – one of the world’s leading suppliers of fast-moving consumer goods – to purchase 5 million bags for distribution. According to the Wonderbag website, this could lead to savings of US $1.35 billion on fuel for the users.

“The partnership has also enabled us to scale up and test the Wonderbag in different markets,” explains Collins.

Wonderbag hope to expand to 12 or 15 developing countries in Africa in 2012.

The company says it plans to target developing countries with high poverty, fuel supply shortages, high incidence of health problems from air pollution, and high incidence of injuries from fuel fires.

And for Wonderbag’s success so far, Collins has this advice: “Immerse yourself in your product and the way of life of your consumers. Understand it and them inside out so you can be your best advert. Word of mouth is by far the best form of advertising and the truth out of your own mouth is a great start.”

Resources 

1) Haybox: Haybox is another variation on the concept of heat retention for efficient cooking. Website: http://haybox.co.uk/

2) How to build a clay oven. Website: http://clayoven.wordpress.com/2008/08/29/1-building-a-clay-oven-the-basics/

3) Solar ovens and cookers are another way to cut costs when making meals.This website has many designs and plans on how to build a solar cooker. Website: http://solarcooking.org/plans/

Follow @SouthSouth1

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challengessouthsouthsolutionsnovember2010issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Energy-Efficient Wooden Houses are also Earthquake Safe

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

In Argentina, an innovative housing project has married good design with energy efficiency, earthquake resilience and the use of local materials and labour. As energy resources continue to be stretched around the global South, innovative building designs will be critical to the creation of sustainable housing for the future.

The happy mix of efficient modern design with affordable local materials and labour can be seen in three row houses designed and built by Buenos Aires-based Estudio BaBO (estudiobabo.com.ar) in the El Once neighbourhood in Villa La Angostura, Patagonia, southern Argentina.

The wooden houses are built in a Norwegian style. Estudio BaBO, founded in 2007, discovered that the Scandinavian nation’s housing traditions were well suited to the particular needs of the region and the local government.

The local government imposed a number of planning guidelines and restrictions that needed to be met to receive planning permission. This included creating row houses which must be made of wood – a plentiful local resource. They also had to be earthquake-safe since the region is seismically active and be able to withstand the heavy rains common to the region.

Looking around for the right guidance to tackle this brief, Estudio BaBO discovered SINTEF – Norway’s leading disseminator of research-based knowledge to the construction industry (http://www.sintef.no/home/Building-and-Infrastructure/). The Nordic nation has many wooden homes and also has similar environmental conditions and challenges to Patagonia – though its precipitation tends to fall as rain, rather than snow.

The black-painted homes look typically Norwegian, with a tasteful and clean design that does not clash with the forested surroundings. An air chamber has been created inside the homes’ walls allowing for constant ventilation of the wood, which prevents the wood from rotting and extends the life of the house. With the high rainfall of the region, wood is at risk of rotting if allowed to become damp. The air cavity also insulates the house, providing significant energy savings while keeping the interior warm and comfortable.

Adding to the energy efficiency of the design, the windows are double glazed and heat is also circulated through the floor – an efficient way to heat a home because heat rises.

To keep costs down and the project simple, the palette used for the homes is simple but attractive: black, white, wood and metal. The local wood is cypress and is painted black. The interior walls are all white and the floors are made from black granite on the ground floor and cypress wood parquet on the upper floor. The rest of the woodwork in the house is also made of cypress.

Using locally sourced materials also helps to keep costs down.

The project was initially conceived in 2009 and the houses were built in 2010-2011. While wood is plentiful in Patagonia, traditionally the use of wood in construction was rudimentary and local labour skill levels were low. This meant the design had to be simple and easy to build.

“Despite the profusion of wood as a material in the south of Argentina, the lack of specialized knowledge and of a specialized industry narrow its uses to isolated structural elements and interior and exterior finishes,” said one of the architects, Marit Haugen Stabell.

The three units of two-storey row houses each come with a living room, dining room, kitchen, toilet, two bedrooms and a laundry room. Each home also has an outdoor patio. The homes are designed to receive maximum natural light. Deploying this energy efficient design is considered unusual for Argentina and Estudio BaBO has set a new standard for sustainable housing in the country.

It looks like the CLF Houses could inspire others to look again at wood as a building material.

Resources

1) A story on how researchers are perfecting wooden home designs to withstand heavy earthquakes. Website:http://inhabitat.com/wooden-house-can-withstand-severe-earthquakes/

2) A website packed with photographs of wooden and other houses for inspiration and lesson learning. Website:http://www.trendir.com/house-design/wood_homes/

3) A step by step slideshow on how a Norwegian wooden house was re-built. Website:http://www.dwell.com/articles/norwegian-wood.html

4) Inspirational wooden home decorating ideas from across Scandinavia. Website:http://myscandinavianhome.blogspot.cz/

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Southern Innovator In Dhaka, Bangladesh: Public Service Innovation Workshop | December 2017

Southern Innovator issues 1 and 5 at the Bangladesh workshop on public service innovation, 9-11 December 2017, and the launch of the South-South Network.

The following blog report does not reflect the views of the UNOSSC or UNDP. 

Dateline: Dhaka, Bangladesh (9-11 December 2017) – From 9-11 December 2017, I participated in the Workshop on Innovations in Service Delivery: The Scope for South-South and Triangular Cooperation held in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Hosted by the a2i (access to information) division of the Bangladesh Prime Minister’s Office, the implementing unit for Digital Bangladesh, it was convened by the Government of Bangladesh and the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC).

I was asked to do a presentation for the health component of the Workshop on my past experience in public sector digital innovation. This work stretches back to the beginning of the roll out of the Internet in the late 1990s. I chose three projects I have led that had a large and significant impact in the digital public space: the UN Mongolia development web portal I launched and ran for two years (1997-1999), the GOSH Child Health Web Portal I launched and ran for two years (2001-2003) and the Southern Innovator brand I launched for the UNOSSC (2010-2015). 

I also joined a panel discussion as Senior Partner representing the David South Consulting/David South International consultancy at the end of the last day (we have worked with the UNOSSC since 2007 and with UNDP since 1997 – a timeframe which saw the rise of the Internet and the mobile and information technology revolution take the global South by storm). 

As the Workshop invitation letter says, “The digitization of service delivery, user-centric methodologies, and experimentation geared towards improvement in service delivery, and the data revolution may have originated in developed countries but is now of increasing relevance for the developing world. To respond to rapidly rising expectations of the citizens, governments in both developing and developed countries are embracing approaches and tools to adopt more citizen-centric approaches in their service delivery. These practices are establishing a culture of citizen-centric innovation within governments, breaking silos of operations and helping move towards a whole-of-government planning and execution.”

According to the a2i, Bangladesh has the “world’s largest government web portal” comprising over 25,000 government websites for 43,000 government offices (Bangladesh’s population was over 162 million as of 2016 – World Bank). Bangladesh has one of the highest population densities in the world and is considered the 8th most populace country in the world (Wikipedia). In total, these government websites receive 60 million plus hits a month, according to the a2i, from an online population of 79.7 million people, nearly half the population.

A lot is at stake: According to the World Bank (which has been supporting the country since 1972), “Bangladesh has made substantial progress in reducing poverty, supported by sustained economic growth. Based on the international poverty line of $1.90 per person per day, Bangladesh reduced poverty from 44.2 percent in 1991 to 18.5 percent in 2010, and is projected to decrease to 12.9 percent in 2016.

The country achieved the MDG 1 on halving poverty five years ahead of time, with 20.5 million people rising out of poverty during the 1991-2010 period. In parallel, life expectancy, literacy rates and per capita food production have increased significantly.  Progress was underpinned by strong economic growth, with 6 percent plus growth over the decade and reaching to 7.1 percent growth in 2015/2016. Rapid growth enabled Bangladesh to reach the lower middle-income country status in 2014.      

However, sustained growth has rapidly increased the demand for energy, transport and urbanization. Insufficient planning and investment have resulted in increasingly severe infrastructure bottlenecks.”

Arriving in the capital, Dhaka, on the 9th of December, it was clear to see what the World Bank is highlighting: the “severe infrastructure bottlenecks”. Just like other megacities, Dhaka is clogged with traffic and suffers from the air pollution this causes (one of the worst cities for this in Asia). But these are just the visible signs of success if you think about it (as frustrating as that might be), as booming economies combined with rapid urbanisation, if not planned well, tend to lead to traffic congestion and high levels of air pollution. 

The country’s rising living standards since 2000 and impressive gains in the provision of information and mobile technology services and connectivity, reveal a country brimming with potential and capable of getting a handle on its many development challenges. The streets are visibly lined with small and medium enterprises and there are construction projects in various states of completion all around Dhaka. At the airport, glossy posters advertise many real estate developer’s dreams and show-off the heavy construction equipment for sale or lease from China and Russia. 

The population no longer suffers from food crises such as the 1974 famine, which killed 1.5 million people (Christian Science Monitor). According to the UN, Bangladesh cut chronic hunger by half since 2000 and is considered one of the success stories from the past 10 years that the rest of the developing world can look to as they push to eliminate hunger by 2030 as part of the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) (https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Foreign-Policy/2015/0617/From-famine-to-food-basket-how-Bangladesh-became-a-model-for-reducing-hunger). Clearly, Bangladesh is a country that can get things done when it draws on the power of its population. 

According to Digital Bangladesh, with a deadline of 2021, it has achieved half its goals to get the population online and its economy and government services online. In 2017, the country made US $800 million from exporting ICT (information and communication technologies) products and services. It is currently building 12 hi-tech parks with the ambitious goal to export US $10 billion in ICT services from them by 2030 and make US $5 billion by 2021. 

The streets of Dhaka.

Workshop

Sharing ideas at the Workshop.

Speaking at the Workshop, Anir Chowdhury, Policy Advisor to the Access to Information (a2i) Programme of the Prime Minister’s Office, believes the concept of South-South Cooperation (SSC) is about enlightened self-interest but at present there is no framework for SSC in Bangladesh and most cooperation is ad hoc. If global South countries are not cooperating, then they are just re-inventing the wheel, he added. SSC is about avoiding feeling each country has to make it own their own: SSC can facilitate development leapfrogging and prevent leaving country success to chance. However, there needs to be better ways to communicate Southern solutions.

And Bangladesh has a good story to tell to the global South: To date, Bangladesh’s digital public service delivery has saved the country US $2 billion in cost for government services plus 1 billion man days in time spent trying to carry out tasks using government services, according to the a2i. With this success under their belts, the hope is to market Bangladesh as a world leader in innovation. To go from MDGs poster child to leader of the global South. 

UNOSSC Director and Envoy of the UN Secretary-General on SSC, Jorge Chediek (https://www.unsouthsouth.org/about/unossc-director/), emphasised the need to tell stories of how South-South is changing the world; the pressing need to change the narrative around the global South in order to be able to achieve the 2030 agenda.

It was an honour to be invited to present my three case studies on public sector digital innovation (GOSH Child Health Portal, Southern Innovator Magazine and the UN/UNDP Mongolia Development Portal). All three share the same characteristics: a public demand for digital resources and a need to create high-quality content on limited budgets and to build public confidence in those resources. These projects were also engaging with enormous complexity and needed to find a way to simplify this for online readers.

I was impressed by the level of debate at the Workshop, and how Bangladesh’s digital initiatives are communicated (the excellent use of infographics and simple step-by-step explanations), and the overall excitement and energy around digital and the digital economy in Bangladesh. But, importantly, the foresight to give attention to the coming wave of automation and robotics (the so-called fourth industrial revolution) and how this will affect Bangladesh. 

In the health workshop, we shared two projects for the reverse engineering component: the GOSH Child Health Portal and the magazine Southern Innovator (link to PowerPoint). Using the Reverse Engineering tool (see images below), each project was broken down as to how it worked and also what was its contribution to South-South Cooperation. 

I shared experience from the early days of digital public innovation in the late 1990s. This has included applying digital to crisis recovery, healthcare modernisation in the early 2000s, and the campaign to achieve the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), as well as during the mobile/information technology and social media revolution in the global South, which took off after 2007. 

Reverse Engineering

GOSH Child Health Portal (2001-2003)

Issues discussed here included the recent online fake news scandals and how important it is for the public sector to offer the antidote to this with quality, factual digital information and resources. The GOSH Child Health Portal was one good example, where it entered the crowded online medical and health information marketplace and succeeded in drawing a large online audience by offering high-quality, peer-reviewed resources, thoroughly fact-checked and proofread and presented using high-quality online design. By the end of the project’s two-year timeframe, it was receiving over 7 million hits a month and was acknowledged as a trusted global source in child health. The content is cited in many books and papers, as well. 

Reverse engineering GOSH Child Health Web Portal, 2001-2003.

Southern Innovator Magazine (2010-2015)

Throughout the Workshop, I heard over and over again about the urgent need for a more cohesive platform for sharing Southern innovations and initiatives. Many complained this was currently very fragmented. While there are many media and development organisations documenting innovations and stories, there is no one-stop shop for countries to go to. 

The Southern Innovator brand (incubated and developed by the UNOSSC) is a good example of what can be achieved with a more cohesive and strategic approach. Southern Innovator, first launched in 2011 by the UNOSSC, was able to leverage its limited resources to reach a large global audience via the web and social media. The brand became established with innovators and five issues were published (from 2011 to 2015). An Action Plan for scaling-up the Southern Innovator brand was also developed with the UNOSSC in 2015 (but awaits funding). 

The original Southern Innovator website (southerninnovator.org, now southerninnovator.com) did fulfil the role of offering a one-stop shop for stories on global South innovation and these stories were widely cited in websites, papers and books on the global South. But the terrain has shifted radically in the global South – and at the UN – since Southern Innovator’s launch in 2011. With the widespread adoption of mobile and digital technologies, the opportunities to communicate innovator solutions have never been better but require a more sophisticated approach to be effective. In fact, we now exist in a world where the solutions already exist to the major problems affecting the global South (and even the funding is available through many sources). The problem is not the lack of solutions, innovators or technologies and business models to resolve problems (both e-newsletter Development Challenges, South-South Solutions and Southern Innovator proved this) but how people can access these resources and in a format that makes sense to them and is available when they are searching for a solution. With modern computing technologies, this is no longer an unsolvable problem. And the people to connect with to do this also already exist in the global South. What is missing is a coherent and cohesive approach. The multiplicity of development actors in this case are hampering effective action by dissecting and scattering resources, leaving end-users confused and poorly communicated with in many cases. As an example, there was a definite need to assist people in understanding how the 17 SDGs can fit into practical actions and a definite psychological need for simplicity: a problem highlighted by former UNDP head Helen Clark back in 2015 (https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2015/jul/07/sustainable-development-goals-will-be-hard-sell-for-united-nations).

For UNDP, with its human development approach and presence in most countries, an opportunity exists to rapidly accelerate development gains and shorten the time it takes to recover when disaster or conflict strikes. Something that came out of the Workshop is the presence of excellent examples of global knowledge sharing already underway for decades around the world. Think of the scientific community in general (working on vast projects such as the CERN facility in Switzerland), or aerospace industries, or the global adoption of the principles of air safety managed by IATA in Montreal, Canada, or sport – all proof countries do successfully share knowledge and adopt common, high standards when they feel it is a priority and necessity. No country wants to be frozen out of flight routes, for example. 

Reverse engineering the Southern Innovator magazine brand, 2010-2015. 

Panel Discussion

At the closing panel discussion, I was asked how to engage more donors to be part of the South-South Network. I said there is a need to get people excited and show why the South-South Network is different; how it is related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There needs to be a communications strategy and to establish some ambitious first goals that are original: to show that this is part of a clear trend. International aid and development is a crowded space so there is a need to show how the Network would tackle the challenges of the global South in the 21st century head-on, with a more effective solution. And of course, I championed the existing and successful Southern Innovator brand developed by the UNOSSC since 2010 as, potentially, part of this communications strategy. 

Senior Partner David South is third from the left on the panel. Photo: Yoko Shimura.
Senior Partner David South is centre at back with the South-South Network for Public Service Innovation, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 2017.

Finally

This impressive embracing of e-initiatives and all things digital was visibly missing at the airport. On the way in, long lines and then a confusing scramble to buy a visa created confusion for visitors. As the first impression for visitors, this could be a great place to show-off Bangladesh’s digital capabilities. 

And finally, as the World Bank says, this all about job creation and increased living standards: “The World Bank has identified job creation as the country’s top development priority. Bangladesh needs to create more and better jobs for the 2.1 million youths entering the job market every year. But to do so, Bangladesh will need to remove the barriers to higher growth posed by low access to reliable and affordable power, poor transportation infrastructure, limited availability of serviced land, rapid urbanization and vulnerability to climate change and natural disasters, among others.”

Bangabandhu International Conference Center hosting Digital World 2017 and Dhaka’s Shahjalal International Airport.

Further reading and links: 

South-South in Action: Citizen-friendly Public Service Innovation in Bangladesh

Digital Bangladesh: Digital Service for All

GOSH Child Health Web Portal

UN/UNDP Mongolia Development Portal 

Southern Innovator and Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2017