Saturday, May 17, 2014

Scale vs depth

What's better - to help a few people a lot or a lot of people a little?

This question is behind so many big decisions governments and non profits make - or for that matter for profit businesses like IBM. 

We are trying to help our #ibmcsc Kenya client Women Enterprise Fund grapple with this same question when it comes to how to help women access markets. Organizing groups to grow or produce and deliver the right quality and quantity at the right time takes a tremendous amount of time and resources, but when successful has a direct impact on women's incomes.  Problem is, how do you scale that across an entire country?  Each group has a different capacity for producing goods and services, each location has a unique set of market conditions.  There's no one-size fits all.  You could just pay out loans to lots of women's groups across the country.  That's easier to scale, but not everyone will benefit - some borrowers' businesses will fail.
This group received a loan to purchase peanut butter making equipment - if successful it would have a big impact on members' lives.  But there are lots of risks to this business, and in any case the market for peanut butter is limited - you couldn't just train every group on peanut butter making and expect success. 

The same case applies for this women's group's fish farming operation.
No answers here.  But I do think small concentrated impact is often underestimated.  It's entirely possible to distribute bed nets, for example, to 1 million people but have only a few hundred actually use them. It's entirely possible you could have a larger impact training a few dozen women in poultry rearing, for example, providing them with improved food security and a means of income.  My MBA training beckons me to constantly ask - does this scale? A good enough question, but I've learned it's always important not to simply accept an apparent indicator of scale - a number of bednets distributed, a number of loans paid out - on its face.  

This women's group we visited produces terrific handicrafts, but struggles to find markets to sell what they produce.  What would it take to help them find a steady market and help them produce in the quantities and quality the market demands, at a cost that would still make it profitable?

No comments:

Post a Comment