Selling Social Change

I recently read an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review (SSIR) called “Selling Social Change” by Taz Hussein and Matt Plummer of the Bridgespan Group. It was a really interesting read that sparked a lot of thoughts for me especially around my own work right now. I wanted to share a few highlights from that article.

A summary of the article could read along the following lines; “Just because there’s a clear need doesn’t mean there’s demand…Rigorously evaluated evidence-based practices and programs alone cannot trump beneficiaries’ lack of awareness or interest… (Nonprofits and funders) must be prepared to actively generate demand for social change.”

I have found this idea to be especially pertinent in my work at CoreAlign, where we work to infuse the domestic American reproductive health, rights, and justice movements with the concepts of innovation and speaking race to power. The article details three steps nonprofits need to take when creating and implementing solutions.

  1. Recognize the limits of designing as service or program primarily for effectiveness and also design for “spreadability”.

Essentially, in our quest to deliver programs and products that deliver social good with maximum efficiency and effectiveness, we often overlook or undervalue whether potential beneficiaries will find the service appealing. In fact, sometimes we must look at how effective elements of our programs might actually hinder adoption and use. The examples cited in the article demonstrate that organizations that are able to make difficult decisions that may slightly reduce effectiveness or efficiency end up increasing the overall net use of services or products by beneficiaries.

  1. Go beyond identifying a broad group of potential beneficiaries and focus first on a subgroup most likely to participate.

The article shares an image of the “product adoption curve” and asks nonprofits better understand whom they are targeting “because different adopter categories have different needs and attitudes toward the programs and services created for their benefit.” This makes sense intuitively when we look at products like the iPhone and Facebook and consider the needs of early adopters, early majority, and late majority users. The same product may need to be marketed or pitched differently to different segments of users – and this can be a hard pill for many nonprofits to swallow.

  1. Develop and resource a sales and marketing capability from the outset, right alongside budgeting for program delivery.

Finally, and I love this point, nonprofits can fall for the fallacy that it’s enough to simply create a service or product that people want, and fail to spend the resources to inform and entice users to demand what they make. The article (somewhat boldly) uses a breakdown of Big Pharma spends on R&D vs. Sales & Marketing to demonstrate that it is not sufficient to simply have a great product – you have to get your beneficiaries to know that it’s out there, and understand how it might benefit them.

The author’s end by asking us all to consider three questions during our strategic planning processes:

  • How will you ensure that your program or service receives high scores from beneficiaries on these dimensions: better, compatible, simple, testable, and observable?
  • What segment of those you hope to serve knows that they have a problem and are looking for a solution?
  • Who will sell your innovative program or service to potential beneficiaries?

I found these to be very important and salient questions for my own work, and can easily imagine how it might spark new thoughts for others. Check out the article here and let me know what you think.

Source: Stanford Social Innovation Review, Selling Social Change, by Taz Hussein and Matt Plummer, Winter 2017




Stunting in Brazil and India

Following up on the previous post about stunting, I wanted to mention two case studies I’ve come across in Brazil and India that are fascinating. I will need to investigate each one in more detail to really break out the shape and scope of the intervention plans, but I think these two case studies begin offering an optimistic insight into how other communities, countries, and regions can tackle stunting. Let’s begin in Brazil.

I hope to return to Brazil as a case study in a lot of contexts as this blog continues since it is a BRIC country that has made significant progress on several socioeconomic development factors (with room still for improvement). When we look at stunting rates in Brazil among children under 5 years, the results are dramatic. Over 40 years ago, that rate was a catastrophic 37.1%. Today, it is xxx% and declining still. Make no mistake – this is a dramatic and incredible accomplishment. Imagine the millions of lives that have inch by inch been improved over the last four decades.

A few of the factors that contributed to this tremendous human achievement include:

  • Improving the purchasing power of households through minimum wage increases and expanded cash-transfer programs;
  • Rising rates of female education and literacy;
  • Improvements and expansion of maternal and child health services;
  • Expansion of water and sanitation systems;
  • Improvements in the quality and quantity of food produced by small family farms.

Crossing our way over to South Asia, let’s take a look at India for a moment. Due to the sheer enormity of its population, India has the most stunted children under 5 years in the world at an estimated 62 million. Progress in the country to fight stunting and malnutrition is varied across state, regional, and social lines. However, there is hope in Maharashtra where a broad-based government technical, advisory, and training body has seen significant improvements due to its efforts.

The Rajmata Jijau Mother-Child Health and Nutrition Mission has a three part mission:

  • Advocate for the importance of the first 1000 days (see my previous blog post here for more information on what this is),
  • Provide policy advice to the government on evidence-based interventions, and
  • Act as a platform to foster convergence among different departments with a common objective of reducing malnutrition.

Launched in 2005, this body has contributed to a magnificent reduction in child stunting rates in Maharashtra. At the time of its launch, the state was looking at an overwhelming 44% rate of stunting; by 2012, in just seven short years, that number had been cut in half (22.8%).

Three things strike me about these two case studies that I am sure will be relevant to the implementation and adoption of broad-based interventions to combat stunting and malnutrition:

  1. Strong, proactive, and persistent political leadership combined with active, engaged, and adaptive civic society organs created and facilitated the processes to understand and tackle stunting,
  2. Emphasis was placed on building sustainability of these interventions by empowering community leadership and community management of these programs,
  3. Multisectoral approaches were used to address stunting, understanding that policies in education, labor, and agriculture all impact nutrition

These seem like the bedrock of some fairly exemplary best practices in generating and rolling out interventions across broad geographic areas.