Tag: customer acquisition

How leveraging collaborative expertise help scale social impact

This article was republished in Nextbillion in July 2016

Social business is a concept famously defined by Muhammad Yunus as a business that is financially self-sustainable, but recycles all profit into addressing developmental needs. But how does one measure the success of these ventures? While the metrics may be different for each social leader, Louis Boorstin, a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) expert, defines success for a social enterprise in terms of three equally important goals:

  • Impact: Does it demonstrably improve the health and socio-economic well being of the poor?
  • Sustainability: Does it have enough resources to keep running for many years?
  • Scale: Does it have the potential to reach millions of people?

The landscape of social enterprise is strewn with tales of struggle.In the pursuit of the first goal, many leaders find it difficult  to chase other two goals simultaneously. No doubt that lack of funds is a major challenge for organisations to succeed, but with various financing options available, social leaders often manage to overcome these resource constraints. The leaders of these social entrepreneurial organizations, however, have countless other tasks to manage and balls to juggle. Problems like inefficient distribution, ineffective supply chains, the inability to grow customer bases, inadequate pricing models, or an absence of economies of scale creep in. Fine tuning business models, growing customer bases, converting one-time users to regular customers requires strong expertise, which the founding team may not possess. An organisation focused on developing a technology to reduce water consumption in farms, clean cook-stoves; often finds it challenging to create a market of these unmet needs. And yet, only a few solutions have achieved impressive scale and by doing so have been able to improve the lives of millions of people.

On the other hand, partnerships with sector specialists or government bodies creates an opportunity for these accelerator companies to identify and address specific challenges that would otherwise go untackled. The idea here is not merely a consulting business (where partners consult via teleconferencing or moving to client office for a week) or a corporate social responsibility side project that is restricted to investing financial resources, but rather a co-creation process – a time consuming one, indeed.

Here are some examples of how a right partnership can ignite a movement of social change at the systemic level.


  • Power of Networks: Co-creating with experts

Toilet Board Coalition(TBC) is a global alliance of corporations, government agencies, multilateral institutions, sanitation experts and non-profit organisations, with a unifying goal of improving sanitation, to catalyze and accelerate scalable market-based initiatives by leveraging the best of the member’s networks, assets, capabilities, and financial resources.

Svadha, a subsidiary of eKutir is an Indian social business that provides a comprehensive sanitation solution for low-income rural consumers in India. The company trains and supports local entrepreneurs who manufacture latrine components, market them in villages and offer installation and after-sales service. While finding funding to scale up is a daunting task; Svadha also faces the challenge of increasing consumer demand and improving the revenue of entrepreneurs, which requires entrepreneurs to sell 300 toilets an year for Svadha to break-even in 2 years time. How did they approach the problem?

Under the umbrella of TBC, Svadha partnered with Unilever for testing marketing approaches to accelerate toilet adoption, while Kimberly-Clark committed to drive greater consumer engagement through more targeted communication strategies. Alliances such as TBC underscore the tremendous potential the marriage of corporate and philanthropic worlds can bring and ensure that all  partner organisation are same level focused on improving the lives of people(in this case through providing better access to sanitation facilities). Leveraging the expertise of private players help the organisation receive the guidance for widespread adoption, while, private sectors on the other hand benefit by developing a greater knowledge of  understanding and deepening their relationship with consumers from emerging economies.

  • Outsourcing expertise for achieving Best Practices

Global Fund had channeled close to US  $1billion for AIDS prevention program in Tanzania, but getting the medicines to the last mile had always been a challenge due to poor infrastructure. The ubiquitous presence of Coca-Cola bottles was an insight for development practitioners to use Coke’s expertise in solving the distribution problem. Coke has in the past helped organisation to distribute malaria bed nets and condoms to the rural village, However, unlike in the past, the challenge here was to improve reach of their more than 3000 different, yet expensive drugs, with storage specification.

With many decades of experience working in rural markets of Africa, Coke decided that instead of lending its vehicles to supply life saving pharmaceuticals, it would share knowledge of their supply-chain management capabilities. Coca-Cola, in partnership with country’s Medical Stores Department (MSD), mapped out health facilities (approximately 5,000 of them), using software to organize distribution, training workers and advising MSD on route planning, scheduling and the best types of vehicle to use to reach small, faraway villages. The project also tapped into the Coca-Cola ecosystem of suppliers and service providers to leverage their input and specialized skills.

Result: The new management information system enabled MSD to supply directly to the network health facility whenever a request is made, instead of delivering to its 500 odd warehouses with limited capacity and infrastructure to store these medicines.The program, launched in 2010, was so successful across Tanzania, Ghana and Mozambique, that Coke is planning to expand its support into additional countries.

Apart from creating value and offering a competitive advantage, the Project is aiming to achieve reduced mortality and improved well-being of its own employees, for Coke is the third-largest employer in Africa.

  • Avoid the Prejudice Trap: It’s all a Game of coordination

When individuals/organisations/businesses/charities/governments pre-judge each other’s habits, inaction often is the result. Businesses are often seen as short-term minded and exploitative, governments as inefficient and bureaucratic,NGOs and charities as naïve and inefficient. But Swapnil Chaturvedi of Samagra Sanitation eliminated these prejudices when, instead of building new toilets, he decided to revamp existing municipality toilets while liaising with Pune government (they call this their SMART partnership philosophy). This wasn’t a part of Swapnil’s  original plan;  he was initially converting toilet waste into biogas while generating revenue from the waste or building modern toilets. Both ideas were discarded because of lack of space in urban India or financial sustainability. However, unlike many public private partnerships, where there’s no incentive for maintaining or running these toilets, here initial capital expenditure is covered by these partnerships. Meanwhile in return for operating these toilets, local women are hired from the community and earn 100% of the revenue collected.

Organisations, networks,and government should foster a culture of ongoing interactions with people from other sectors and collaborate to develop new structures and business models that can be replicated.The commitment demands time and extended effort. But for those with an appetite to buy into the risk, there is a tremendous potential for social ventures to scale and create a massive impact.

SocialCops: Speaking the language of Technology+Changemaking


In the past, governments and charitable organizations have been making efforts to address social problems such as poverty, lack of education, and disease; but those good intentions do not always translate into action. While innovative impact enterprises have been the engines of change, measuring the effectiveness of a social program has always been a constraint for receiving funding from donors. As Harvard Business School’s Robert Kaplan and Allen Grossman argued in  “The Emerging Capital Market for Nonprofits, investments in social causes will remain chronically inefficient unless the social sector comes up with transparent ways to measure, report, and monitor social outcomes.

In India, decennial census(encoded with information on village level employment levels, number of schools and health centers) is often relied upon by key decision makers- government, policy makers or non-profits. Undoubtedly, these information are  often outdated for usage and cannot be mapped to real time situation. Moreover, it’s a time consuming process to extract and present these information into a more-useable formats(based on my personal experience, while developing a social baseline for an impact assessment project).

Advances in data collection and analysis is thus essential to push the needle to drive evidence based decision making, while charting an ideal opportunity for the private investors to shift tooutcome based financing, an efficient funding model to drive systemic level change.

SocialCops is a data and analytics startup that processes discrete data points to derive insights enabling decision makers to make data-driven decisions. Apart from analysis and extraction of secondary data( available online), it collects primary data(realtime) through a network of mobile-enabled human sensors enabling them to track information like teacher attendance in public schools, quality of public infrastructure, and access to medical care on a continuous basis.

While they have been doing tremendous work with data, let me draw your attention to some  of their communication-outreach and people management gimmicks that social enterprises can implement in order to broaden their social impact. These pointers aren’t set in stone as a must do for a successful impact enterprise, but definitely some good actions which any organisation can follow and imbibe in their culture.


Social Cops is one of the companies which was born with the mission of solving social problems through data. While most social enterprise are directly working towards improving education, health and overall livelihood, here is this company which is trying to solve the root cause of all the problems a decision maker might face, such as, which district of India has lowest literacy levels in order to start a school?, how many toilets in a city are dysfunctional, or which village has highest level of malnutrition among children?. Unfortunately most decisions in India are made in the dark,for they are determined based on limited available data of 10 year census (often of low validity). SocialCops has carved a niche in the field by not only enabling policy makers or a bureaucrat to take better decision but also providing rich data for thought to the future changemakers, who are often strapped for cash and time to conduct a survey.


Usage of technology in this organisation is restricted not just to data analyst, a graphic illustrator or to a digital marketer, but the field workers(often the staffs of the local NGO), who may never have had an experience of using a touch sensitive device. SocialCops understands that field data collection is a complex process which often requires lots of time, money, and human resource, but could be a cakewalk with the intervention of technology (The article clearly indicates the savings made if you choose technology over traditional pen and paper method). In an attempt to empower and technically train the next billion, Socialcops opted for human centered route to design tools for data collection. The tablets provided for field data collectors are tailored to the needs of first time users and the trainings are focused to remove any apprehensions among the field workers. Surprisingly, post training, workers were more receptive to the technology mode over the traditional one.


Impact enterprise, typically are at a greater advantage over a for-profit corporate venture, in terms of endorsing their mission and values while connecting better with people, who tend to remember their cause for the longest time.Impact enterprises, apart from working towards their social mission, should believe in advocating their brand and cause to the wider audience, and rally together to engage and educate the public.

Since its inception, SocialCops have been actively undertaking campaigns and flash mobs;  I Lead Ranchi, Steer to Safety, Waste Collection Drive, to name a few, and have received immense participation, attracting favorable publicity from the citizens and bureaucrats.

I Lead Ranchi, was one of a campaign to highlight to the Mayor of the poor street lighting conditions and consequently the high crime rates in Ranchi. Socialcops were able to map the areas with broken streetlights and the cause was supported by an installation of more than 2000 street lights, with a spending close to 20 million.

Building on the success of that first campaign, SocialCops launched, I Clean India application, a crowdsourcing platform where citizens shared pictures of unclean spots in their city and data was used to identify the cleanest five streets of the Municipal Ward, with performance recognition for the “Best Karamcharis (Workers) for the Month”. Through this initiative, the organisation, not just delivered a surprising customer experience while communicating some good work but also earned some love from the street cleaners for providing them the well deserved respect.


Impact enterprises are often under-marketed. Alongside managing the organisation, sociopreneurs are on a lookout  either for an investment or hiring the right team, that sometimes marketing and advertising take a back seat. The bitter truth is that, many sociopreneurs refrain from marketing; as it is known to cost an arm and a leg, and any additional spending on it is not considered worthwhile. Sadly, it’s a myth.

At SocialCops, everyone is a storyteller and the culture speak of itself through their blog. Blogs are an excellent and inexpensive way for a social venture to let people connect to stories and highlight issues and content that you care about. Apart from blogs, social enterprises should use social media to their advantage, which will allows them to engage and respond to the audience.

SocialCops have been using blogs, infographics, videos, ebooks, slideshare notes to communicate the power of data for good.


So when i refer change-making, does it limit only to the change this organisation creates in the society using big data? Ofcourse not. Their fluid organisation culture was the most striking feature for me and I am personally awed by their strong culture(honestly, my main motivation, for why i chose to write about SocialCops). Most social enterprise have a myopic view of making a good business as they focus only on their wider social mission , while ignoring the scaffoldings(culture) over which the organisation is built. A strong culture after all foster innovation and collaboration, and even attract talent. Period. Broadly speaking of that, here are some key areas, where SocialCops have been doing great

Attracting Talent using catchy taglines: “We are not hiring employees, we are building a team of superheroes”, is the first catch for millennials who chase for purpose, not just paycheck. Moreover, SocialCops doesn’t look only for the cookie-cutter candidates who have the exact skills to fill a specific role, instead most of the times they offer a new position which is best suited for the candidate, they wish to hire. Needless to say, their mentions on social media( 4,000 upvotes on Quora) have been able to bring and retain some of the best talent, which consequently helps organisation build a brand name for themselves, thereby creating a domino effect.

Team of Teams Approach: A Team of Teams approach necessitates that everyone be oriented around the common problem ( as opposed to individual roles or responsibility) and this entails that everyone at some moment play past their positions if/when necessary to overcome the problem at hand, cites Bill Drayton, CEO and Founder of Ashoka, the world’s largest global network of social entrepreneurs. SocialCops have been representing this new paradigm where employees propose their own job descriptions, encouraged to take up new roles and  chalk out responsibilities matching for one’s own strengths. It is known that when organizations empower fluid and open teams with distributed accountability and decision-making, the effect is twofold: They infuse passion and purpose among their workforce and they set themselves up to solve problems nimbly and quickly.

Celebrating failure: What if a company instead of sending you a threatening email , marks your failure memory in the failure wall? Sounds strange, but study shows that it’s effective, probably more than celebrating success.Jeffrey Stibel, Chairman and CEO of Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. and author of Breakpoint and Wired for Thought, advocates that it is an effort to create an organization that learns just as the brain does; through failures. Learning through failures is desired because when you fail, you know why you failed and usually will not make that mistake again.


This post is my another attempt to unleash the potential of a social enterprise and unlock key takeaways for my readers.

Disclosure: My post is purely based on my readings on SocialCops, while i have no experience working with the organisation or had any direct interaction with the SocialCops team. I would request the readers to share their experience if any and contribute to this conversation.