From Coca-Cola to A Better Sanitation #2

(Previous: From Coca-Cola to A Better Sanitation #1)

So let’s start with the data.

Now Coke has a very clear bottom line – they report to a set of shareholders, they have to turn a profit. So they take the data, and they use it to measure progress. They have this very continuous feedback loop. They have a whole team called “Knowledge and Insight”. It’s a lot like other consumer companies. So, if you’re running Namibia for Coca-Cola, and you have a 107 constituencies, you know where every can versus bottle of sprite, Fanta, or Coke was sold, whether it was a corner store, a supermarket, or a pushcart. So if sales start to drop, then the person can identify the problem and address the issue.

Let’s contrast that to sanitation project from the government. In government, the evaluation comes at the very end of the project. It’s way too late to use the data. Bowling in the dark. They said, “You roll the ball, you hear some pins go down. It’s dark, you can’t see which one goes down until the lights come on, and then you see your impact.”. Real-time data turns on the lights.

What’s the second thing that Coke’s good at? Tapping into that local entrepreneurial talent.

Coke’s been in Africa since 1928, but most of the time they couldn’t reach the distant markets, because they had a system that was a lot like in the developed world, which was a large truck rolling down the street. And in Africa, the remote places, it’s hard to find a good road. But Coke noticed something – they noticed that local people were taking the product, buying it in bulk, and then reselling it in these hard-to-reach places. And so they took a bit of time to learn about that. And they decided in 1990 that they wanted to start training the local entrepreneurs, giving them small loans. They set them up as what they called micro-distribution centers, and those local entrepreneurs then hire sales people, who go out with bicycles and pushcarts and wheelbarrows to sell the product. There are now some 3,000 of these centers employing about 15,000 people in Africa. In Tanzania and Uganda they represent 90 percent of Coke’s sales. Let’s look at the sanitation project.

Governments and NGOs need to tap into that local entrepreneurial talent as well, because locals know how to reach their neighbors and they know what motivates them to make change. An example of this is a sanitation program held by Unilever, Project Sunlight. In Indonesia, one of the activities is educating children about basic sanitation, like washing hands and brushing teeth, which is held in elementary schools around Indonesia. Some of my friends joined this activity as volunteers who educate the elementary school students. Here, we can say that the unpaid volunteers are the entrepreneurial talents who are willing to share knowledge as Unilever itself can’t reach elementary school students to educate them about sanitation directly. That’s how you tap into local entrepreneurial talent and you unlock people’s potential.

The third component of Coke’s success is marketing. Ultimately, Coke’s success depends on one crucial fact and that is that people want a Coca-Cola. Now the reason these micro-entrepreneurs can sell or make a profit is they have to sell every single bottle in their pushcart or their wheelbarrow. So, they rely on Coca-Cola in terms of its marketing, and what’s the secret to their marketing? Well, it’s aspirational. It is associated that product with a kind of life that people want to live. So even though it’s a global company, they take a very local approach. Coke’s global campaign slogan is “Open Happiness”. But they localize it. And they don’t just guess what makes people happy; they go to places like Latin America and they realize that happiness there is associated with family life. And in South Africa, they associate happiness with seriti or community respect.

So, how does governments and NGOs market? Well, it’s based on avoidance, not aspirations. Messages like, “Wash your hands, you might not get diarrhea.” and so on. That’s how they do. But, I think it’s not effective. We can learn from Coca-Cola’s marketing that would make a sanitation solution get a result in diarrhea. Well, you work with the community. You start to talk to them about why open defecation is something that shouldn’t be done in the village, and they agree to that. But then you take the toilet and you position it as a modern, trendy convenience. One state in Northern India has gone so far as to link toilets to courtship. And it works. Women are refusing to marry men without toilets. No loo, no “I do”.

Well, why is all of these so important? So, let’s talk about what happens when this all comes together, when you tie the three things together.

(Next: From Coca-Cola to A Better Sanitation #3)

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