Hurdles of a last mile distribution
Being part of Solar Sister has given me a chance to travel my country to try and impact change in the communities I work with.
However, like any young organisation, a social enterprise where our impact is to be felt at the grassroot, we find it difficult or face some challenges in the field.
Some of our challenges are;
1. Poor road network - coming from a third world Country, we have roads that are not favorable at all, we move to different parts of the country trying to recruit Solar Sisters and bringing change to these communities, but travelling to the deeper parts of the villages where our change would be most felt, can be challenging. Plus we have to think about how we will have to constantly send inventory and support to these places - to keep the network growing.
2. A culture of 'NGO' mentality - As a young Social enterprise we find out that we struggle a lot with trying to empower and educate people about what a Social enterprise is, most of the culture has been killed by NGO's who have come in the past to 'hand out' free things to people, which in a long run are not sustainable at all, a friend of mine told me this saying "If someone gives you a horse as a gift, you do not count it's teeth" but if you bought one, you would care to see how many teeth it has! In simple terms meaning that something that you get for free, you do not care a lot about, but if you pay for something or have some bit of involvement in it, then you feel it's value. We are trying so hard to break this cycle and people are starting to get it.
3. Competition from low cost Chinese products - Our other biggest challenge is the existence of cheap and short lasting Chinese products on the market, trying to bring in our products that we know are durable and we offer warranty for, plus training and maintenance has been hard. But we are gaining a lot of acceptance, but it is hard work.
Those are some of the challenges we face in trying to impact our community, and the way we try to go over them is , we try to show the people the value of working together to achieve social impact. We train women to learn that they can be greater people by taking part and offering their time to sell solar products.
In terms of competition we demonstrate how the products we promote are one of the best products in the market, backed up my evidence and reports from people who have used them. We also try as much as possible to have a great working relationship with all of our product dealers and they are helpful in helping us give our customers value for their money.
I believe such a community can help me go past some of the challenges we face by offering their experiences, I know there maybe links or people who do similar grassroot kind of projects and may have faced similar barriers like mine and can advise accordingly in any aspect.
I would be specifically interested in knowing how someone has used mobile phones to reach last mile networks, in the most cost effective way, maybe using free solutions or solutions that are cost effective and good for community development projects. Mobile phones is a big big part of our network, we use the mobile phones to communicate to ladies, and they communicating back to us for Inventory, payments, orders etc.