One of the shortcomings of social marketing and social change programs is the lack of attention given to their business models. This deficiency is brought into the sunshine when conversations about a program turn to maintaining or sustaining it. These worries are code for 'the grant money is running about and we're not going to get continuation funding from our donor' (whether it is a government agency, philanthropic organization or a corporate or private benefactor). One of the challenges for any social marketing or change program is to develop sustainability. Yet, this often means looking for a new source of funding rather than changing the business model of the program.
Although this problem is by no means restricted to social marketing programs in the developing world, it is here where I see more experimentation with creating sustainable models for interventions and behavior change (or product use). For example, in the past few years there has been a lot of interest in social entrepreneurship, micro-financing and bottom-of-the-pyramid business models as alternatives to the virtual monopoly by the grant-making bodies - though in all fairness, some of these organizations are beginning to stimulate the search for more viable and sustainable approaches to social change.
The foundation finds nurses and community health workers who put up a small amount of their own money to buy into a clinic or shop as a franchisee of HSF. The foundation provides up to 88 percent of the capital and gives four weeks of intensive training in marketing and management, as well as some medical training. To recoup capital costs, HSF charges a markup on the essential medicines the clinics sell.
When I think about a franchising model like this, the idea about now being able to build a potentially sustainable program that includes quality control measures and requires the staff to pay close attention to the marketplace, and benefit when they do, is an appealing option. Sure beats the 'we have 2 more years left on this grant, better start writing (a proposal or your resume)' - if you can make it work. But the research needed to figure out better business models and how to transition from one to another in a social change program's life cycle is way behind what the need is.
Says a recent Columbia Business School analysis: “The HealthStore micro-franchise model gives local entrepreneurs the opportunity to own and operate sustainable, profitable businesses while simultaneously curtailing incentives for corruption…. By aligning the incentives of customers, government regulators and owner-operators, HealthStore’s franchise model is able to deliver a high quality of care to previously underserved Kenyans while realizing a healthy return on investment.”
'A billion mosquito nets served?'