Thousands of humanitarian enterprises are providing first-time access to vital technologies including solar light sets, clean cookstoves, and water filtration units through micro-enterprise programs all over the world. They can come in many forms such as micro-franchise and micro-consignment models. If you’re setting up a micro-enterprise or poverty alleviation program that provides products that can help improve people’s quality of life, congratulations! Here’s some advice to help you choose a great product.
The Best Price For Humanitarian Supplies
You’ve got the distribution model and the last mile covered; now all you need are the right products. Perhaps you’ve been piloting a few products targeted at different segments from low-income households to up-market ones. Regardless, you’ll want to get the best pricing you can, but don’t always choose the cheaper product. The race to the bottom can deliver cheap alternatives, but quality may suffer. Buy a few samples from different suppliers first and test. The upfront costs of sampling and testing can save you money in the long run. If you’re going to be importing (and not buying) and reselling locally, you can buy samples and have them transported via air directly to you. Get multiple quotes from suppliers and compare. It will be worth your time.
Many suppliers also offer non-profit discounts. Price it out before you fund-raise or secure a loan for the program so you know exactly the costs you’ll be needing to cover.
Tip: Sometimes suppliers have dead inventory they want to offload because they’ve launched a new product. This is an opportunity for you to take the inventory at a good discount and for them to move products to make room for new inventory.
Always Choose Quality
Make sure that the products have been tested and verified by a third party somewhere. Ask not only for specifications but certifications. Certifications such as Lighting Global’s Quality Standards and the IWA tiers for clean cookstoves can give you peace of mind knowing that the product has been rigorously tested. Factors such as durability and water resistance will matter in certain environments. And be sure to ask if the products were field tested and, if so, where. What type of customer feedback was given? It may be affordable and user-friendly, but does it break easily? Is there a warranty? Does it perform as advertised?
Source Close To Home
Most of these technologies come from other countries, although great strides are being made to bolster local manufacturing and social innovation in developing countries. Even if importing, you have options, so try to get the supplies as close to the source of your program as possible. This not only supports local innovation but it will also reduce shipping costs and times. What’s more, you want to be sure the supplier you work with is able to produce consistent quality for you and is communicative and responsive to your needs.
Shipping Humanitarian Supplies
Understand the basics of shipping and logistics to get your product into the country! In most cases, the manufacturer or distributor will take care of the shipping for you, but be aware of any import conditions. And if you’re unsure, ask. For example, some countries in Africa will only allow certain energy products to be imported, whereby the product’s verification sheet is examined by customs officials at the point of import.
Assuming you may be negotiating on behalf of a micro-enterprise or development program, if you buy in bulk you will often get a significant break on pricing. If you’re importing supplies, take your time and ship by sea. You’ll get the best pricing with a container load or LCL (less than container load). Check out our shipping blogs on Air vs. Sea and Customs.
What’s Your Impact Goals?
Choosing your product depends on what kind of impact you want to make. Do you want to increase incomes? Reduce indoor air pollution? Increase safety and security? Empower women’s health? Prevent malaria?
Once you’ve answered this question you’ll then need to be able to measure your impact. You know this and we’re not going to bore you here with the details of how to establish measurements, but yes indeed, all funders and investors will want to know this. So determine what you’ll measure and how you’ll measure it at the very beginning. Seek out expertise if you need it because much will hinge on your ability to deliver and prove you made a difference. There are a lot of impact consultants and M&E professionals out there.
Be prepared to answer the question, “What’s the quantifiable impact of the technology on your customer base or beneficiaries?” You can provide the cost, the number of lives “impacted” and knock-on effects such as reduced kerosene usage or increase in incomes. And of course – share your success stories with The Level Market and the rest of the humanitarian community!
Creating and running micro-franchise and entrepreneur programs is not a job for the impatient or weary. But it most certainly is a worthwhile one and with candid advice and guidance from those who have gone before (such as the staff at The Level Market!), you may be on the path to creating long-term, sustainable economic growth, and job creation.