Cleaning out my desk before leaving PlaNet Finance, I came across a promotional flyer for an EnerGcare product called the Wonderbag. A Wonderbag is essentially an insulation cooker – you heat food in a pot and then transfer it to the Wonderbag to finish cooking – this saves users fuel and money, especially on traditional stews and other delicacies that take hours to cook.
The Wonderbag has been successful due in part to its packaging – it comes in bright colors with African prints that appeal to consumers. Also, the company customizes its sales pitch for each market; for example, their South African flyers show a table with cooking times for:
- Root vegetables
- Cow Intestines (Malamogudu)
- Cow Head (Namayahlogo)
Sounds delicious, huh? But this reinforces an important point – to reach consumers at the BOP, you need to understand their lifestyle, and unless you live there, this can be very difficult.
To an outsider, problems in the townships may seem overwhelming, but for the people in these communities, this is their life. They have their struggles but they can also find happiness in everyday activities, like meeting the ladies for tea or organizing a play date for the kids.
For EnerGcare, the key to success will be in finding the right people who can truly understand and relate to this market, and I believe their approach of hiring local entrepreneurs is the best way to accomplish this. These micro-entrepreneurs are the ones who best understand the community’s needs, and can in turn speak about the benefits of EnerGcare products in a way that motivates customers.
As I reflect on my experiences in South Africa, I believe I am coming away with a new perspective about what poverty, as well as what well-being, really means to the BOP community, and I hope I can use this understanding to continue to ignite change in this area.
For a family of six that shares one bed in a one room shack, a solar light is not going to transform their entire world, but it can make it a whole lot better. And instead of getting overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems, I believe if we all pitch in to make small changes where it really counts, we can make life easier for those who need it most.
A special thanks to the all of the readers who followed me on this journey, as well as to my friends at PlaNet Finance for making my time in South Africa so memorable!