Sustainability Inc – A Case For Profitability In Charity

Can ‘Marketing’ and thereby a monetary value exchange  have a major role to play in non profits, NGOs and charities?  2 recent examples seem to prove a point.

Once Again

Once Again is a Bangalore based NGO that stands out for two reasons:

1. It accepts donations only in the form of old items. Not money.

2. It uses social media in a unique, relevant and a compelling way to trigger ‘action’ for its cause.

See its case study here:

The brilliance of their social media campaign to rake in donations notwithstanding, the big idea for me here is their fundamental business model: It collects items people don’t use anymore, and instead of donating these to the needy, it sells them at a  price (although minimal) to the underprivileged and uses this money for the empowerment of their community.

The exchange of monetary value in this equation triggers a chain reaction from ‘donation of the giver‘ to the ‘dignity of the receiver‘ while making the whole model sustainable. 

Cola Life

Can a crate of Coke save life? Most Likely – proves ColaLife, whose concept can be explained in 100 words as:

“You can buy a Coca-Cola virtually anywhere in developing countries but in these same places 1 in 9 children die before their 5th birthday from simple, preventable causes like dehydration from diarrhoea.

ColaLife, an independent non-profit, is working with Coca-Cola to open their distribution channels in developing countries to carry ‘social products’ – oral rehydration salts and Zinc supplements – to save children’s lives.”

Get a low down on its business model here.

The big idea for me here is two fold:

1. The design of AidPods: The oral rehydration salts (ORS) in the ColaLife network are distributed in specially designed packs called as AidPods. These are  wedge-shaped containers that are designed to fit within the unused space of a coke crate, i.e., between the necks of the bottles. The design of the AidPod also serves as a contaier for the salts, as a measure for water, as a storage device and as a cup for drinking the ORS. No wonder it won the Product Design of the Year Award for 2013.

Yamoyo Kit

2. The ‘Social Marketing’ Model: At the heart of ColaLife is its ‘Social Marketing Model’ –  in which users value the product more because they pay for it. (ORS products are typically provided free of charge by medical centres in Africa, but are frequently unavailable and misused as there is virtually no monetary exchange taking place at any stage of the value chain). As this FT article says,

“the idea was to copy Coca-Cola’s model, which includes giving financial in­cen­tives along the supply chain from factory to store in order to ensure that people at all stages are rewarded for getting the drink to the customer. By turning a public health commodity – the salt and sugar mix – into a branded consumer product and using marketing to create demand, everyone would benefit, and help make the project sustainable.”

These are just a few of several recent examples out there that have one point to prove:  ‘Marketing’ and thereby a monetary value exchange do and should have a major role to play in non profits, NGOs, humanitarian agencies and charities  in order to remain sustainable and have truly far reaching consequences to the needy.

In his recent TED talk, Dan Palotta  nails it when he says: “Business will move the mass of humanity forward, but will always leave behind that 10% of the most disadvantaged and unlucky- which is why we need philanthropy and nonprofits. But the non profit sector as we know it doesn’t seem to be working.”

And that begets the question – couldn’t the nonprofit sector use the same strategies as the businesses to sustainably serve the needy?   

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