Going the last mile
Getting to most of the world’s population isn’t easy. The road that takes you there isn’t paved, but a dirt path, overgrown with vegetation, barely big enough to get your bicycle or motor bike down. In some seasons, the path becomes mud, sucking at your tires and shoes, making each yard a chore. But if we are going to solve poverty, this is the most important distance to travel: the Last Mile.
Poor people aren’t poor because they choose to be. They’re poor because of circumstances. For most of the world’s poor, those circumstances involve distances that prevent their easy access to crucial products or services that would help them to lead healthier lives. Distances that prevent them from obtaining better seeds and fertilizers, accessing water, and taking their harvest to market before it spoils. Their profits can evaporate because of the cost of transportation.
These are the customers that iDE has worked with for decades in over eleven different countries. For example, in Nepal we work with communities miles from the nearest road, whose residents rely on goats to get their produce to the market. In Ethiopia, we reach areas where sanitation sales agents often travel over twelve miles by bicycle to make a single latrine sale. Across Central America, Africa, and Asia, we’ve learned to listen to these customers to understand the unique barriers faced by remote communities. We’ve had to be innovators to help small businesses bridge that last mile between urban centers and the rural poor, with opportunities for fair profit along the way.
It takes a special expertise, which we’ve cultivated over decades, to build markets that are inclusive of the most remote people.
We’ve learned how Commercial Pockets can create hubs of exchange and empower cooperatives of female farmers at the same time. Through joining together in groups of 15-25, small farmers are able to increase their market presence. Together, they pool their harvest to be more attractive to larger buyers and gain a voice with government decision makers.
A great product is just the beginning. In order for it to succeed, we need to build a supply chain that connects the first mile with the last mile.
We’ve developed networks of Farm Business Advisors (FBAs) who bundle seed and irrigation equipment with personal advice and service that enable farmers to get the best return on their investment. We’ve partnered with microfinance institutions to make products affordable by spreading the cost out over time. And we’ve discovered that beyond the last mile is the “last step”—the crucial face-to-face meeting where a rural customer is convinced to spend his or her scarce resources on a life-changing product versus maintaining the status quo.
As marathon runners know, the last mile is often the hardest. But it’s also the most rewarding, because at the end of it is the victory banner.