Saturday, October 9, 2010


The TEDxChange conference was sponsored by the Gates Foundation to promote awareness and support of the Millennium Development Goals and was convened in New York City during the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals Summit (September 20-22, 2010). 2010 marks the 10th anniversary of the adoption of United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.  The MDGs, as they’re affectionately known, set out goals to wipe out poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, empower women and reduce child mortality by 2015. However, they’re not widely known.  You can click here if you went to refresh yourself on the details of the goals.  I attended one of many local events around the world where you could 'attend' the event by live webcast.

Melinda Gates said that there was much to celebrate on progress to meet the goals but that there was much left to be done.  And she proffered advice on how we could meet the Goals:  social organizations focused on global development, rather than having total contempt for business organizations, should consider emulating the strategy and tactics used by successful corporations.  Gates  chose Coca Cola as the archetypical successful global organization and compared and contrasted how it was .  In a typical Gates analytic fashion (I guess it runs in the family), she laid out three tactics used by Coke for reaching their goals and showed how these tactics could work for social organizations as well.

Real Time Data

Business enterprises are run with a keen eye on real time data – Coke knows exactly how many bottles they’ve sold on a daily basis and where they were sold.  In contrast, the typical development project gets evaluated at the end of a project.  While the project is underway, it’s like bowling in the dark.  You can hear the pins falling, but you’re not sure which ones, until the lights come on after you’ve finished.  “Real time data turns on the lights” Says gates.    You can only optimize development projects if you get a stream of real time data that allows you to continuously adjust for success.

This is clearly the approach Melinda and Bill Gates have taken with their philanthropy efforts.  They started with deep and thorough analysis of data to determine how their foundation could make the most impact on the world.  They focused on what they saw as the highest-gain activities, and they continue to analyze the success of their efforts through intense data analysis.

Local Entrepreneurship

Coke, like many other American companies, originally tried to enter new developing markets by exporting US business practices, but the results were mediocre.   By 1990, Coke was training local entrepreneurs; they even lent them money to get their businesses off the ground.  They now have 15,000 such entrepreneurs in Africa.  In Tanzania, 90% of their total sales come from entrepreneurs selling Coke from push carts.

This idea is being applied to the development world too.  A great example can be seen in Ethiopia’s health extension program.  Since 2003, Ethiopia has trained 35,000 heath extension workers who bring the ratio of health works to population from 1 in 30,000 to 1 in 250.  They reach the millions of people living in remote villages in the country who previously had no access to healthcare.

Aspirational Marketing

Intensive and pervasive marketing has been a key to Coke’s success around the world. Gates argues for the same kind of marketing to development projects.  We were treated to a clip of Wavin’ Flag and reminiscence about I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing

How could the lessons learned from Coke’s marketing be applied to the development projects?  Perhaps by stressing positive aspirational messages instead of minatory messages.  For instance, instead of sermonizing about the perils of open sewage, how about an ad campaign that gives some sex appeal to toilets?  Sex appeal and toilets, you say?  In one state in India, young women are encouraged to seek husbands who have a toilet.  The campaign’s slogan is  “No loo, no I do”. 

 Mellinda ended on a positive note, speaking of the potential in the futureto improve the world, if we’re willing to accept tried and tested ideas for success as practised by successful organizations in any arena.

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