By Luca Crudeli, DAI
This blog post originally appeared on the BEAM Exchange on February 26, 2017
Operating in a donor intensive environment can limit the effectiveness of our programmes when implementing partners and clients (the donors) face conflicting incentives. How can practitioners best manage the situation?
Practitioners often find themselves operating in environments that are saturated with development initiatives, and that receive support from a number of different external agents. Sometimes we work with beneficiaries (“partners" in M4P jargon) or with programmes that have similar goals and objectives to ours, or even on programmes that are managed by the same implementing agencies and on behalf of the same clients, but with which we struggle to collaborate.
In this blog I will share my insights on how practitioners can best work with others by focusing on three different scenarios, one of high official development assistance (ODA), one with competing market system development (MSD) programmes, and one where donor support comes in a politically charged environment. I hope these three ideal-types can be the starting point of a structured discussion on how to better implement a programme in a donor-intensive environment.
I have been fortunate to work in various countries where the challenges of donor coordination have been of different types. This includes Tanzania in the early 2000s, when the country was the darling of development and almost every agency was present; and Nigeria, where DFID increased programme funding from £35 million in 2003–04 to £120 million in 2009–10 with the consequent increased pressure to spend. I have also worked in Zimbabwe, where the development space is dominated by political pressure, and the need for donors to (or not to) put their face, and flag on the things they do; and in the Solomon Islands where Australia’s long-term presence has created different types of political pressure. I am now in Mozambique, which is on the verge of a major financial crisis, and where bilateral partners seem to prioritise direct support, in order, it seems, to gain political influence to protect current and future investments in the country’s nascent gas industry.
Three scenarios will be reviewed that show how concentrated donor activity constitutes a tangible environmental variable for a market systems development programme to consider and manage. These scenarios are:
1. The country receives a significant amount of aid, both in monetary terms and in terms of the number of donors present – i.e. intense donor presence;
2. The country has a significant number of MSD programmes operating, and possibly competing with each other – i.e. high density of MSD programmes;
3. The political relationships between the donors and the recipient country are complex – i.e. charged political environment.
I will unpack each of these scenarios based on the effects that it has on the prevailing incentives driving three distinct sets of stakeholders:
1. Donor agencies (usually the “clients” for practitioners);
2. Implementing agencies (often the consulting firm which wins the bid to implement a project);
3. Partners or beneficiaries.
The scenarios below are simplified for the purposes of discussion. Reality is usually more complex, and the challenges outlined in each scenario may in fact overlap. For each scenario I propose some possible remedies. I welcome your comments on these.
Scenario 1. Intense donor presenceIn this case, “intensity" is measured in terms of number of donor agencies operating in the country, and the amount of ODA per capita spent on the country. A typical case is Tanzania, where, by 2007, ODA had climbed to about US$70 per person, compared to the sub-Saharan African average of less than US$50. A number of donors were very active in the country at that time (most still are), with the World Bank, DFID and the Scandinavian countries leading.
If you have worked in Tanzania, you may know that it is an environment where partners/beneficiaries can “shop around” for support, and where donors almost seem to compete with each other. One method used by donors to mitigate competition is to increase donor coordination. In practice, this sees donors pool funds together to resource joint projects. This has the benefit of improving coordination but also risks creating projects with large budgets, and complex reporting requirements (each contributing donor usually has specific reporting formats and timing). This approach can also mean that the strategic visions of the programmes are compromised and may therefore be weak.
My experience of this was in coordinating the Tanzania Private Sector Competitiveness Project, a World Bank project that pooled funding together with DFID, DANIDA, RNE, and SIDA. Joining resources resulted in a budget of over US$120 million, but also led to different opinions about how to achieve impact, and in particular about whether to build local capacity and institutions, or simply to push the government directly for policy change. Similar tensions are still experienced in Tanzania today, by the donors that are jointly supporting the SAGCOT initiative.
Donors' prevailing incentives
In this scenario the primary objective of donors is to manage a large pipeline and achieve expenditure targets. Donors therefore aim to have reports that show rapid progress, so that they can justify their ambitious expenditure plans. There is pressure to spend, but not necessarily pressure to raise the donor’s political profile through spending activities – which differs from the scenarios discussed below. Demonstrating attribution is important, but primarily for the purpose of justifying increased spending and the design and tender of new projects.
Implementers’ prevailing incentives
A country with an environment like this is obviously an attractive market for international implementers, given the volume of donor resources available. Consulting companies have a strong incentive to build a track record in the country, and to be as visible and high-profile as possible, to help gain future contracts. The consequent high level of competition among implementers can make it difficult for projects to collaborate with each other, particularly if they are implemented by competing firms.
The amount of foreign aid inflow creates a local aid industry, that supports a growing number of local consultants, but also a growing number of non-sustainable organisations. These include donor-funded business and civil society organisations, think-tanks and even private sector companies, all of which are dependent on the development industry.
More broadly, easy access to donor funds may nurture a sense of entitlement for handouts. When I was in Tanzania, for example, no government employee would perform activities pertaining to a donor-funded programme (even if these were part of regular government duties) unless they were paid by the programme (usually in the form of allowances). In the Niger Delta, a similar sense of entitlement is found among local communities and local small businesses, because CSR activities by oil companies have focused on the provision of handouts and direct funding, instead of more strategic forms of development. This is a paradigm the Chevron/PIND foundation has been trying to change for some time.
Managing donor reporting requirements can be challenging in this scenario. However, it is always important to fulfil this requirement in order to help the donor counterpart to be in a strong position to support the programme’s aims and to encourage the donor to be innovative and take some risks.
In terms of results that can be achieved in this scenario, innovation is more likely to happen at the margins, further away from those organisations that already gravitate towards established donor circles (i.e. are funded by donors). It is therefore important for programmes to continuously map the landscape to identify potential new partners. It can be worthwhile to go smaller, to take more risks on working with little known partners, and to focus more on pursuing innovation.
A programme’s strategic vision should factor in existing donors' funding initiatives and it may be a good idea to help partners become capable of capturing more of these resources. One area where I had success with this approach was in helping research organisations in Zimbabwe to monitor the funding market, understand the needs of funders, and to deliver quality products, thus becoming more influential in the policy space and raising more funding – a virtuous circle. To do this, however, it is important for a programme to have a distinct brand and to be recognised as counsellor and adviser, rather than as a funder.
One way for practitioners to manage concerted pressure from a donor to spend is to consider including some direct and “expensive” interventions in the programme’s portfolio that can bring about real disruptive change in the system. Examples include major policy change or an infrastructure project.
Scenario 2. High density of market systems development programmesThis scenario is one where there is a high concentration of MSD programmes in the country operated by the same or by different donor agencies.
When I was managing ENABLE in Nigeria, for example, five new M4P programmes (the Growth and Employment in States - GEMS suite of programmes) were added to two existing MSD programmes: PropCom and ENABLE. This meant that most of the beneficiaries that ENABLE was working with suddenly had more partners to choose from, which had the effect of weakening ENABLE’s leverage.
Donors' prevailing incentives
Unlike the previous scenario, pressure to spend is not the main constraint.
Where there is a high concentration of MSD projects, you can expect to find advisors who are keen to do good development work, promote innovation, and at the same time build their careers. However, since the turnover of donor staff is often faster than the lifespan of projects, friction may arise between the donor and the programme at some point. For example, the person who established the programme may need to show immediate impact to advance their career, or a new person may arrive who is not interested in, or does not understand the approach being used.
In this scenario, delivery and proof of attribution tend to be priorities, so that the programme brand can be quickly established and more easily defended.
Implementers’ prevailing incentives
It is fair to say that the “MSD/M4P club” is small. There is a limited number of firms and consultants that have built a name and track record of experience in this approach. The MSD approach was, at least initially, marketed by differentiating it from traditional, and distortive, supply-driven approaches. This means that competition among MSD practitioners can be fierce. As a result, rather than broadening the approach there has been a certain “hardening” with individuals and firms seeking to differentiate based on the purity of their approach, and a tendency towards less, rather than more, interaction and innovation among practitioners. In my view, this could weaken the approach over time, and I encourage all of us operating in this space to consider focusing on analysing challenges and learning, rather than simply presenting our programmes as “the way it should be done.” For example, it is evident that, with the MSD approach, attribution is difficult to determine. This often exacerbates competition among programmes rather than promoting shared learning which could assist both donors and beneficiaries.
I had experience of this in Nigeria, when managing ENABLE. ENABLE had been supporting the Nigerian fertiliser association for over a year to galvanise resources and embark on a collective effort to advocate for the government to stop subsidising the fertiliser market. On a parallel track PropCom had been working with leading fertiliser companies to understand and respond to existing market opportunities, through the introduction of innovation in product and distribution networks. The two programmes worked together to organise public events to discuss the fertiliser policy. However, when the government took the decision to stop the distribution of free fertiliser, the result was mostly attributed to PropCom. With little recognition for ENABLE, this consequently limited the opportunities for real learning and replication from the experience.
MSD programmes that operate in the same space (market/value chain, etc.) tend to identify and select the same partners/beneficiaries. This is because the approach requires projects to work with those partners that show real vision and drive to change, and to improve their own performance in the market. Programmes usually also require beneficiaries to be of sufficient size to effectively change how the market system works, and impact a large number of poor people. When markets are thin, however, the number of beneficiaries that fit these criteria are few, and programmes may find themselves competing with each other to work with the same partners. This is a serious challenge, and is exacerbated by the weak incentives that programmes have to collaborate with each other discussed above.
Partners, on the other hand, have a stronger incentive to default on agreements they may have with a particular programme, because the alternative of working with a competing MSD programme is always there. This reduces leverage significantly, with the consequence of making it harder for each programme to influence partners and achieve their objectives.
In this scenario, collaboration among programmes tends to depend on the quality of their leaders’ personal relationships. It is important to invest in building these relationships, though in a thin and highly competitive market this can be difficult, as incentives go against this.
From a strategic point, and in order to avoid conflict, it is important to broaden the search for partners, and to identify partners that other programmes may not be working with. This, of course, means taking more risks, since these, less prominent partners, may be more marginal players in the market.
Good communication with the donor/client is also important, in order to map what the different MSD programmes are doing, and to have a clear agreement on where to add value.
Scenario 3. Charged political environmentThis scenario is refers to increased “density” rather than intensity, however I feel it is one worth discussing in this context. I have come across this scenario twice in my professional career. Once in Zimbabwe, managing a DFID programme promoting policy reform (Zimbisa), and once in the Solomon Islands, helping DFAT move from the supply-driven approach under the auspices of the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) to a market-led approach, with a new set of MSD programmes. In both contexts, the objective of managing bilateral relationships between the donor and recipient countries, superseded the developmental objectives of the programme.
Donors' prevailing incentives
Donors are torn between foreign policy objectives and developmental objectives, with the first often prevailing.
In Zimbabwe, for instance, the programme I was managing saw greater value in supporting its partners from behind the scenes. However, the donor was under pressure to establish and maintain an image of being a selfless partner, open to supporting genuine economic transformation, rather than perceived to be interested in toppling the regime.
In the Solomon Islands, the Australian government has invested so much since the establishment of RAMSI in 2003, that the pressure not to fail is very high. This is coupled with the need to show that, although RAMSI is phasing out, Australia’s presence remains - a legitimate need, given fears that social tensions recur after the end of RAMSI.
In this kind of scenario, donors often have pre-defined preferences for, (or vetoes of) specific partners, thus de-facto undermining the “systemic" nature of the MSD approach. For instance, in Zimbabwe, for obvious reasons, Zimbisa faces limitations when working directly with government.
One additional characteristic of this scenario is that, more often than usual, donors will want to “label” programmes with their name. This can risk undermining the ability of MSD programmes to differentiate their brand from the donor’s, and therefore lead to confusion among beneficiaries that the programme’s role is a source of finance, rather than a catalyst for innovation.
Implementers’ prevailing incentives
This scenario does not have a significant impact on the incentives of implementers. I found that, in Zimbabwe, collaboration among programmes was easier, but this may be due to the hostile political environment that donor initiatives face, which creates a strong sense of solidarity within the development community. In the Solomon Islands collaboration is more difficult, but that may be attributable to the size of the country, and high ODA per capita, as discussed earlier.
Beneficiaries’ behaviour is strongly affected by the political density of the environment.
In Zimbabwe, for example, there may be risks involved with partnering with a foreign-funded (particularly a UK-funded) programme, whereas in the Solomon Islands, years of direct intervention and financial support have created a strong relationship of dependency between a number of organisations and donors. In fact, the expectation that donors will provide funding and take decisions is so deeply rooted in the Solomon Islands, that finding partners with a genuine drive for innovation and desire to become more competitive in the market is a real challenge.
In my experience, the best strategy to cope in this scenario is to factor the political incentives of the donors into the strategic vision of the project.
In practice this may mean the need to operate on two levels. On one level the programme would allocate resources to respond to donor pressure, delivering the visibility that the donor requires, and working with the partners that the donor indicates. Up to 50-60% of the programme’s resources should be allocated to this type of activity.
On the second level, having ensured that the donor counterpart can fulfil its own obligations, the programme can then allocate the remaining 40-50% of resources to operating at a more experimental level. This would include working with below the radar, truly innovative and committed partner organisations. In order to do this, however, the programme would need to carefully manage its brand, possibly to the extent of having a different brand for its “real MSD” component.
This third scenario is probably the most challenging presented here, but I find that it can be the most rewarding. In politically charged environments, local players often strongly believe that donors are foreign to the market system. This makes it easier to determine whether the partners that the programme decides to work with are genuinely committed to its objective or not. In my experience, if the programme manages to break the barriers created by lack of trust, and to be accepted as a dependable source of advice and innovation, change can happen fast, and impact follows rapidly.
ConclusionAs said at the beginning of this post, the scenarios proposed here are quite crude and do not fully capture the complexity of implementing and MSD programme. However, I hope that the three scenarios, and the three main groups of stakeholders proposed here, can be a starting point for some structured discussion among us practitioners on the topic. I am sure that most of you have had experiences similar to mine, and have found ways to manage them effectively to the benefit of your programme. I am curious to know how.
Luca Crudeli has been a market development practitioner since 2008. He has experience in designing and managing programmes with a number of donors, primarily DFID, as well as DFAT (Australia), MFAT (New Zealand), UNDP and USAID. Luca designed and managed ENABLE, designed ENABLE2, and designed and managed Zimbisa a sister programme to ENABLE in Zimbabwe.
He is currently working in Mozambique, managing a new USAID market system programme in the agricultural sector.
By Sabrina Haque and Georgy Fahd, DAI
This blog originally appeared on BEAM Exchange on May 26, 2017.
In the context of Bangladesh, two of the most influential informal norms are family loyalty and social hierarchy, and these norms permeate many layers of social interaction and structure, including market systems and businesses.
Markets are complex social systems in which market actors share a set of biases based on a multi-layered network of structures, rules, and norms. In order to understand a market system, development practitioners must look for patterns in the system, which can uncover formal and informal norms that have a significant impact on who and to what extent participates in different market functions, relationships between market system actors, and the behaviours and roles of market actors. For market systems development programs, like USAID/Bangladesh’s Agricultural Value Chains Activity, it is important to understand the informal norms that affect firms and other market actors. This will help us to better understand the motivations behind market behaviour and cater interventions to address norms that are conflicting with inclusive market trends.
In Bangladesh, two of the most influential informal norms are family loyalty and social hierarchy. Informal norms have dramatic impacts at the meso-level, affecting how firms are governed, structured, and standard business practices; as well as the micro-level, affecting how firms interact with and retain customers and suppliers.
Loyalty-driven business practicesFirm management and structureIn the context of Bangladesh, family loyalty is a driving force in social structures and behaviours. Family loyalty impacts firm structure, as even large firms or NGOs remain family businesses with the senior management and leadership comprised of immediate and extended family members, and the executive positions passed down through generations. In these family owned and family operated private sector firms, individuals are promoted based on loyalty to firm leadership rather than merit or annual performance against established business expectations. Prioritising family loyalty plays a role in restricting firm growth, as it limits innovative ideas and alternate perspectives, reduces opportunities for piloting new approaches or products, and demotivates employees outside of the family circle to propose new ideas or excel in their roles. This contributes to the tendency for Bangladeshi firms to maintain slow growth patterns that minimise risk and undervalue innovation.
Cooperation and competition between market actorsThe informal norms around loyalty also impact relationships between firms in the market. Positive competition between market actors such as traders, distributors, and retailers fosters innovation and increased efficiency. However, in order for positive competition to exist, these market actors must communicate with one another to share new practices, successes, and opportunities. In the context of Bangladesh, this knowledge sharing rarely happens, as market actors are unwilling to share business information outside of their loyalty networks. Rather than seeing collaboration and positive competition among peers as an opportunity, market actors in Bangladesh assume that sharing information outside of their internal trust circle will result in competitors poaching their ideas or initiatives.
Engaging support servicesLoyalty norms similarly impact firms’ approaches to support services. Bangladeshi firms are structured to contain internal support departments such as ICT, media/event planning, marketing campaigns, re-branding, transportation and logistics, etc. Firm leadership does not trust specialised firms that are outside of their loyalty network to have access to firm or product information, strategy, or sector knowledge, which is required for support services to maximise quality and usefulness. This norm of keeping all business information within the loyalty network is further reinforced by agribusiness leadership who see this structure as a cost saving strategy. The internal departments offer services, campaigns, and activities at a cheaper price; however, because there is no competition for their work, there is limited incentive for service departments to stay current on innovative tools and tactics. This structure discounts the return on investment for these services, as the resulting services are poorly targeted and underproductive and do little to increase sales or productivity of the company.
Hierarchy-driven business practicesRelationship-building in the marketRelated to social norms around loyalty is a rigid hierarchy within the Bangladesh social structure, in which status and social class dictate an individual’s network. This permeates the market system, in that market actors do not give value to engaging with customers or suppliers that they perceive as lower class. Hierarchy norms have created a tendency for market actors to only interact and build relationships with other market actors that hold a similar social/business status, which creates a social gap between agribusinesses and poor, smallholder farmers. The result is a lack of bridging capital in the system that limits businesses’ and the market systems’ ability to develop alliances, build customer relationships, and evolve a more inclusive market system.
Valuing consumer demandA rigid social hierarchy has multiple implications. Agri-firms sell their products through distributors, and they see these distributors as their direct customers, and focus any investment in improving transactions and building relationships on the initial point of sale of their products. Firms are not willing to invest in relationships or transactions with farmers, as they are perceived as outside of their network due to their lower social status. Because the firms do not see the value of understanding the preferences or buying patterns of farmers, there is little to no investment in market assessments or consumer demand studies. While firms are consistently rolling out new products, the initial investment in consumer assessments, product design, and product rollout is not valued among agribusiness leadership, as it would focus on market actors below their social rank. This creates a distant relationship between the agribusiness and the end consumer.
Investing in the distribution channelSecond, agri-firms do not invest in developing a structured distribution channel or applying quality control on their distributors. Once firms sell to distributors, they consider their role in the transaction to be finished, and do not monitor the transactions from the distributor to retailer to farmer, despite the fact that these transactions have implications on their sales and the perception of their brand in the market. Agribusinesses could benefit significantly from developing a more structured distribution chain in which quality is traced and monitored through brand-loyal networks of preferred distributors, retailers, and farmer groups. These vertical networks would also improve firms’ link to the end consumer, allowing the farmers to message back through the channel their preferences, customer satisfaction, and product needs. Business practices that result from social hierarchy are reinforced by loyalty norms. Customers are outside of the loyalty network of the firms, and therefore firms are hesitant to invest in building alliances or relationships, as the perception is that they will be cheated by those outside of their trust circle.
AVC’s Adaptive ResponseIn order for AVC to effectively address systemic constraints in firms at the management/structure level, the project first identified these informal norms of strong loyalty networks and rigid social hierarchy, and then developed a strategy to work within these norms to effectively build trust with the firms, while also pursuing interventions to push firms to see the value in breaking down some of these norms/common practices. Through strategic relationships with key lead firms, AVC aims to facilitate new innovations that will break down some of these norms and then crowd in other firms after initial successes.
By: Sarah Wall, DAI
This blog originally appeared on BEAM Exchange on July 31, 2017.
Development activities are tasked with addressing women’s empowerment and gender equality as a cross-cutting component of their results, but significant improvements in income and opportunities for women has been limited.
Development activities are tasked with addressing women’s empowerment and gender equality as a cross-cutting component of their results, but significant improvements in income and opportunities for women has been limited. Recent research conducted by MarketShare Associates for the BEAM Exchange indicates that one limitation is that projects have failed to understand the role that social norms and gender biases play. “Most programming tends to primarily focus on increasing women’s access to opportunities, whether it be to markets, education information, land rights etc. – with less consideration of how the socio-cultural context in which they operate influences their decisions and ability to engage with, and benefit from, those opportunities.” Development projects must find a way to work within the existing gendered social context to catalyse gender inclusion, as countries cannot compete in the emerging knowledge economy while still reinforcing norms that restrict the role women can play in society and the economy.
USAID’s Agricultural Value Chain’s Activity in Bangladesh (AVC), takes a systemic approach to development, including gender empowerment. AVC looks at gender through a systemic lens to (1) focus on identifying gender equality as a pragmatic and economic issue, rather than a social/moral issue and (2) align gender interventions with economic and livelihood incentives. This blog will discuss contextual findings from the Bangladesh AVC project around how AVC prioritises indirect strategies for gender inclusion, which work within existing social norms to address market constraints for women, and partner these with targeted direct strategies, designed to intentionally explore or shift the social norms around gender. Rather than focusing on gender empowerment exclusively, AVC aligns initiatives to generate improved incomes and opportunities in the sectors in which women are already working. AVC finds that social norms begin to shift when behaviour change aligns with a financial benefit.
The Economic Case for Gender Inclusion
Engaging women as market actors
Many development initiatives will attempt to capitalize on gender as a binding factor, looking for opportunities to build women to women linkages. However, AVC has found that while gender is a binding factor, it is relatively weak when compared to others socio-cultural factors, such as ethnicity, religion, and community. As a result, in order to be effective AVC recognized the need to look for opportunities where there is alignment between women to women connections and economic incentives. AVC does this by working in sectors where women already have a strong presence, to improve the overall productively, inclusivity, and profitability of that sector, which will have a disproportionate impact on the incomes of women.
AVC works across eight value chains, however the focus of AVC’s work in gender is largely in the flower sector. Flower production is important, as women are already involved multiple functions within the supply chain, versus other agricultural sectors where women may be involved in cultivation, but their roles are informal and confined to production or small-scale, home-based trading. Additionally, because flowers are a newer crop in Bangladesh, there are less rooted social norms around gender in this sector versus more established crops such as jute. In Bangladesh’s flower sector, two of the most prominent retail companies are women-owned, Influential female traders have emerged, along with other female entrepreneurs that are pursuing small-scale businesses outside of production. These female leaders and businesswomen have emerged naturally as they were not pushing against established/rigid social norms. AVC is working to capitalize on these trends by developing a network of support that will ensure the success of these initial innovators and draw more women in from their example to move into higher paid and higher responsibility roles.
AVC launched its flower strategy by first working to identify female leaders and innovators in the flower sector, and raise awareness and visibility of these women. As visibility of women in a variety of functions increases, society becomes more comfortable seeing women in businesses/markets, chipping away at social norms that silo women into specific roles. AVC supported a number of flower consumer shows, both local and national, that served as leverage points to raise consumer interest in flowers and allow producers, retailers, and other market actors to interact directly with their consumers. These consumer fairs built the capacity of the participating female entrepreneurs, but also raised their visibility, not only to other women, but also among men in the agricultural sector. Importantly, the consumer shows highlighted the business success of the women, not simply their prominence as female leaders, messaging their financial success, innovative business strategies, and improved livelihood. By focusing on the impact that the women’s involvement in the sector had on their income and ability to provide for their family, these consumer fairs aligned women’s incentives to support other women, with stronger incentives around financial security and family livelihood.
Building on events to raise visibility of women in the sector, AVC has developed a unique network of support, launching a peer to peer business model to build social capital among SMEs and support services within the market. AVC is launching a specific network that will link SMEs within the flower sector, with a targeted focus on including emerging businesswomen and female entrepreneurs. This network will serve two key purposes. First, the platform will serve as a SME accelerator to make women-owned ventures and businesses “market ready.” Women’s historical underrepresentation in business can present capacity challenges in launching new ventures. The accelerator will identify women who have moved into trading or retailing functions with high capacity for growth to support their business management skills, access to finance, legal registration, and growth strategy/business canvas modelling. Second, the accelerator will form a network of SMEs and entrepreneurs that are serving a variety of functions in the flower sector and run formal learning sessions, informal discussions, and work planning/strategy sessions around joint challenges or common business opportunities. This will allow SMEs to connect with other SMEs and entrepreneurs – women as well as men – who are working in the same function and other levels of the supply chain. The support provided by the peer to peer network will help ensure that more women-owned businesses will thrive, reinforcing the importance of inclusivity in a growing sector/economy.
Engaging women as consumers
In donor-saturated markets like Bangladesh’s Southern Delta, a high number of social enterprises or other hybrid business/NGOs emerge, and firms are pursuing the double bottom line of social impact and business performance. Still, projects can confuse this focus on social impact with an opportunity to lobby the businesses by identifying gender equality as a social/moral issue. This approach is met with pushback from communities and leaders, even prominent female leaders, as efforts to address gender as a moral issue are significantly constrained by existing social norms around the role of women and men in the home, market, and community. Messaging female inclusivity as a moral obligation leaves firms and individuals operating under a donor-focused strategy, limiting the sustainability of gender programming. To catalyze gender inclusion, projects should consider how to combine economic motivations with other shifting social incentives to catalyze pressure for change.
AVC has been able to effectively communicate to key partners the importance of targeting women by aligning the business’s goals of improving sales, targeting new customers, and expanding market reach with the strategy of marketing to women as a new consumer base. Women are not only involved in the production/supply of flowers, they are also a large percentage of the buyers or recipients of flowers, and therefore represent an important market opportunity if retailers can sponsor female-targeted consumer events and products. AVC worked with local producers to organize the consumer flower fairs and events around Valentines’ Day and Mothers’ Day, and participants in the national Flower Fest developed new products targeting women including bouquet designs, flower crowns, wedding décor, etc.
AVC is beginning to expand its strategy to target women as consumers by focusing on women’s importance as horticultural/produce buyers. AVC partnered lead firms with marketing companies who helped transform large, inefficient marketing campaigns into targeted branding and marketing strategies, aimed specifically at generating loyalty among existing customers, or accessing new market segments. The marketing firms messaged the importance of including women as a market segment, and stressed the important financial benefits of tapping into women as an under-saturated market. Women are largely responsible for household daily shopping and also are frequently involved in homestead farming, making them a key market segment both for produce and input products/seeds. As firms target women in pursuit of improving their bottom line, the female customers have improved access to quality inputs and produce, and their bargaining power as important consumers is increased. By focusing on targeting women, not as a moral issue, but as a pragmatic and economic issue, AVC’s interventions generate more sustainable behaviour change by building powerful financial incentives around gender inclusion.
The next steps for AVC will be to capitalise on success to date in the flower sector to scale up efforts and establish more structured/formal vertical linkages between women in the flower supply chain. AVC’s goal is to build on increased capacity and social connections resulting from the SME accelerator, and begin catalysing vertical partnerships to create a structured supply chain that is led by women entrepreneurs. Additionally, as women in the flower sector gain greater prominence, AVC will continue to track how these efforts reverberate into other markets and sectors. Initial activities from the peer to peer network have revealed potential for increased value and business opportunities around homestead vegetable farming, as firms are seeing this as a potential opportunity to brand safe, home-grown vegetables. Homestead farming could be an important area to support women moving into additional functions around consolidation, trading, and retailing vegetable products. AVC will support the peer to peer network in motivating early adapters that wish to capitalise on this opportunity and support capacity building around safe production practices to meet this demand.