Better Lives Blog
Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Business of Malaria Eradication

Nina Henning 


I have spent most of my career crafting strategies for improving the lives of people living in less developed parts of the world. My work is rewarding because it allows me to live in different parts of the world, engage with cultures so different from the American culture in which I was raised, and at the same time is challenging and impactful. Within the context of my work I think about “improving lives” in two ways:

1.    Creating better opportunities for income generation. Prior to working for SC Johnson, I lived in Nepal and ran a fair trade herbal cosmetics company that employed local women who made all of our products by hand, using local ingredients.  This was my first experience doing business in a developing country, and the tangible impact the business had on the lives WOW logoof our employees inspired me to continue this kind of work but with a company like SC Johnson with a global footprint and thus a much bigger potential for impact.

2.    Creating access to products and/or services that improve lives. Today I live and work in Africa and manage an exciting new SC Johnson business in Ghana that we call “WOW”. Developed in collaboration with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Cornell University, we launched the WOW business in 2012 with the objective of reducing the transmission of malaria through the creation of a financially sustainable distribution channel that delivers repellents and insecticides to rural Ghana.

Maximizing Value

Our WOW products have been specially designed to maximize value to rural Ghanaian consumers. One of the many things we have learned from consumers is that their lack of financial resources actually makes them more selective than consumers from higher socioeconomic groups. They have a very limited pool of money and they really want to get the most value out of anything they purchase.

laundry demonstration for customers 

When it comes to the WOW brand, I think about maximizing value in two ways:

1.    Product Attributes. Our research and development team members have all done homestays with families in rural Ghanaian villages. This means we have all experienced what it is like to live without a toilet or running water inside the home, and some of us were in homes without electricity as well. We learned about the daily work and life patterns of our consumers, which include farming, church-going, and socializing with friends and family outside in the early evening when the malaria mosquitoes start to come out. All of these insights helped us to better understand the product attributes that will be most valued by our consumer.

Our consumers want products that, first and foremost, make their lives better and work well for the usage in which they are intended. They want as much of the product as possible at an affordable price. Our consumers also value products that are multi-functional – for example, our Raid® Dual Action product is both an indoor insect repellent and an air freshener because we know that Ghanaians value fragrance. 

2.    Business Model.  The WOW brand of products is primarily intended for rural consumers because the need for protection from mosquitoes and malaria is great, and the options are few. SC Johnson does not typically focus on distribution to rural villages, and we are facing the same business challenges that other companies have faced in trying to get products to these areas:  low population density, poor road networks, and high cost of transportation relative to urban areas. We recognize that in order to have the greatest impact in the fight against malaria, we need a solution that can be replicated across Ghana, and eventually across all malaria-affected countries. Without an infinite pool of resources to draw on, the best way to achieve this kind of scale is to develop a business model that offers valuable products at affordable pricing for customers, and is profitable for each stakeholder in the supply chain.  

Many companies have tried to implement a “low price-low margin-high volume” business model in rural developing markets, and most of these ventures have failed because they haven’t been able to reach the sales volumes required to allow the business to be financially viable. We are testing some innovative business model elements that aim to overcome some of the hurdles of rural distribution including product bundling subscriptions, refillable packaging, loyalty rewards program and direct sales that includes training on how to properly use products.

WOW customers

We realize that building a viable rural distribution business for products that help protect families from malaria is HARD. If it was easy, other companies would already be doing it. We are learning as we go, and I will continue to share our learnings in this space.

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