Better Lives Blog
Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Being There Matters: How Living with Rural Ghanaians Helps Product Development

Dahlia Haynes 


My name is Dahlia Haynes and I am Senior Research Associate at SC Johnson, where I am most excited about being a part of a core research team that helps save lives. As part of our base of the pyramid (BoP) efforts at SC Johnson, we’ve launched a business in rural Ghana with the objective of reducing the transmission of malaria through the creation of a financially sustainable distribution channel.

As a newly hired PhD Chemist at SC Johnson supporting this business, I was given the opportunity to participate in a user-centered approach that allowed me first hand access into our end users’ lives to genuinely understand their priorities, how they live their lives, and what’s truly important to them. We take this approach in part because we learn something new from our users each time we engage ourselves in their lives.

This is especially true with our efforts in base of the pyramid communities. Our belief is that if we ever hope to create sustainable solutions that will ultimately eradicate malaria, we first need to live and submerge ourselves within the culture of the people that live in malaria prone environments.

Mensa familyNaturally, I was extremely excited for this chance to go to Ghana, my very first time in Africa, and immerse myself into a role that is typically considered out of the box for newly hired research chemists. Having firsthand accounts of the customs, traditions and lifestyles of rural Ghanaians enabled me to gain valuable insights that translated into formulating products.

While in rural Ghana, I stayed in a small village named Mensakrom with the Mensa family - father Michael, Mother Cecilia, and their three daughters, Michelle, Thereza and Baaba. During my time with the Mensas, the eldest daughter Michelle was on break from college, and helped me communicate and understand the other members in the family and community.

While I fully tried to adapt to their way of living, taking a bath in the outhouse, using a latrine and having no central air was a novel experience for me. Yet, this familiarity helped identify when and where malaria-control based products would be most beneficial.

MarketFor example, rural Ghanaians typically eat and bathe outside in the evening times, where mosquitoes carrying malaria are most prevalent. Taking into account what they did during the evening, such as how they eat, sleep, and live, inspired me in terms of the product offerings I formulated for and played an important part of combining user criteria with technical feasibility of our products.   

I also had the chance to visit a huge outdoor market, which was quite easily the largest market I have ever seen. Everything you can imagine was sold there; suitcases, hair products, raw meats, raw snails and cosmetics. I was amazed and overwhelmed at the abundance of products and produce sold in the market. As I walked around attempting to buy things, my tour guide assisted me in the typical price negotiation process that seemed commonplace throughout the market. 

Cooling sprayAn important revelation came from this, when I learned that while cost was a primary factor, the multi-functionality of the product held high appeal for Ghana users. I took this insight back into the lab and utilized these findings to guide my design of experiments targeting three different priority-based criteria for a personal repellent product.

The insight gained from knowing their lifestyle helped frame the design and formulation of the Cooling Body Spray, one of the products we offer as part of our rural business in Ghana. This product protects villagers when they cook and eat evening meals outside, and additionally offers cooling and fragrance that are highly desired in such a hot climate, thus showcasing multifunctional use, a concept that has great appeal among Ghanaian users. 

My time living with rural villagers in Ghana provided valuable insight towards my work as a formulator and enabled me to take into account the lifestyles and customs of the Ghanaian users in my product developments. This user based approach will also be explored in future endeavors in our malaria control efforts at SC Johnson. Our next initiative will be the Mekong region particularly, Myanmar and our current ethnography findings have helped inspire a wide variety of products that will delight and excite our users.

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