PKG Fellowships 2020: Shannon Wing, Part II
To read Part I of Shannon’s reflection, click here!
During the first half of my fellowship, I spent my time reevaluating and updating the impact metrics for Essmart, a distribution company for life-improving products based in southern India. Through this time I was able to dive deep and learn about each specific product that Essmart sells. More specifically I was working to answer the question of how beneficial this product is in certain categories such as health savings, emissions saved, or rupees saved. Most of the time this fell in line with the question of how could a family in this community benefit from this product? Or in other words, why should a family purchase this life-improving product to own themselves. And at first I saw this cost-benefit analysis approach for a hypothetical family as the equivalent of what I was trying to answer with my impact calculations. However, as I dug further, I realized that these are in fact two separate questions with two separate answers. The goal should be to align the impact on the community with the impact benefit, but sometimes, I realized it is not always possible. I will try to explain my thoughts below.
I worked primarily with Essmart to develop methods and calculations to quantitatively track their impact overtime. Some of the statistics aligned more with the community’s desires than others. For example, for the category of rupees saved, it is simply calculated by asking how much money can a family save by purchasing this product as a replacement for the alternative and using it over time? For instance, if a farmer was to buy a battery powered sprayer to replace the hand sprayer that he previously owned, the battery sprayer would be more efficient, meaning it would take less time to spray all of the crops. Because of this, the farmer would need to pay less workers for less hours, thus saving a lot of money despite the upfront cost of purchasing the sprayer and a new battery each year. Other statistics, however, are a lot more difficult to align the impact to the community benefit. For example with emissions saved, this perhaps may be helping a lot of people in the future by preventing climate change, but will not hold any benefit to the community now. In fact, these communities in which most of the consumers are below the poverty line and contribute minimally to the world’s emissions, should not care about the emissions that are saved if they were to purchase and use an LPG stove. However, an investor or even someone like me who cares strongly about the environment, would be very excited to see this statistic and to watch it rise overtime.
Let’s look at another statistic for an LPG stove, hours of productivity saved. Since the stove starts faster and cooks the food faster than in comparison to a 3-stone fire, the hours saved add up quickly. When I look at numbers such as 42 hours saved per month, for example, I am impressed. But I couldn’t help but think to myself, would someone in this community be impressed? I am honestly not sure. Would they only find this time saved beneficial if they had something else urgent to get done? After all, even in the small bubble of people I know, I would say there is a large variance in how we value our time and how we want it to be spent. Perhaps an investor may place value on time completely differently than someone living in that community and if that is true, will it impact how they invest and more importantly should it impact how they invest?
So in conclusion, my interest has been piqued. How can we bridge the gap between the community and investors as a nonprofit in the way that serves the community the best while still being appealing to investors? I don’t have the answers, but perhaps Essmart’s model is a way to ensure that they will work to serve their community in the best way possible. After all, the people choose what they want to purchase. There are no giveaways in their model. If Essmart wants to succeed and grow in sales, they will have to bring worthy products that the people just want, but know are worth investing in.
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