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Using digital innovation in healthcare to reach the poor
Breaking the mould of traditional business models, healthcare multinationals are accessing the largely untapped market of the world’s four billion poorest people while improving their lives. Digital innovation is the key to unlocking this global potential.
Businesses wanting to engage in the healthcare industry will have to take risks and face the challenge of introducing radical new ways of connecting with clients but the pay-off is well worth it.
Eight steps are necessary to be part of this revolutionary way of doing business and changing people’s lives in the process.
Untapped Global Market
Businesses have traditionally focussed their marketing efforts on the higher income brackets in the developed countries. However, a vast new market has started to emerge across the globe comprising of people who earn less than 1,500 US dollars a year, representing a massive 60% of the world’s population.
A health clinic in India, Aravind Eye Care, has developed products and services for the poor with the help of digital innovation. Recognising the unlimited potential of utilising high-speed wireless video-conferencing to perform corrective eye surgery, doctors consult with rural patients for as little as 50 US dollars per patient, improving the quality of life for countless people.
The opportunities are endless but it will require companies to take the plunge and reassess their existing business models. Moving into this market demands an entirely new approach to marketing, HR, finance, logistics and digital innovation. Reaching the consumers at the so-called ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ (BoP) means taking the less travelled road and working out new strategies without knowing the golden formula.
Radical innovation is necessary to engage the world’s poorest citizens as Indian ophthalmologist Dr Govindappa Venkataswamy has proven with his highly successful health clinic. Using McDonald’s as an inspiration, he approached his business as an assembly line with individuals trained to perform one particular task. His ‘disruptive innovation’, a term first coined by Harvard Business Professor Clayton Christensen, was such a success that the clinic now has franchises worldwide.
Large corporations tend to be set in their ways and are often characterised by an unwillingness to take risks. Investing time and resources in an unknown market is discouraged as revenue drives decision making. C.K. Harvard in the Harvard Business Review makes the following observation, ‘The biggest change has to come in the attitudes and practices of executives. The traditional workforce is so rigidly conditioned to operate in higher margin markets that, without formal training, it is unlikely to see the vast potential of the BoP market.’
He stressed the importance of young managers being educated by spending formative time in disadvantaged communities to gain a first-hand, personal understanding of low-income consumers. This experience and knowledge should be translated into changing a business’ values, processes and routines.
One of the world’s largest corporations, Unilever, has embraced the opportunity to engage with the world’s poorest citizens. The company’s Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Lever, developed a program aimed at managers, including the CEO, requiring them to visit outlets and talk to destitute customers about their experience of Unilever products.
This engagement led to the realisation that a different business approach was essential. Wireless technology was introduced to create a reliable infrastructure by training local entrepreneurs and equipping them with a smartphone, which is enabled with a mini-enterprise package.
Marketing new products to BoP consumers necessitates a completely different plan. Products must be deemed beneficial for the entire community, not just the individual. When limited funds are available, it is paramount for each dollar to be spent on items that are of value to every member of the community.
Hindustan Unilever first educated the community about the importance of hygiene before launching its Lifebuoy soap, ensuring parents and children understood the life-changing aspects of regularly washing your hands.
The lack of financial infrastructure in impoverished areas is a significant dilemma for businesses wanting to enter these markets. One Bangladesh-based company, Grameen Bank, saw the need and established a finance system for the poorest citizens called microcredit. Founded in the 1980s, Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize by providing local business owners with a loan and basic training. The use of microcredit is a prerequisite for successful business relationships in the BoP market.
A Rewarding Journey
Breaking into the BoP market is not straightforward, requiring a long-term strategy that is vastly different from the traditional business game plan. However, high financial rewards await the companies that are willing to be creative in their approach and rethink their marketing methods to connect with the world’s four billion poorest citizens.
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