In Leadership, MBA Students, Nano Tools, Undergraduate Students, Wharton on April 24, 2012 at 10:01 am

Contributed by Kristi Ringen, WG ’01

On Friday, April 13, 2012 the Wharton School and the University of Pennsylvania hosted the inaugural Lipman Family Prize Un-Conference.  This event represented the beginning of Penn’s partnership with the three 2012 Lipman Family Prize finalists:  iDE ,the 2012 Prize winner recognized for its market-based approach to improving sanitation in developing countries;  KOMAZA, a social enterprise that works with rural dryland families in Kenya to grow trees as a cash crop; and MedShare, a US based organization that collects medical surplus supplies and equipment and redistributes them for use in developing countries. 

Each organization posed a specific challenge that they currently face to the Un-Conference attendees and the majority of the day was spent in small group discussions further exploring these issues.   In addition to brainstorming potential solutions, each small group also explored a different framework to use when approaching social and organizational challenges of this magnitude.   

The following post is the first in a set of three and provides more detail regarding iDE’s social challenge and the techniques used to approach the problem in a small group. 

iDE’s Social Challenge:
iDE’s work in developing countries often involves the introduction of technologies or services that create value for poor rural households.  Designing or selecting a great product/service to improve the lives of the poor is the first step.  Delivering the product/service to households with little disposable income in remote areas over crumbling infrastructure is the bigger part of the challenge.  This “last mile distribution” challenge has been overcome, to some degree, by companies like Coca-Cola and manufacturers of cigarettes, two types of products that are ubiquitous in even the most far flung reaches of very poor countries. 

  • How can iDE develop cost-efficient distribution systems that deliver truly value-rich products like microirrigation technologies, latrines, water filters, good quality seed, and farm advisory services to the same populations?
  • Could iDE add solar home lighting products to its current product mix or into its current retail distribution networks? 

The Small-Group Approach:
The discussion was divided into five steps, or phases.  In each phase four sub-groups were presented with a specific question or assignment.

Phase 1: What one piece of additional information is most important in approaching iDE’s challenge?

Phase 2: If iDE does meet this challenge, why will it be important?

Phase 3: Have you learned any lessons from other development work you have done that can be transferred to iDE’s work?

Phase 4: Brainstorm “wacky,” seemingly impossible or infeasible solutions to the problem.

Phase 5: Present ideas and problem-solving strategies to beat iDE’s Last Mile Challenge.

The ideas and thoughts generated in Phases 2 and 3 were documented and given to iDE, but not discussed in the larger group.  The thoughts generated in Phases 1, 4 and 5 are summarized below:


Additional Resources:
If you are interested in learning more about iDE, visit their website or read an organization and the social challenges addressed at the Lipman Family Prize website .

Share Your Thoughts:
Is there a question you think needs to be answered before iDE can effectively address its last mile challenge?  Do you have a “wacky” idea or a problem solving strategy to share with iDE? If so, we encourage you to share it here. 



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