In Leadership, MBA Students, Nano Tools, Undergraduate Students, Wharton on April 24, 2012 at 10:05 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 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 third in a set of three and provides more detail regarding MedShare’s social challenge and the techniques used to approach the problem in a small group. 

MedShare’s Social Challenge:
MedShare, with current operations in Atlanta and San Francisco, seeks to serve the broader Mid-Atlantic market including the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.  This will require a local physical presence in each of the submarkets in order to ensure local buy-in, provide opportunities for engagement, raise funds, and secure hospital partners.  The challenge is that while MedShare needs local buy-in, it is inefficient to fully replicate large warehouses in three communities.

  • How can MedShare do this in the most engaging, efficient, and cost effective way?
  • Is it a hub and spoke system, which is a centralized system of connections. All traffic (or distribution) moves along “spokes” connected to one center?
  • How can MedShare overcome the distance between submarkets?
  • Are there features specific to the Philadelphia market that MedShare should keep in mind?

The Small-Group Approach:

The group discussion focused first on determining the criteria of what makes a strong solution before trying to generate one.  The group identified the following criteria for a value-add solution to MedShare’s social challenge:

  1. Feasibility:  It shouldn’t recreate the wheel.
  2. Cost efficiency and effectiveness: It should allow for unique messaging and fundraising ability in the different markets.
  3. Volunteer engagement and safety: Will volunteers feel comfortable coming to the new location?  What is the appetite within the community for supporting this organization?
  4. Transportation:  What kinds of transportation are available to bring the medical supplies and equipment from the warehouse?  What is the traffic like in the area?  Are there toll roads?
  5. Partnerships:  Are there already established partnerships in the Mid-Atlantic market that can be leveraged?
  6. Quality of inventory:  Will one location be able to contribute more than the others?  Is there a preferable location for keeping the warehouse stocked?
  7. Process standardization: Can that be achieved in the new location?
  8. Donor base: Where are the donors located?

Potential Avenues to Explore:
At the conclusion of these exercises, the group discussed the following ideas and recommendations for further investigation:

Idea: Continue to explore the hub and spoke model.
Outstanding questions:  How does the hub and spoke vs. the 3 separate city model cost out?  Need a pro-forma to make sure that the hub and spoke is in fact more expensive.

Idea: Use a franchise model: Replicate the current MedShare model under a specific set of conditions. Have the operational costs be absorbed by social entrepreneurs.
Outstanding questions: Will this work in three separate cities? Where are the opportunities to borrow space or have some donated?  Where is the biggest volunteer base?  Can this be a way to forgo the 3 city plan and look at a larger-scale expansion?

Idea: Are there different ways to store the hospital inventory?
Outstanding questions: Should MedShare consider more of the Amazon.com model of a fulfillment center?

Idea: Are there organizations with unused space due to the economic downturn that MedShare could use?
Outstanding questions:  What happens if/when the organization needs the space back?

Additional Resources:
If you are interested in learning more about MedShare, visit their website or read a summary of their organization and the social challenges addressed on the Lipman Family Prize website.

Share Your Thoughts:  Do you have additional thoughts on the criteria for what makes a good solution to MedShare’s social challenge?  Or do you have ideas on how they can expand into the Mid-Atlantic market?  If so, we encourage you to share it here. 


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