Social selling provides a better return than giving : INSIDE BUSINESS

Marketing: overseas aid takes lesson from commerce
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The Independent Online
THE PRIVATE sector and overseas aid make unlikely bed-fellows. But Marie Stopes International, the family planning charity, with the backing of the Overseas Development Administration, last week ran a free five-day course in selling with a social conscience for nine top marketers at the London School of Economics .

The idea that the two organisation are trying to promote is social marketing, the latest technique to tackle the world's health and population problems.

Jim Myers, director of social marketing for the MSI charity, explains the concept. "Most of the condoms in developing countries are either given away free or are commercial brands sold at full price.

"People can't necessarily get them when they want them - particularly late at night after a few drinks - and the cost of brand names can be prohibitive.

"Social marketing provides an affordable alternative, by making condoms available at all sorts of retail outlets, from all-night bars in the cities to corrugated metal cigarette shops in rural communities, at prices that ensure a year's supply should cost no more than two days' pay of an average wage."

With money at a premium, organisations such as the ODA and the World Bank - on whom MSI depends for funding - are increasingly looking to support schemes with long-term sustainability.

The income from social marketing may only go halfway to meeting the programme's expenditure but guarantees it a longer shelf life than one without that support.

Because the programmes also make use of indigenous advertising and retail infrastructure, there is an opportunity to reach those sections of the population, like slum dwellers, secondary school students and lorry drivers in the rural and mining areas, who are hard to contact.

This more hard-nosed approach means that the money goes further and that the funding organisations get full value, Mr Myers explains: "Research has shown that by paying even a notional price for a condom the purchaser places a greater value on it - and is therefore more likely to remember to use it."

MSI's involvement with social marketing began in 1990 with a jointly funded project in Ethiopia. By 1993, it had built up its sales to more than 12 million condoms a year and had nearly doubled this last year.

This year, PSS, MSI'S international partner in India, is taking charge of more than £3m of funding from the ODA, the German Bank for Reconstruction, and the US government, which includes money for television adverts, pills and condoms.

It was in anticipation of still more funding that MSI decided to run the course on social marketing. More than 50 people responded to press adverts. Of these, nine, aged between 34 and 55, were selected - all with experience of working overseas. They ranged from board level marketers who had recently been made redundant to a woman who gave up a good market research job.

On completion of the course, six trainees will be seconded to programmes in Uganda, Kenya, Bangladesh, and India to get some hands-on experience in the field. Thereafter, they will be qualified to act as consultants for both the ODA and MSI.

Those working in social marketing are convinced of its effectiveness. Programmes are now used in 43 countries and involve the distribution of 600 million condoms and 40 million cycles of oral contraceptives. Social marketing is still an unfamiliar concept in this country but, says Frances Perrow, MSI's director of public affairs, "In ten years, it will be standard practice for every UK aid charity."