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Living in the Market to Bring Light to the Base of the Pyramid

This is the twentieth in a series of posts that will examine ten insights Community Wealth Partners has uncovered through our research of and experience with initiatives that have created transformational social change.

As Amy discussed in her recent post, creating transformational change requires Living in the Market. This involves being intimately in tune with the market at both the micro and macro level.   Few social impact organizations have done this as well as d.light design. D.light is a social enterprise that seeks to provide reliable electricity to the developing world, by designing, manufacturing, and distributing solar light and power products, largely in rural areas.  The company has recently celebrated its 10 millionth customer, a major milestone on the way to its bold goal of reaching at least 100 million people by 2020.

To achieve this level of dramatic success, d.light needed to consistently build lights cheap enough for individuals making a few dollars a day, distribute them to distant rural areas, and convince people who have likely never heard of a solar light to buy and use their product. 

How did d.light “live in the market” to break through such challenges and reach millions of people across the world?  Their approach and success demonstrates a focus in the following areas:

  • Customer Intimacy: d.light was founded by Seth Goldman and Ned Tozun at Stanford Business School. Early on in the organization’s history, the two decided that in order to be successful, the team needed to be closer to their market, so Seth moved to India and Ned moved to China, from Silicon Valley.  Even more importantly, they have their designers working at headquarters regularly spend meaningful time in rural villages, observing how customers live and work.
  • Continuous Improvement: The focus on customer intimacy allows d.light to continually improve its products based on how people use and might need them. Improvements made that arose from customer interaction include adding multiple charge options (i.e., solar and AC), and features that facilitate both indoor and outdoor use.
  • Varied Distribution: Given the complexities of distributing products to the rural poor, d. light employs a variety of channels to reach their customers. In addition to selling on the open market, d.light sells to local NGOs, who have closer ties to rural residents and are able to offer pricing systems that include subsidies. In addition, d.light uses rural entrepreneurs to market the lights in their local communities. Finally, d.light has a charitable initiatve named Give Light to provide its already low-priced lights to extremely poor households.

Whether or not you are in the solar light business, if you live in the market and  get to know the people you are serving, use that knowledge to improve your services, and find multiple ways to reach those people, you’ll be one step closer to scaling and achieving transformative results.

Data on d.light’s approach to customer intimacy and continuous improvement from: Robert Kennedy and Jacqueline Novogratz, Innovation for the BoP: A Patient-Capital Perspective. pp70-73. Chapter from: Next Generation Business Strategies from the Base of the Pyramid.  2010. http://www.acumenfund.org/uploads/assets/documents/Chp%202%20PDF_4aVCEk1k.pdf

Data on d.light’s distribution model from: Sukla, Sachin. IMFR Research. The Base of Pyramid Distribution Challenge. pp 30-32. 2011.  http://web.mit.edu/idi/idi/India-%20The%20Base%20of%20Pyramid%20distribution%20Challenge-IFMR.pdf

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About Justin Gupta

As senior associate, Justin Gupta supports strategic client partnerships by developing a broad range of solutions for clients through analysis and research, designing major client deliverables, and supporting overall project management. Justin has assisted organizations in the childhood hunger, education, and community development fields to develop sustainable impact strategies. In addition, Justin has core expertise in business planning for social enterprises as well as in measurement and evaluation. See Justin's full bio

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