Behavior Change: the biggest challenge facing social entrepreneurs

January 2, 2012

Manufacturing solar powered lanterns? Easy.

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Developing a mobile wallet for farmers who don’t even have motorized vehicles? Simple.

Turning human waste into cheap energy? Yawn.

Getting people of all different backgrounds and socio-economic standings to change not only their beliefs but their behavior on a daily basis? Woah. Now there’s a challenge.

With the intellectual, academic, financial, and scientific firepower behind social enterprise, 2012 is going to be yet another large step forward in the development of incredibly helpful products to help the BoP in the fight against poverty.

Yet even with the most efficient, cost-effective, sustainable, and beneficial products available, the largest challenge facing poverty alleviation is the behavioral shift across the entire pyramid.

Everyone – whether at the Bottom, Middle or Top of the Economic Pyramid – will at some point in 2012 face the issue of whether or not to make the financial decision to play their part in bettering the environment. To this point, convenience has not been on the side of eco-friendly actions.

More often than not, it takes more effort to filter your trash for recyclable or compostable materials. It takes a conscious effort to choose dry-cleaners that use eco-friendly chemicals. Purchasing a car can be more expensive if you want a hybrid or better fuel efficiency. You have your brand of garbage bags that you swear by, but do you really want to take the risk to try a new brand, promising a better impact on the environment?

Folks at the BoP share similar quandaries. Their loyalty to actions, such as burning kerosene for light and using standard restrooms for free, is now being challenged by carbon-free lanterns or low-cost toilets that recycle waste for energy.

As has been stated before on Rising Pyramid, changing consumer behavior is an oft-overlooked hurdle which social entrepreneurs don’t necessarily plan for in their product roll out. Education, while a massive benefit to changing behavior, is not the sole answer. The statement that eco-friendly products will “sell themselves” is a massive mistake on the part of entrepreneurs.

Changing behavior is a massive task that has not been formally addressed. Being eco-friendly must not be seen as a self-sacrifice or a favor, but something that people want to do. Reward them; make it a part of everyday activity; make it cool; but more importantly – make it easy. In fact, make iteasier than being eco-unfriendly or eco-neutral. To me, THAT is the biggest challenge facing poverty alleviation and environmentally friendly activity. Who will crack that nut in 2012?


- Chris

4 Responses to Behavior Change: the biggest challenge facing social entrepreneurs

  1. Angella Mbabazi on January 10, 2012 at 11:13 pm

    It is very true, poverty is the main contribution to environmental degradation. Every body knows about climate change and environmental degradation as it has been talked about strongly and the media has done a great job of awareness. Poverty alleviation has also been targeted mainly through helping people earn more through distribution of seeds and tools to farmers, job creation e.t.c but if the root cause of poverty is not dealt with, all activities and efforts are in vain. There has got to be a change of mindset the poor need to be helped to stop thinking poverty. Action needs to be taken now and the rest of the development will come easy.

    Rural Initiative for Development and Environmental Management (RIDEM)

  2. dawn whiteman on January 11, 2012 at 7:42 am

    I agree with your perspective and to build on that further, the struggle to change behaviour starts even sooner in the process and that is within corporate structures. I work as a strategist for social change helping organizations integrate social initiatives into their business strategy, and intellectually and emotionally they commit to it, but culturally and behaviourally, it’s a tough and long process to create change and buy-in.

  3. [...] Change is in the Air: What’s the Formula? Our featured post at the moment is about the biggest challenge we face as a society right now.  Behavior change is becoming a [...]

  4. Value Shift » Archive » On the issue of scale on January 31, 2012 at 3:23 pm

    [...] while the intellectual origins of the idea are global, the behavioral change we need is local. I don’t mean to suggest that we will solve global problems if we all [...]

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