Introducing the Ashoka Book Club: Up and Out of Poverty - The Social Marketing Solution

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Source: Ashoka

This will be the first of monthly book reviews from Ashoka staff, covering books which we have found relevant to our work. This first review is by Fransje de Waard who works with Ashoka in the Netherlands and is on Up and Out of Poverty - The Social Marketing Solution” by Philip Kotler and Nancy R. Lee.

In the recent past I finalised an assignment for the translation into Dutch of the book “Up and Out of Poverty - The Social Marketing Solution” by Philip Kotler and Nancy R. Lee (Pearson Education, Inc.). When I was offered the job, I felt the connection with the title, but had little idea right then that the main author, Phil Kotler, was basically the godfather of marketing, period. It did not take me long to find out about that, though, because everyone around me who had anything to do with commerce and business told me so. Then again, they had not been aware that he has been focusing his work and reputation on social marketing for years now, and so there is something new to learn for a lot of people in this book.

In many ways this book represents a paradigm that lies beyond the perceived dichotomy between economy and societal health, business and social change, commerce and charity. Of course the traditional binary mindset has been challenged for years now, not in the least by Ashoka, but it remains more in place than is good for us, and it can certainly do with some more theoretical and conceptual deconstructing. This book contributes to that by laying out the various premises, principles, tools and techniques of marketing, and showing how those can be usefully applied to address and tackle an entire range of issues that help perpetuate poverty the world over. For this to be succesful most people need to make a shift in perception, but this is less complicated than people imagine. Replace the overarching traditional purpose of financial gains by societal gains, and you have a start.

A solid dent in the old mindset is offered by the first chapter in the book, which starts with the section “Why Poverty Hurts Everyone”. The arguments that Kotler and this co-author Lee offer here include spin-offs from poverty through wasted lives, crime and disease to global upheaval and migration, and also point out how focusing on ‘the bottom of the pyramid’ is not actually all that difficult, yet has tremendous potential. In the chapters that follow, the ‘structure’ of poverty is examined, showing – apart from its hereditary culture - the many issues that relate to it and keep it in place – issues which are therefore also doorways for tackling poverty: from disease to droughts, from poor education to high energy prices, from degrading soils to poor infrastructure, and the kinds of solutions that have been put forward as remedies. The authors then argue that the approach of social marketing has been sorely missing from this mix, and spend the rest of the book presenting  subsets of marketing theory and practice, and illustrating those with existing, and often exiting case studies from around the world.

I guess even for those who have embraced the overall paradigm of social entrepreneurship way before its current advance, it won’t do any harm to go back to some of the basic tenets of marketing and assess how those can be put to work more effectively. Such stuff is found in separate chapters as ‘Segmenting the Poverty Marketplace’, ‘Evaluating and Choosing Target Market Priorities’, ‘Determining Desired Behavior Changes’, ‘Understanding Barriers, Benefits, and the Competition for Change’ and ‘Developing a Desired Positioning and Strategic Marketing Mix’. Each chapter provides case study material from a specific areas of work, such as fighting malaria and river blindness, homelessness, teen pregnancy, agricultural decline.  

While various cases and strategies reminded me of the work of one Fellow or another, Ashoka as an organisation pops up near the end of the book, in the chapter on three partnerships between the private, non-profit and governmental sectors. Coverage is very brief and does very little to enlighten anyone, but getting mentioned in this overall context is of course legitimate, considering Ashoka’s track record, and may once again draw some more people into its global network of creative social marketing practitioners.