I’m Andrea Nelson Trice, President of Trice & Associates, an evaluation and consulting firm. This case came from my research for a book project on the human dimensions of social enterprise success.
Tony, a successful entrepreneur, visited several emerging markets and determined that dependency on fire for light is unacceptable in the 21st century. The health and safety dangers alone make an alternative essential. He knew how to design low-cost solar lights, so he quit his job and began building a social enterprise to address this problem.
He received a grant to give away thousands of his lights with the goal of priming the pump in multiple markets. Now, two years later, we’re brought in to evaluate the enterprise’s impact. The problem is, the company is far from breaking even. “I don’t know how many more things I can try,” Tony says. “People just aren’t buying our lights.”
As evaluators, do we simply pull out a standard template to evaluate the work, or do we risk asking deeper, more difficult questions around assumptions that are driving the enterprise? In interviews with Tony and emerging market social entrepreneurs, I’ve heard very different perspectives about “the problem.”
- Perhaps one of the most important things we can contribute as program evaluators is help identifying faulty assumptions that guide the work. Here is my website, which includes more on this.
- Increase your understanding of cultural differences. One of my favorite resources is from Professor Geert Hofstede, whose research team highlights national cultural differences.
- As a Do-It-Yourself culture, we often assume we can make sense of cultural differences on our own. That’s rarely the case. Expats, who have lived in a culture for years, can be great resources.
- Consider the Amish. It may seem futile to market solar lights to people who have no problem with their current light sources. But how often do we unintentionally overlay our values onto another culture as we work to solve a “pressing need?”
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