One billion people lack access to electricity, 663 million people lack access to clean water, 815 million people are chronically undernourished, and 3 billion people lack access to clean cooking facilities.
Existing products such as solar lights, water filters, and clean cookstoves are transformative for poor families. For example, a solar light saves money for families who otherwise depend on expensive fuels; provides light in the evening for children to study and families to generate additional income; reduces carbon emissions and the risk of indoor air pollution from the burning of kerosene; and improves overall quality of life for people who have previously been unable to see when the sun goes down. However, these products are still often not available to many remote, poor or vulnerable communities, because distributing these products is expensive and difficult.
Last mile distribution companies (LMDs) are critical to reaching last mile populations with such products, helping to improve people’s health, wellbeing and livelihoods. This is due to LMDs’ strong local networks, important role in market creation and their comprehensive value proposition focused on quality, sales service and consumer financing.
However, such companies face a range of challenges. Often operating in isolation within high-risk/low-infrastructure markets, they work with customers who have very little income and limited knowledge of the benefits that simple products can bring.
Distributors struggle to recruit, train and retain sales staff, have limited access to working capital, and face policy barriers such as high taxation on imported products. They have no collective voice, and no access to best practices.
Without additional support for these businesses, hundreds of millions of people across Africa, Asia and Latin America will miss out on life-changing products and services.
Photo credit: BoP Innovation Center