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If we really care about leaving no-one behind and building sustainable solutions to challenges at the last mile, we need to focus on creating an ecosystem that allows last mile distribution companies to thrive and scale.

Photo credit: Pollinate Group

Active Project

The Challenge

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.

“There remain urgent gaps in recognizing and addressing the challenges faced by distributors who ultimately deliver life-changing products to communities that are remote, poor, and/or marginalised.”

Neha Misra, Co-Founder & Chief Collaboration Officer, Solar Sister

The Ingenious Solution

We’ve designed and are leading a new initiative called the Global Distributors Collective, which adopts a systems approach to solving the last mile distribution problem.

The Global Distributors Collective (GDC) is a collective of almost 200 last mile distribution companies around the world. Our purpose is to make last mile distribution the first priority, so life-changing products can be affordable & available to all.

The GDC is the world’s only entity which is dedicated to supporting and representing last mile distributors across sectors and across geographies, and to providing services to help distributors to improve business performance and grow. The GDC provides a collective voice for distributors to ensure their voice is heard; drives research and innovation across the sector; facilitates the exchange of information, insight and expertise; and provides critical services that leverage economies of scale.

Some examples of services that we provide to members include:

  • Centralised Purchasing Platform: Piloting a centralised purchasing platform to help distributors to procure products more quickly, efficiently and at lower cost.
  • Learning & Collaboration Events: Convening distributors through regional events to facilitate knowledge exchange, learning, match-making, and access to product and service information.
  • Innovation Pilots: Crowdsourcing business model innovations from distributors and providing support to pilot these innovations with financial and technical assistance, and making learnings open source.
  • Training Facility: Delivering a series of training programs, co-designed with GDC members, to support distributors to overcome key challenges and facilitate peer-to-peer learning.
  • Generating and sharing data and market intelligence: Producing a groundbreaking State of Sector report, which maps the last mile distribution sector and includes guidance to governments, aid agencies and investors how they can best support the sector.

“What we often lack as last-mile distributors is access to diverse product information, best practices in sales agent training and customer education, funding opportunities, and opportunities to create linkages with similar organisations both in-country and globally, to amplify and accelerate scale-up. The GDC is the first such attempt to provide these invaluable opportunities to organisations such as ours, and we believe it has huge potential to facilitate our work and that of our peers, which will ultimately serve to benefit millions of households across developing countries”.

Tania Laden, CEO, Livelyhoods

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