If poverty was a disease, malnutrition would be a symptom. Plumpy’nuts, a nutrient fortified, peanut butter bar-like food packet, treats the symptom, but what happens in the meantime when it comes to curing the disease?
Alex Goldmark, in this latest GOOD article, asks: “Should Fighting Hunger Be a Franchise Business?” I’m less concerned about whether or not fighting hunger should be franchised and more interested in if and how business models interact with the broader forces that undermine or drive poverty reduction.
If franchising Plumpy’nuts is a sustainable remedy, then I am all for it. As noted in Goldmark’s article, franchising can benefit local economies by providing employment to help residents realize their full potential, incorporate local enterprises into chains of operation by sourcing ingredients form local agriculture, and eliminate dependency on aid so that communities can learn to become self-sufficient.
But there’s more to the picture than jobs and better nutrition. Franchising food companies like Nutriset, makers of Plumpy’nuts, in developing countries also provides a critical ingredient to alleviating poverty - education. Using local saleswomen as ambassadors of Plumpy’nuts, Nutriset trains them about the product’s benefits and how to provide better nutrition to children. Once deployed into the field, these saleswomen would be able to influence other residents as they are perceived as trusted resources in the local community.
Success could lead to less medical visits, which are costly to begin with, and smarter eating habits. Yay to that.
But what if consumers may become dependent on Plumpy’nuts and use the money saved to buy more of it instead of purchasing food from local growers?
Or what if franchising Nutriset is an effective strategy in alleviating poverty, wouldn’t the franchise eventually become obsolete? In some ways that’s a good thing, but what would happen to the people they employ? Will they reinvest the profits in the local communities to fulfill basic needs like access to medical care and education?
And to what extent should businesses profit from the bottom of the pyramid?
The development indsutry has marched full speed into attractive solutions before without proper consideration for the broader context, leading to some undesirable but unintended consequences. Franchising is a good idea that doesn’t deserve that fate.
Monica Wong is an intern at Results for Development Institute.