Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The dark side of innovation

Being a person who believes in the ying and the yang, the light and the dark, I suppose there had to be a dark side to innovation, the side that no one explores or debates, the uncomfortable side, the scary side. At a talk on low income solutions to marketing a case study was done on SAB and Kenya. SAB realized that their beers were too expensive for that market. Their strategy! To develop Cassava a cash crop into a low income beer using some awesome technology. With all the resources they have they succeeded in the technology. A case in point.  And produced a low income beer. The sales of the beer are phenomenol in that market, but SAB really want the market buying more of this beer, slowly increasing the price to make their premium beers appetizing to the market in price. Genius or just plain devious. At the talk it was explained that the farmers could make much more money selling the cassava now ( a cash crop) BUT one has to balance out the social ills of all the alcohol consumed in the market and the total cost to the country in the long run. A dark cloud came over the room as the case study unfolded. When the presenter mentioned that for the first time in his life the CEO of SAB felt they had done something good in their lives I felt the room contract in disgust. The reality is excess alcohol use is one of the biggest scourges of the low income community....something they struggle with on a daily basis, and beer makes up the majority of that , and SAB is the biggest role player. Social ills such as violence in all forms, car accidents, shack fires and the list can go on and on are exacerbated by excess alcohol use. Not to mention that poor households spend income they cannot afford on alcohol that should be used for education and food, sometimes leaving families hungry! This is not anecdotal. (See one of my earlier blogs on How excess alcohol use is actually the main cause of shack fires) and backed up by many other research reports. Like i said i am not a teetotaller and do love my tipple but balancing the forces of good and bad when it comes to innovation should not be an issue. Innovation in this context helps the farmer but destroys a community or even a country. So innovation in this context favours the bad ( even though there is some good). Innovation should always favour the good of society BUT i understand their might always be a dark side. The final question should be how SAB can change their entire business model using innovation to become a force for good! Is this impossible?It is in my opinion. They have the resources, the brand, the technology, so they could actually change the world....for good....or they could keep on destroying it interspersing themselves with feel good innovations that will never counter their own dark side. All SAB needs is the will!