Micro-entrepreneurs making an impact in less developed communities – John Roberts

John Roberts, MIT Sloan Visiting Professor

From Entrepreneur Magazine

One might well ask, “What do micro-entrepreneurs in urban and slum neighborhoods across Cape Town, South Africa have to learn from the elite business schools of the world?  It turns out that the answer to this question is: “Plenty.”

I recently had the honour of being Chairman of Judges of the prestigious Gary Lilien Practice Prize given by the INFORMS Society for Marketing Science, in conjunction with the Marketing Science Institute and the European Marketing Academy. The award winning study proves that the tools of marketing science can make a major positive impact in helping to grow disadvantaged economies like the ones in Cape Town.

The award winner was a 2016 study of 850 Cape Town entrepreneurs led by Stephen Anderson-Macdonald of Stanford University, Rajesh Chandy of the London Business School and Bilal Zia of the World Bank.  They tested three interventions when trying to gauge the best way to help small retailers in the slums of South Africa grow their business: The first group was given training in marketing and sales, the second group was given training in finance and accounting, and the third control group was given no assistance, being told that they would receive training on the next round.

The researchers found significant improvements in profitability from both types of business skills training, relative to the control. Monthly profits increased by 30-40% on average for both. However, more interestingly, the way these gains were achieved differed substantially between the two groups.

The small business owners who received marketing training tended to improve and become more profitable through a focus on growth. They increased sales, purchased extra stock and materials, and added more part-time sales staff. These entrepreneurs also implemented more marketing related business practices (e.g., market research, marketing tactics, sales tactics). By contrast, the finance group achieved similar profit gains but through an “efficiency focus” on lower costs and the use of more finance and accounting practices.  While both led to more viable businesses, in terms of employment and business activity, it was marketing that grew the pie.

The study shows that powerful 21st century tools are being used in the townships in South Africa and that they can be extremely effective.

Read the full post at Entrepreneur Magazine.

John Roberts is Visiting Professor at MIT Sloan School of Management and Scientia Professor of Marketing at the University of New South Wales.

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