You’re working hard to hone your solution, to make it simple and cheap enough to replicate. Policy seems like something far away – something you might consider once you have significant traction and are going big. You’re not planning to scale through government, anyway, so why worry about politics when you’re in R&D?
If your goal is scale, we’d encourage you to think about it from day one.
The need for this is more obvious in sectors where government plays a significant role as your Doer or Payer, like healthcare and education. In these scenarios, you might aim to integrate your solution into government policy or potentially train the government to deliver it. But even if you aren’t hoping that government will eventually adopt, replicate or pay for your model, government priorities and policies (favorable or unfavorable) can greatly affect your ability to push forward. A recent visit to Tanzania with some of our portfolio organizations really brought this to light.
Let’s first take a look at Sanku, a micronutrient fortification organization in Tanzania. Their approach is to get “dosifiers” – machines that mix a precise dose of micronutrients into flour during the milling process – into the hands of small millers to ensure that grain in last mile communities have the essential nutrients to improve families’ nutrition. Their solution is not tied to government – it operates in the market. Nonetheless, policy plays a crucial role for the potential for their solution to scale. The government is serious about compliance with fortification laws, but only mandates that small mills fortify when a critical mass is available in the local market. As the only current option for small mill fortification, this has huge implications for Sanku’s scale prospects. If they can help a district reach critical mass, then their job gets a whole lot easier – it becomes compulsory rather than voluntary for small mills to fortify, which should give them a boost in sales. Of course the question of actual enforcement at the local level is still on the table, but national fortification policies can create an enabling environment for their solution to truly take off.
But what if policies undermine your solution or your work? We’re seeing this happen with our two media-based portfolio organizations in Tanzania. Increasing government media censorship – such as the suspension of all birth control related media content on TV and radio – has affected what content they can air and the resulting impact they will have. As free media is increasingly under threat, so is their ability to scale in that market.
So, what can you do when you’re still early stage? Here are some ideas to get you started:
We know that time, resources and energy are tight in R&D and that adding another thing to your plate is not what you want to hear. We’re not saying that you need to create a government relations team from day one – just don’t ignore the potential for politics to dramatically help or hinder your ability to get your solution to scale, regardless of your stage and the sector you’re working in. Get your grounding, make a plan to influence the relevant policies and people, and try to ensure your solution makes your government partners look good.
And remember – government is a unit made of up of a bunch of people. The principals of relationship building and behavior change will be key to your success in engaging with them.