7/5/16 – This post is written by a team of students in the Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise MBA program spending their summer conducting market research in Tanzania. Their goal: understand the waste problems and housing issues, the related supply chains, and consumer behavior.
Dar es Salaam is Tanzania’s largest city, Africa’s third fastest developing urban area, and the world’s eighth fastest growing city by population. However, it is also one of the dirtiest cities in the world. Rapid population growth and rural to urban migration, coupled with a waste management system that is well below average, has led not only to serious waste issues, but has also created a housing crisis resulting in a housing deficit of 3 million units.
Organizations throughout the country have tasked themselves with addressing the housing crisis by researching alternative building materials. Others attempt to tackle waste management problems through financial incentives, and education and training programs. A few even work in the space in between these two challenges exploring non-traditional alternatives and affordable building materials and technologies, specifically working with recyclables, and it is somewhere within this space that our team is operating.
Prior to leaving to Fort Collins, our research highlighted the need to have an in-depth understanding of the supply chain and to be able to define its specific components. This includes everything from the waste pickers at the very beginning to the plastic processors, and, ultimately, the consumer. Though our research in the field has not followed a linear path, it is the beginning stages of the process that have exposed the most profound insights, and those which we couldn’t have ever really learned in class. We needed to understand how behaviors informed decision-making processes and how that might influence players downstream in the supply chain. We also needed to be able to articulate how current organizations navigate the waste management space while exposing the barriers to implementing a large-scale waste management system. More specifically, we wanted to know why Tanzanians don’t recycle.
Through expert and in-depth interviews we learned that Tanzanians do recycle. In fact, they reduce, reuse, and recycle perhaps better than most by reinventing products and redefining lifecycles to meet their needs. We did not anticipate the degree to which this occurred, and have since transitioned away from the conventional definition of recycling as the systematically managed end-of-life disposal of a good, to one where the consumer is the agent of change. Another factor we did not anticipate is the degree of complexity inherent within the Tanzanian social system and how that influences consumer behavior at the bottom of the pyramid. Who you are and who you know plays a significant role in how, why, and where you consume. Here, we can see the base of the pyramid as more than a concept in an article. We see it every day in action and unbound, and we can observe how it moves in relation to a vast system of informal and dynamic networks.
Though our time in the field has led us down many new and unanticipated paths, it has brought our research to life. We look forward to the remaining weeks as we work to bring it full circle and to identify whether there is space in the housing market for innovative alternative solutions using recyclable materials.