Global Distributors Collective
Big change starts small
The Access Gap
Today, 759 million people lack access to electricity, 2,6 billion lack access to clean cooking, 884 million lack access to clean drinking water, and a further 815 million are undernourished. This ‘access gap’ has a huge impact on other development goals, such as gender equality and access to education; and hinders communities’ resilience to climate shocks. Beneficial products such as solar lights, water purifiers, and agricultural inputs are vital in helping to address this gap for people at the last mile, improving their health, wellbeing, and livelihoods.
But last mile consumers are often overlooked by the traditional private sector, due to being remote and low-income, reducing their ability to pay.
Last mile distributors are innovative businesses and organisations, often with a social mission. They have strong local networks and a comprehensive value proposition focused on quality, after-sales service, and consumer financing. Most sell more than one type of product and leverage multiple distribution channels such as sales agents and retail shops.
They help create sustainable markets by raising awareness and stimulating demand for products in last mile communities, creating the conditions for other kinds of companies to enter and serve those customers.
The free, clean gas produced by her biodigester means this customer of GDC member – ATEC* Biodigesters International – no longer needs to buy firewood to cook.
However, distributors face significant challenges such as poor transport and telecommunications infrastructure, which leads to high costs and risks. They are often very small, locally-led companies operating in isolation and ‘reinventing the wheel’ – and have not traditionally leveraged economies of scale to achieve greater collective impact. That’s where the Global Distributors Collective (GDC) comes in.
Supporting the Last Mile
The GDC supports last mile distribution companies to deliver life-changing products such as solar lights, water filters, medicines and improved cookstoves to people who have low income, live in remote areas, or both. It enables distributors to reach millions more underserved people by building capacity and catalytic partnerships to save time, optimise costs and increase scale, while also establishing a collective voice for the sector.
The GDC was incubated by Practical Action, who now host it, with activities delivered in partnership with Hystra and Bopinc. Funding is provided by UK Aid from the UK government via the Transforming Energy Access Platform. Since its launch in October 2018, it has grown to over 200 members operating in over 50 countries, from Pakistan to Kenya to Papua New Guinea.
Adopting a Systems Approach
The GDC implements a collective systems approach providing support and services that benefit its entire membership and beyond. It enables companies to learn from one another, test and replicate what has worked in different contexts, and sharing learnings on what has not worked and why. The GDC also collaborates with a range of partners to enable the broader system to work more effectively with, and provide meaningful support to, distributors.
Ultimately, the GDC’s strategic aims are twofold:
- Help last mile distributors improve business performance by providing, and enabling others to provide, solutions and services that help them save time, reduce costs, build capacity and develop catalytic partnerships.
- Build a collective voice for the last mile distribution sector by generating and sharing learnings, raising the profile of distributors, and helping the broader system to work effectively with them to achieve shared impact goals.
To achieve these two strategic aims, the GDC:
- Crowdsources innovations through Innovation Challenges, helping GDC members and their partners (eg. service providers) to pilot their ideas with financial and technical assistance; open-sourcing all insights so that others can learn from and replicate learnings in their own businesses.
- Shares a wealth of data and insights on the last mile distribution sector to raise awareness of challenges and opportunities and support other stakeholders to engage with them more meaningfully, including bringing funding into the sector.
- Offers training services and facilitates peer and expert mentoring and technical assistance, to support members to overcome key challenges.
- Convenes members at in-person and virtual events, facilitating match-making, knowledge exchange and peer-learning opportunities.
- Develops and pilot new initiatives to bring down costs for distributors, including a procurement platform that may enable distributors to procure quality products at more affordable prices.
Last mile distributors are critical to creating change at scale. The private sector has a crucial role to play in supporting distributors to thrive, from investment to deliver triple bottom-line returns, to new subsidised business models, to manufacturers and service providers creating products and platforms in partnership with distributors and their customers.
Join us in supporting these social entrepreneurs, to ensure that no-one at the last mile gets left behind.