Joe Speicher runs operations at Living Goods, a San Francisco-based organization that hires independent health entrepreneurs to go door-to-door selling products to prevent the main killers of young children. He spoke with blogger Emily Goligoski as part of a series of conversations with SOCAP participants before this October’s conference.
EG: Does Living Goods consider itself a medical product company or a rural sales network?
JS: Our tagline is the “Avon of rural healthcare.” We recruit sales agents in East Africa to train their communities on basic health prevention. First we supply them with a working capital loan of inventory, and they can promote their products with health messaging and materials when selling to their friends, families and neighbors.
These agents sell mosquito nets, vitamin supplements, sanitary pads, and other products. It’s based in network marketing, but we mostly see ourselves as a micro-franchise platform.
What other organizations have inspired you and Living Goods to do this work?
Results-focused organizations are the ones I admire most. At Living Goods we want to signal affordability while trying to improve health impact, and we find that the One Acre Fund uses the same principles in their efforts around hunger. Aggregating buying power, educating consumers, and helping to make markets more efficient in Sub-Saharan Africa are among the things that both organizations are trying to do in places where supply chains can be very fragmented.
What brought you to your current role, and what change are you looking to create?
I want to apply business sector thinking to work that has traditionally been not-for-profit. I worked in banking and consulting before joining the Peace Corps in the Philippines, and I find so many opportunities to make the social sector more efficient.
We’re currently working to target un-sexy preventable diseases that the CDC has identified as the most deadly for children—malaria, diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections, and TB—and are undergoing a randomized control trial with the MIT Poverty Lab. It’s important that we can show that we are in fact having an impact in reaching kids under five, and from there we’re able to diversify into other products that help, including high efficiency cook stoves.
-By Emily Goglioski