Chapter SevenValue

Over the years I have heard far too many stories of well‐meaning investments being made in goods or services that people simply don’t like or want. Homeless people may choose not to stay in available shelters or visit free clinics, villagers may use a mosquito net for fishing rather than protection from malaria, and unemployed youth may forgo training and ignore resource guides. Earlier I shared the examples of clean cookstoves, a water‐pumping contraption, and an HIV‐prevention gel that all went unused. What we want to offer may not be desired or needed. Or it may simply be too inconvenient, poorly designed, distasteful, or embarrassing.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, how many of us do everything that we’re told is good for us? I know I should eat more vegetables, meditate, and do yoga, but I don’t. For a social innovation to provide real value it must tap into users’ real wants and needs, not only what we believe is good for them. People don’t always choose what is in their theoretical best interest.

One reason undesired interventions persist for longer in the social sector is because frequently it is funders rather than consumers who are paying for them. Without the important signal that a purchase decision sends to confirm perceived value we can be lulled into believing something is wanted when it is not. A company knows immediately it has a problem if no one buys its product or service. But if we are giving something out for free, how ...

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