Lasting Mile: How Kopernik is able to reach over 2 lakh BOP users with great products

Believing that several simple technologies can make life easier and help people move out of poverty, Kopernik works on the biggest issue – delivering to doorstep.


Crescentia O’wang’ona, a 60-year-old mother and grandmother living in Kenya, runs a fish stall at the local market. She first heard about the Q Drum from a neighbour, who saw it and immediately thought that it would be perfect for her, as she cannot bear heavy loads due to a knee injury.

Her face lights up when you ask her what she thinks of the Q Drum. She says that she can now spend more time with her grandchildren and on her business, as one trip to the spring with the Q Drum gets her five times more water than the small plastic can that she used to carry.

Not only does the Q Drum save her time, she adds, “Now, I don’t have to be selfish with water any more. When the people at the church next-door pass by and ask me for drinking water on Sundays, I can offer them nice, cool water as opposed to turning them down!”

Reaching a Q Drum to Crescentia was made possible by Kopernik, who connect simple, life changing technology with the people who need it the most.

Sally Bolton and her team tell us more about Kopernik’s work:

Kopernik: Origins

In 2010, Toshi Nakamura and Ewa Wojkowska left a decade of service with the UN to start Kopernik. They knew that there were several simple technologies that could make life easier and help people move out of poverty, but these weren’t really getting to the last mile. Kopernik was started to bridge this gap –  especially focused on people who have no access to these technologies.

The name is the Polish name of Copernicus (Ewa is Polish). Copernicus revolutionized the way people saw the world. Kopernik too wants to catalyse change.

“We work to connect simple, yet effective technologies to communities in remote areas. We work with local partners and have a social enterprise approach. To date, we have connected technologies with communities in 19 countries in the Asia-Pacific, Africa, and the Caribbean. We have served over 1,91,642 people, distributed 34,126 technologies and funded around 115 projects.” says Bolton.

Greenway-stove-white-background

The Greenway Smart Stove is one of the products Kopernik distributes

Crowdfunding for essential products at the BOP

“We are, both, crowdfunded and accept support from corporate partners. So you can raise funds for a particular project or a corporation can fund an entire project. You can choose from our ongoing projects and select an amount to donate. Our site also has a list of technologies that we’ve picked out. You can pick a technology and suggest a project. We also have gift certificates, so you can gift it to people and they, in turn, can fund projects. We also have a scheme where you can donate a fixed amount each month—The Tipping Point. Regular donations from our Tipping Point donors (a community of donors who give $25-$200 each month) and also through the Google One Today funding platform help us to plan for how quickly projects will be funded. We also receive support from major funding partners such as JPMorgan Chase Foundation and Daiwa Securities, which helps to fund ongoing projects and staff costs,” says Bolton.

Crowdfunding is a crucial part of Kopernik’s operations. The organisation uses crowdfunded donations to fund the upfront cost of sending technology to the last mile, to make these products available in places that standard supply chains simply don’t reach. When products are sold, they reinvest the money in more technology to reduce poverty.

The crowdfunding model is also seen as a great way to engage people around the world in helping to make a meaningful, tangible difference in the lives of people living with a lot less in last mile communities. Kopernik transparently publishes budget breakdowns and project reports on our website; they show their donors exactly where their money goes and what impact it makes.

Self Refracting Glasses

Self Refracting Glasses

What products are useful?

These technologies are in the field of agriculture, education, energy, water and sanitation etc. So whether it’s more commonly heard of Q Drums, solar lights, smart stoves, or other technologies like self adjustable spectacles (Adspecs) or a point of use water filter (LifeStraw®), Kopernik distribute them all.

The Q Drum

The Q Drum

“We work within a range: we distribute products based on need, affordability and durability. We do have tech fairs and people get to see the products there. We have local partners. We also have a flagship technology store and a network of technology kiosks where we can demonstrate technologies,” says Bolton.

Kopernik also does impact assessment for their projects – this has been in place from the beginning of Kopernik, with the help of development professionals.

Cracking the last mile problem

One of the things that stands out in Kopernik’s work is massive scale and reaching thousands with products. Bolton shares that five success factors that have worked for them in technology distribution and adoption in the last mile:

  1. Activating a local network of trust – we introduce technologies through working with local partners, such as community organisations, savings and loans groups or micro-entrepreneurs.
  2. Lowering financial barriers – by doing everything possible to keep the purchase price low, and making flexible payment options available.
  3. Riding the technology adoption wave – engaging innovators and early adopters to demonstrate the benefits and spread the word about new technologies.
  4. Focusing on tangible benefits – a single, simple message is more effective than trying to communicate multiple, abstract messages; the money customers will save from using the technology resonates most strongly in the last mile.
  5. Staying engaged, showing commitment – training local people in last mile communities in how to maintain the technologies is key to ensuring the products continue to be adopted and used.

Reaching last mile communities in different countries, or even in different regions of the same countries – especially in countries as large and diverse as Indonesia or India – definitely requires a tailored approach. They’re always looking for new products to add to their technology range that hit that sweet spot of being useful, durable and affordable.

But the utility of, for example, a fuel-efficient cookstove may vary depending on the local cooking practices and availability of cooking fuel in each community. And the durability of a product may vary. For example in fishing villages by the sea, salty air may cause metal to corrode more quickly. Kopernik aims to empower communities by sharing information about a range of products, so they can choose the technology that will best serve their needs

Future Plans

Kopernik wants to expand the tech kiosk network they’ve started in Indonesia. Indonesia has small, family-run shops (warung). So along with the everyday goods they sell, they also sell Kopernik’s products.

This special series on emerging solutions for BOP Markets is a part of a partnership between The Alternative and BoP Hub.

BoP Logo HThe BoP Hub was established in 2011 with a vision to design business to end poverty. A Clinton Global Initiative commitment, its mission is to catalyse and strengthen cross-sector collaboration and participation in social entrepreneurship. BoP Hub 2014 is taking place at Singapore from Aug 28-30 in Singapore.

For more information and to register, visit www.bopworldconvention.org.  


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