An Open Letter to Global Soap Project
Derreck Kayongo Founder Global Soap Project
PO Box 94021
Atlanta GA 30318
Dear Mr. Kayango,
First, let me begin by saying well done. Your decision to start a social enterprise to fight poverty and disease in the world’s poorest nations demonstrates a level of empathy and compassion to which we should all aspire. That alone makes you a well deserved “CNN Hero”.
But, second, may I suggest that your business model can be dramatically improved, quadrupling your impact and eliminating the unintended damage you are doing.
Currently, you receive donations of used hotel soap, which are sent to your warehouse in Atlanta. At this point you:
“…sanitize them first, then heat them at very high temperatures, chill them and cut them into final bars. It’s a very simple process, but a lot of work.
A batch of soap bars is only released for shipment once one of its samples has been tested for pathogens and deemed safe by a third-party laboratory. The Global Soap Project then works with partner organizations to ship and distribute the soap directly to people who need it — for free.”
Here’s the problem. As you yourself state, a bar of soap in a place like your home nation of Uganda costs about 25¢. The cost of a shipping a bar of soap to Uganda is considerably higher than that. In fact, not seeing your books, I’m guessing that the shipping costs are your highest budget line. Another problem is that when you distribute your soap for free in Uganda, or Haiti, or elsewhere, you are undercutting a local small business which is selling locally manufactured soap. Your father was a former soap-maker in Uganda. Imagine if he had to compete with Global Soap Project’s free products? If you’d like to learn more about these problems, just google the acronym “SWEDOW“.
But both of these problems can be solved at once. Why don’t you take that hotel soap, clean it, repackage it, and then sell it in Atlanta? Then take the profits and buy soap from local vendors in Uganda, to distribute to those who otherwise couldn’t afford it. There are a wide range of vendors in the US who would trumpet the social-impact benefit of your soap which both reduces waste and help the less fortunate. Your market would be considerably larger than you’d expect.
You may be tempted to try a “sell one – send one” deal like TOMS shoes. Please fight that inclination. It’s also wasteful and undermines local entrepreneurs for the same reasons listed above. Just stick to the “sell one – send money” model.
If the figures on your CNN story are accurate, you’ve collected 100 tons of soap, and distributed 100,000 bars. Let’s assume a local bar of soap can be bought for 25¢ and that your reprocessed hotel bars could be sold in the United States for a profit of $1 each. If you had sold those bars instead of shipping them, then bought locally, you could have distributed 400,000 bars by now, quadrupling your impact! And what’s even better, you wouldn’t have put a local soap manufacturer (like your father was) out of business.
I would sincerely like to help you improve your business model. I share your passion to fight poverty and disease, and would be more than happy to work with you on this. For example, we can help connect you to over a dozen soap manufacturers in Haiti.
Once again, congratulations on being named a CNN Hero, your spirit and hard work make this richly deserved.