Marketing in Ghana: churches, marketplaces, t-shirts and a van with speakers
There are some advantages to being a cheap Dutch bastard. Because even though it really sucks to have to the cheapest flight out of Ghana: at 5 in the morning (meaning no sleep), I do get to have the whole night available to write a blog about how things are going.
And that’s worthwhile. Since the last period has most certainly proved that we’re on the right track here. A track that should lead us to becoming Ghana’s - and quite possibly West-Africa’s – first legal and properly behaving electronic waste collector. You bet that’s unique.
Why is that a good thing, then? Well, mainly because of the huge number of not so well behaving people in the electronic waste sector. And that’s not only because so many people are not really nice. It’s also because the ability to behave properly has not been created by government, NGOs, electronics producers, companies that sell gadgets, ect, ect. So the best thing you could do with your end-of-life mobile phone in Ghana, was keep it in your drawer.
Give it to the government and it will end up in a landfill. Give it to “recyclers” and you'll be sure that either some person or some landscape just got a little bit more ill, because of the unregulated process of getting valuable metals out of the phone. And dumping or burning the rest. So there must be better ways. And as my partners were keen on ‘lasting value’, like we are, we indeed chose a different path.
It makes a lot of sense to re-use the metals that the world is desperate for, right? So if people in Ghana have a phone they can’t use anymore (meaning it has been repaired 4 times and changed owner 3 times), would it not be great if it would be reinserted into the production chain? Well, no, it seemed… Because nobody was doing it, European laws were preventing it and African Environmental Protection Agencies (EPA) were not allowing it. So all the reports describing how bad the electronic waste problem is, had not really made a difference. But what would then make the difference? How can you show the public, the mobile industry, the governments that a change is possible?
The network around Closing the Loop acted by supporting the roll out of our practical approach. Because yes, you need to have the governments and multinationals involved to have an impact. But you do not need them to make a start. And we just started. It is a simple and clear message, that actually works better in African countries then in Europe: we want to buy your completely broken phones so we can recycle them.
That message is told in churches, on marketplaces, in schools and via other social networks. And although it has to come with quite some explanation, it is clearly being picked up. In the last 8 months, some 80,000 phones were collected across Ghana. With little to no marketing, although the promotional t-shirts we gave our collectors definitely caught a lot of eyes. Our collectors wear them and it’s really good to see their enthusiasm about the project.
We now have one field manager (an older man with a great network), who is in charge of overseeing 12 regional collectors. These collectors also have 2 to 5 people working for them, so the network is becoming bigger.
So what’s next? Well, we are mainly working hard to keep all parties on board and active, which is always tricky in Africa. But the key thing is to get the – almost impossible to get – permit from the EPA. We will get this when we have shown what we’re doing, that we’re doing it right and of course after we’ve walked the complete African route of talking, involving and persuading EVERYBODY that has ANYTHING to do with the permitting procedure. When that’s done (yes, I believe we will get it, eventually), we can start kicking bottoms.
We are now preparing a marketing campaign to promote the recycling proposition, using radio, our promotion van (speakers on top; yeah!) and hopefully the support of partners, such as operators. So that’s planned for the next months. For the next couple of weeks, it’s all about making sure that the container filled with Ghanaian scrap is ready for shipment. That will be a milestone indeed. The first of its kind, anywhere in the world!
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