Pivoting Business Processes for Purpose with Barrows.

Focus Area
Cross Cutter
Innovation Lever
Existing product, platform or service
Transition to Scale
Barrows is a design and manufacturing company that produces display units for retailers all over South Africa. In February 2017, Innovation Edge and Barrows set out to explore this question: Could excess business inventory be used to print early learning materials and distribute them to under-resourced communities throughout South Africa?
The Problem.
Young children and their teachers need quality early learning materials. Many preschool programmes in under-resourced communities (creches, playgroups, reading clubs, Grade R classrooms etc.) rely on training and support organisations (usually NGOs) to provide them with educational materials. However, many NGOs find it difficult to carry the cost of printing and distributing these resources. When early learning materials do reach preschools, the content is often not educationally sound or age appropriate. Materials may be in a language that the children don’t know (South Africa has 11 official languages), or contain content that children cannot relate to – like weather charts featuring snow. There is a need for a sustainable pipeline of high quality early learning materials designed and distributed appropriately for age, language and content.
The Innovation.

In December 2016, Barrows attended Stream Africa, a WPP Group Un-conference, where its Creative Director Ian Gourley heard about the content dilemma facing South Africa’s early learning services. He realised Barrows had something valuable to offer: an existing national printing and distribution business and free space on printing material made for retail display units already paid for by clients. The artwork for early learning materials, such as posters and flashcards, could be placed on these unused white spaces, and because the print run is already scheduled and paid-for, the material could be produced at little or no additional cost. At the same time, Innovation Edge was trying to find a partner to test the idea of pivoting business platforms for social impact in a shared-value model.

Watch the full story from Barrow’s Creative Director Ian Gourley’s talk “CSI – Baked in vs. Bolted on” at Think Future here.

How it works
In 2017, Innovation Edge appointed a project manager who partnered with content providers and NGOs that supported a network of early learning services close to each of the nine national Barrows’ distribution hubs. We experimented with processes and developed a system that seamlessly fits into Barrows’ business processes and meets the shared-value objective:
  • Recipient organisations are vetted to ensure that they can meet minimum requirements
  • A content committee was established to review and source appropriate materials
  • Approved materials are uploaded to a catalogue for ‘ordering’ Recipient organisations order content from the catalogue well in advance
  • Orders are uploaded to the Barrows internal production planning system
  • Orders are matched to print runs in terms of quantity, size, shape and colour
  • Barrows production team prints the ordered materials Printed materials are sent to the most appropriate depot (in closest proximity to the recipient organisation)
  • Recipient organisations collect materials within agreed timeframes and are responsible for last-mile distribution
  • On collection of materials, recipient organisations submit the necessary forms to track and verify reach as per B-BEEE requirements
  • Electronic records are updated to reflect production and delivery
What is innovative about this initiative is that it leverages unused inventory in an existing business process to create a quality product that addresses an educational need at little or no extra cost. At the same time, the initiative has a positive impact on Barrows in a number of ways that ultimately benefits its bottom line – including offering its clients social impact value-add with every job it prints, strengthening its B-BBEE (Broad-based Black Business Economic Empowerment) scorecard (4) and attracting and retaining top talent who are looking for employment opportunities that provide a sense of purpose. By February 2019, Barrows had produced 184 267 pieces of educational material. Because of the perceived business value, Barrows has committed to funding the project management role going forward – ensuring full business integration.
Why we invested.
We were searching for an opportunity to demonstrate that there’s great opportunity at the intersect between profit and purpose. Business’ excess inventory can take many forms. Making smart use of this excess inventory has the potential for positive social impact while simultaneously benefiting the business. Kiva Executive Chairwoman Julie Hanna says, ‘Profit and purpose are force multipliers that reinforce each other. Two synergistic halves of a whole where the sum is greater than the parts.’ We set out to answer the question: could excess inventory be used to print and distribute educational materials for under-resourced communities across South Africa? The answer is yes.
The Project Team
Barrows Design and Manufacturing (Pty) Ltd is a Retail Marketing / Shopper Conversion company and is part of the WPP group. They design and manufacture retail display units for companies all over South Africa. Content providers and distribution partners: Embrace | Wordworks | Ilifa Labantwana | Nal’ibali | Smartstart | Earlybird Educare@Work | The Reach Trust | Redink | RCL Foods (Do More Foundation)