Is Your Target Market Pedophiles?

Cambodia, like many other aid-dependent countries, has a multitude of businesses using their social mission to sell products and services.  I have no gripes with this; you have to take whatever competitive advantage you have and a social story is usually a good hook for the average traveler in an impoverished country (though I think that the marginal value of social stores is shrinking everyday – another post for another time).

Using your social mission to sell you handicrafts or differentiate your product from another (i.e. eco-friendly, fair trade) is fine.  However, using your social mission to describe and label the people creating the product or providing the service is where I have issues, particularly when there is a direct connection between the client (beneficiary) and consumer.

First, you are perpetuating a label that at best is inaccurate (e.g. you might beneficiaries from many backgrounds) and at worst is something that the person wants to grow beyond. If and when a woman from our programs decides to share her story with the wider public, she does so in order to express that she is more than just a victim, more than just a survivor.  She has her own dreams and is moving toward them.  Letting that label persist only gives power back to the original perpetrator and takes away from the individual she is.

Second, and more importantly, you can create protection issues. “Come to our restaurant which trains formerly sexually abused boys to be waiters.”  I am sure you’ll get a lot of people with big hearts coming to support what is probably a very worthy initiative.  However, you will probably get at least a few customers with other motives.

Unfortunately, this is the case at a restaurant in Phnom Penh.  The restaurant provides high quality training to a group that the proprietors like to describe as “lady boys.” A number of pedophiles have caught on and started to frequent the restaurant.  Thankfully, a local organization dedicated to combating sexual abuse and exploitation identified the issue and is assisting the restaurant.  No specific protection issues have arisen, but this illustrates the potential dangers of social marketing and labeling your beneficiaries to the wider public.

Whether you run a business or social business, branding includes everything from how you portray your product/service to the people that produce it.

Here’s a novel question for all social businesses: how about asking your own employees to participate in developing the branding and marketing strategy?  How do they wish to be presented (if at all) to customers and the outside community?  How about a participatory process where employees have more control over what kind of work environment they want?

If your goal is to help people move on and lead independent lives, I think the first thing you have to do is break a label that breeds dependency and causes dissociation.  From my experience, most employees at a social business don’t want to be associated with something they have or are working to overcome; they are individuals that are invested in the quality of their work and want to be acknowledged for it on that basis.  When people come to my establishments, I want them to say “She/he is an incredible barista that greets me warmly and makes my cafe latte just how I like it every morning,” not “She/he is a victim and I am helping her/him.”


~ by responsiblenomad on December 18, 2010.

2 Responses to “Is Your Target Market Pedophiles?”

  1. “Here’s a novel question for all social businesses: how about asking your own employees to participate in developing the branding and marketing strategy? ” GREAT point.

    I’m launching a social business in Cambodia. Are my employees financially disadvantaged? Sure. But what’s more important is they are skilled artisans who have mastered a technique passed down over generations. I want them to be recognized for their exquisite skill and mastery.

  2. […] “Is Your Target Market Pedophiles?” […]

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