Acumen Blog

Sproxil_phone_scratch_code

Scratch to save lives

Photo courtesy of Sproxil

“So I just scratch the label on my product and it will tell me if it’s authentic or a fake?”

“Yes, that’s it and it’s all free to you as the consumer.”

“Wow, that’s very nice that I have the power of my product and health in my hands.”

In Africa we are seeing that consumers want to be in control of their purchases because counterfeits and fakes plague the market in all shapes and forms.  The demand for patient-empowering anti-counterfeiting tools is growing at a rapid rate.  The days where we simply pick up an item from the store and have faith in the product have long been gone, especially here in Africa.  Counterfeiters attack anything from prescription drugs, which can be fatal to consumers, to personal use products and automotive spare parts, which can also have deadly consequences.  With technology at our finger tips – from a simple phone to send an SMS to a smart phone where we can video chat from across the globe – we are moving towards a world where spreading knowledge and awareness is easier than ever.

For my Acumen Fund Fellowship I work at a company called Sproxil, whose mobile product authentication solution has proven that we are becoming a smaller world using simple technology already in the hands of so many.   With Sproxil’s world class SMS technology, consumers have access to find out whether the product they are purchasing is authentic or a fake. The numbers don’t lie: consumer rights awareness across Africa is growing.  When I started my Fellowship, Sproxil had processed almost one million text messages.  Now they are about to process two million messages.  It took them from 2009 to end of 2011 to get to one million, yet only eight months to reach their next million.

However, it’s proven difficult to get people in established positions of authority to accept this technology.  Surgeon generals have seen the advantages, along with boards of various organizations; so why is it that the CEOs of companies that actually produce these products have trouble seeing the advantages of this technology?  Your first thought might be cost, which is a good answer, but that’s not the main reason.  On the ground, we have seen that many of these higher-ups do not understand the power of consumer rights. Many companies spend thousands, even millions of dollars per year to fight counterfeiters, yet they are still being targeted and victimized by these villains.   It has been a whirlwind of a year trying to understand and talk to these individuals about the importance of letting the consumer do the anti-counterfeiting for them, yet they do not see the picture like their consumers do.  While Sproxil is rapidly growing and consumers are being empowered by each one of their purchases, our job is still cut out for us to help companies and consumers alike to see the power they have within themselves to make a change.

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Ghoncheh Jafarpisheh is a Global Fellow of the Class of 2012.  She works in Nairobi, Kenya with Sproxil.

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