Distribution as social innovation going mainstream?

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Forbes magazine focuses on business and has a reputation for political conservatism. They are the folks that bring you the annual list of the richest Americans, and the magazine’s un-ironic motto is “The Capitalist Tool.” So, I was recently surprised to see them publish an article about fostering social innovation through improved distribution.

Because Forbes has a total circulation of more than 900,000, the article is a PR coup for Ashoka, a large and global network of social entrepreneurs. That doesn’t mean that the article breaks new ground in social innovation or marketing for the public good. One example program cited in the article is Grameenphone, a mobile-phone based project founded in 1997.

What surprised me is that Forbes published this piece at all. I’d like to take this publication as a sign that mainstream U.S. business writers and readers are taking increased notice of the opportunity to do well by doing good through innovative marketing approaches aimed to serve those at the bottom of the global economic pyramid.

In particular, I’m heartened that Forbes ran a piece that highlights innovation in distribution. Distribution is one of the pillars of marketing practice. I’m sure many Forbes readers realize that. I’m not sure that many of those same readers would concede that unimaginative distribution approaches are a root cause of global economic inequality as well as lackluster performance for large U.S. companies operating in oversees markets.

I’ll confess that it’s been quite a while since I’ve read Forbes the magazine. Maybe at least as long as the last time editor-in-chief Steve Forbes ran for president. Like plenty of mainly digital readers, I mostly discover individual articles, and not follow whole publications. Forbes may have broadened its horizons recently, leaving me an overly harsh and out-of-touch critic.

But I think that’s beside the point. Regardless of my situation, increased mainstream exposure for innovative distribution practices that enhance the social good is good news.

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