September 16, 2021
Wicked problems dominate our news cycles — climate change, economic disparity, terrorism, lack of access to healthcare. The list goes on.
But what makes a problem “wicked”?
By definition, a wicked problem is one that is difficult or impossible to solve due to its complex, ill-defined or contradictory elements. Often, “wicked” refers to a problem that does not have any singular solution.
These problems are caused and perpetuated by a dizzying web of interdependent forces. More often than not, these problems stack like nesting dolls, reinforcing one another and becoming more convoluted with time. In the case of rural agriculture, where economic and educational disparity collide with lack of access to technology, creating a working definition of the problem space can be a daunting task.
Seamus Tardif, Jiva’s Head of Growth, led several trips to Indonesia to give the team the opportunity to sit with community members — from farmers to traders to local officials — and speak about their experiences, successes and limitations within the current system. These trips ultimately defined our product strategy and the way we measure impact. Seamus explains, “What we’re battling is hundreds of years of a system that is stacked against these individuals. To make progress we must fundamentally change the way supply chains are structured, how value is distributed and how people acquire, accrue and apply knowledge. Ultimately, we are trying to change the odds in our farmer’s favor”.
To make progress we must fundamentally change the way supply chains are structured, how value is distributed and how people acquire, accrue and apply knowledge. Ultimately, we are trying to change the odds in our user’s favor
How does one begin to unwind generations of entrenched inequality and “change the odds”? Aria Nurfikry, Jiva’s Growth & Marketing Manager for Indonesia, believes that it all begins with trust. When discussing what surprised him about working with farmers, he noted, “the importance of the value of community in enhancing the credibility of our message. Trust is paramount in this market, and everything we do needs to drive towards building and reinforcing trust in Jiva within these communities”.
Building trust in a digital product, however, is not as easy as creating a simple and beautiful user experience or proclaiming a value proposition through a Facebook advertisement. For many who work and live in rural communities, inherent trust of, and comfort with, digital products do not yet exist.
Seamus explains, “we’re working with a population that has come online in the last 5 years. There is no such thing as a digital native. For hundreds if not thousands of years, these communities have operated without us. Our job now is to reframe technology as a tool for good; as something useful that can be relied on.” He continues, “Think about the developed world’s own adoption curve of technology. In the early 90s, very few of us understood its use cases. It usually took a friend or family member to demystify it”.
Jiva relies on a similar, community-first approach to build trust in our products. However, while many digital-first companies hope that organic referrals will lead to virality, we take a deliberate approach to employ key members of farming communities, whose deep relationships within local villages accelerate familiarity with, and adoption of, Jiva.
The familiarity that our on-ground team has with the lives of the farmers allow them to act as ambassadors of the service; they explain Jiva’s purpose, relate the use case to the individual farmer’s needs, and show farmers how to navigate the application. Instead of seeing a single, impersonal advertisement, farmers are likely to hear about Jiva from multiple known sources, building trust in the brand prior to adoption. Aria concludes,
“An omnichannel approach is critical because farmers need to know who we are; it’s easier to trust a friend who lives in your community than an application you’re seeing for the first time”.
Jiva’s growth team is therefore focused on designing, as Seamus describes it, “a softer approach to digital adoption”, through the deployment of on-ground community members who can ignite a self-perpetuating flywheel of trusted recommendations among disparate and hard-to-reach areas. Without this omnichannel approach, he notes, “it would take ten years to accomplish what we want to in two”.
At a fundamental level, this model seeks to minimize the amount of behavioral change required in adopting Jiva. By design, we ask an immense amount from our users: change your farming practices after decades in the field, buy your seeds online rather than at the local market, receive a digital loan, and do it all through a company you’ve just heard about. Employing friends and family of farmers as conduits of Jiva’s value and first-adopters of our products allows us to take a major element of this behavioral change — lack of face to face interaction — out of the equation. As Aria puts it, “our customer acquisition model allows us to be disruptive, but not prohibitively so”.
Ultimately, while Jiva is a startup that builds technology, our service will never be digital-only. Our relationships and actions within the community have an inherent physical component, and the experience of our farmers is heavily shaped by our employees on the ground. In fact, the majority of the user experience occurs between the farmer and these community employees, rather than between the farmer and the app screen.
Jiva’s engineers, designers, and product managers can build seamless and stunning digital experiences, but it’s the ability of Jiva’s on-ground network to truly embed the brand and its purpose within the community-conscious that drives customer acquisition, activation, and retention.
Wicked problems are complex and multifaceted. True progress against these problems requires a deep understanding of the lived experiences of the people that are subject to them — the big and the small, the universal truths and the personal nuances. Without that deep understanding, products, services and processes built for good may fail to reach critical adoption or address the true pain points felt by the user. In order to create lasting impact, we must meet our users in their communities, understand their pain points and treat them as partners in the evolution of our solutions. And all that begins with trust.
Seamus, when reflecting on Jiva’s community-driven growth model, concludes,
“A trust-first approach is not typical, but we aren’t trying to do something typical. When we crack the code and get millions of smallholder farmers to join us, we won’t be measuring impact in the number of users we have, but rather the step-change in power that their voice will have in the world”.