Not much, might be your first response. Or perhaps you’re thinking how it could help you manage your stress by finding a sympathetic shoulder to cry on after realising one of your interventions was failing. Or you may simply be asking, “What, Kate, is Tinder?” My economist colleague’s answer would be that it is a solution to reduce search and information costs when looking for a date. With the flick of a finger, you can determine if a potential partner meets your criteria. If only there was such an app for MSD programmes to find partners – think how much sustainable scaling up would be happening. No more time-consuming partner identification, negotiation, contracting – just one simple swipe to the right.
Alas, Tinder has not yet launched ‘Win–Win-der’ – the app for single MSD programmes searching for partners that are interested in short term, meaningful relationships. But there is a useful lesson that MSD programmes can learn from Tinder, especially those that are working in seemingly thinner contexts with few obvious potential partners. The whole point of Tinder is to let users input criteria to speed up the connection process and specify a geographic radius as to how far they’re willing to travel. Much of the guidance on partner selection in MSD is not targeted specifically to the additional challenges that thin markets – those with fewer capable actors, sparsely distributed – exhibit. It’s no wonder that programmes in these contexts may struggle to find their dream partner that meets the following criteria:
- An appropriately-sized organisation (should we say we are looking for a scale agent or will that look too desperate?)
- With just the right amount of will, and perhaps a bit of skill, but not too much (we don’t want to overemphasise that bit).
- And a history of performing well in my chosen area, but with enough momentum to do something differently if only the right opportunity would present itself (a go-getter).
If these criteria were input into the ‘Win–Win-der’ app, to find a partner in a thin market, I reckon you wouldn’t match with anybody. But Tinder allows you to change your search criteria; in thin contexts, MSD programmes would do well to do the same. This might mean re-visiting your sector selection, your geographic focus, or looking outside the immediate value chain. In Serbia, a programme spotted the need to develop a more private-sector responsive training system but could find no partner with whom to pilot the idea. However, when it expanded their geographic, it ‘matched’ with a willing partner and you can read about the fruits of that partnership here. In a very different, small island context, another programme found that the only feasible way a retail market for agriculture inputs could work in remote areas was by partnering with large hardware and construction firms, that added agriculture products to their existing offerings. The hardware and construction firms had the logistics and networks to operate feasibly in distant, thin markets.
What’s that, I hear? The naysayers? But what about in my really, really, really, thin market? Is that an excuse to just do anything, avoiding the challenge of at least trying to influence a change that might last? Well, my friends, your programme, your choice. But before you swipe left and go at it all alone, think about changing your search criteria first.