Isn’t it bizarre? We, Filipinos, are united in the thought that illegal drugs, addiction and the crimes they lead to are cancerous to society, but we are divided by our preferred methods in solving the problem. What makes our predicament more complicated is how highly politicized and polarizing the issue has become. President Duterte’s bloody ‘war on drugs’ figuratively mirrors a war between his most loyal fanatics and his staunchest critics. Expletives are fired in the digital world in the same way that bullets are fired in the real world. In my opinion, the aftermath of these wars will lead to all of us, Filipinos, losing, regardless of our political inclination, and the drug problem prevailing.
As such, maybe we can consider a concept that aims to harness activities that were previously limited to corporations and startups—entrepreneurial opportunity-seeking, innovation, and business management—and apply them in solving society’s most pressing problems. Scholars and practitioners around the world call this ‘social entrepreneurship.’
Framing our scenario under the lens of social entrepreneurship, an exciting question to ask is: what insights from business, entrepreneurship and management thinking can we use in exploring solutions to the drug problem? Before brainstorming solutions, let us first understand how drug cartels work.
In the book ‘Narconomics: How to run a drug cartel,’ author Tom Wainwright details how drug cartels resemble the activities of big corporations. Drug cartels have organized supply chains around the world—from sourcing raw materials to turning them into consumable products. Wainwright also illustrates that drug cartels are even applying modern marketing strategies for their customers. They have harnessed the power of the internet to offer online ordering as a possibility, and big cartels have established intricate distribution systems where local criminal groups can ‘franchise’ global illegal ‘brands.’ For all intents and purposes, we can view the illegal drugs phenomenon as a global industry with many powerful business organizations in place!
In the past, the Colombian and Mexican governments tried to challenge the big drug cartels by launching an all-out war against them. The logic of the strategy holds merit: if the suppliers are eradicated, the illegal drug industry will cease to exist. However, the big drug cartels are very powerful and resilient. Their presence transcends the power of local and national governments, and as former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria attested, the war on drugs is too costly to sustain for countries in terms of money and worse—the lives of police and civilians that are lost.
If eradicating the supply by waging war against big drug cartels had been unsuccessful even for national
governments, what could we do?
Perhaps a good alternative is to challenge the illegal drugs industry not in terms of attacking the suppliers (e.g. waging war against the cartels, raiding drug production facilities), but rather, redirecting demand from the drug users. As Clayton Christensen contended in his theory of disruptive innovation, no business or industry is immune to ever-changing customer demands and preferences, as exhibited by the fall from dominance of Kodak in the advent of digital photography and the fall from dominance of Nokia and Blackberry in the advent of do-it-all smartphones.
Let us transfer this point of view to the context of the drug problem. The social entrepreneurship challenge is this: can we develop and innovate ‘products’ and ‘services’ that will disrupt the ‘illegal drugs industry’ and render them obsolete? At the risk of oversimplifying a very complex issue, if we can eliminate demand, we can eliminate the industry, and by extension the businesses that operate within it.
Viewed from a marketing perspective, illegal drugs as ‘products’ satisfy specific needs and wants of their users—therefore, it could be possible to develop ‘products’ and ‘services’ that are so remarkable that would-be users or actual users would prefer such alternatives to illegal drugs. I offer the following thoughts:
(1) There may be users who view drugs as a means of recreation and venue for socialization. As such, what activities can replace drugs by better serving these needs? At the barangay level, the simplest example we can cite is the use of sports—one good way would be to organize sports leagues—that will encourage friendly competition and support from residents.
It is interesting to explore other social scenes—e.g. nightlife in which adventurers seek the feeling of getting high—where benevolent innovations may be introduced to somehow beat the benefits of using illegal drugs and offer new ideas that can better serve the need for socializing and recreation.
(2) There may be users who consume illegal drugs as a means to cope with depression and deal with the difficulties of life. Perhaps we can explore how social media and the internet-of-things can be harnessed to develop apps or websites that provide support from a global community to which one can relate or belong.
(3) There may be users and dealers of illegal drugs who are forced to make a living out of it since there are no viable alternatives. Social enterprises, government and nonprofit organizations can collaborate to come up with livelihood ideas so that the poor will not be forced to live by gripping the knife’s edge. However, more creative solutions must be explored for dealers who find drug dealing more financially rewarding than doing an honest job.
There are many more reasons and root causes beyond the ones I enumerated on why people consume and deal in illegal drugs. The key is to wage war, not against the people involved, but against illegal drugs’ benefits by coming up with new products and services in the same way innovations have rendered previously existing industries obsolete. I propose social entrepreneurship as a perspective because ultimately, illegal drugs and addiction are social problems that are too big to be left in the hands of government alone. Let us harness the innate creative, innovative and opportunity-seeking traits of Filipinos so we can invent benevolent products, categories, or even industries that will replace the need for illegal drugs.
Together, let us dare make the illegal drugs industry obsolete!
Patrick Adriel H. Aure is currently a junior research fellow of the DLSU Center for Business Research and Development. Having recently earned his MBA from De La Salle University, he is excited about exploring cases featuring social enterprises, sustainability, innovation, and new business models. You can reach him at email@example.com.