From VARs to Fishing Schools

There’s an ancient phenomenon from the world of software called VARs – for Value-Added Resellers. These were companies that sold, customized, installed and supported software from vendors such as Oracle, Microsoft and SAP. They did the part that didn’t scale; that required bodies to customize the software, train the users, and get the actual corporate buy-in – which is quite a different problem from getting the contract in the first place.

We have watched consumer tools – iPhones and apps and the like – gain adoption so easily that VARs and the whole process of helping users to use a product seems old-fashioned – or perhaps necessary only when the product is somehow deficient.

But as sages such as Sharon Drew Morgen (sharondrewmorgen.com) remind us, you can’t just sell. You have to understand why the customer might want to buy. And in our case, at Way to Wellville, you have to remove the obstacles.

In the world of the software giants, there were large VARs and also smaller local consultants.  They would sell to companies, help install and customize the software, and often train the employee users.

In our Wellville world of behavior change, so far, the VARs are mostly local outfits. They are the community health centers, the churches and YMCAs, the schools and other groups that deliver health in complement to the healthcare system that delivers mostly remedial care.

But there’s an extra wrinkle. In Wellville, the users are not employees, but community members. They can’t simply be told to use the software.

So, for example, it’s not enough just to make the YMCA’s diabetes prevention program available.  You have to offer enough sessions with enough variety of time and location that anyone interested can find a one to suit. You need to provide child care (not just “child storage”) and perhaps free vegetables as an incentive. And you need to expand your target market by testing people for pre-diabetes.  All that requires more than just a course manual and some trained employees. It requires a host organization with partners in the community and trust from its members.

Once the classes have started, you need to keep people coming. And once users have completed the courses, you need to provide support to maintain the behaviors (mental and physical) learned and the relationships formed.

So the host organization needs not just money  – though that helps! – and curricula and training for local community members. They also need organizational capacity and ambition – and conviction that they are not “piloting” projects but rather rolling out sustainable services that will have continuing impact. To use another metaphor, they’re not handing out fish; they’re building their own fishing schools.

Share this article:
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

See More Articles

Spartanburg City Council acknowledges, apologizes for systemic racism

Last Monday the Spartanburg City Council approved unanimously a “Healing, Reconciling and Unity” resolution, acknowledging “the historical antecedents of systemic racism” and apologizing to residents for “racial injustices and long-lasting inequities that have resulted from those policies.” The unprecedented resolution also enumerates specific actions Council members will take, including to “promote racial equity through all policies approved by City Council” and “support community efforts to amplify concerns about racist policies and practices.”

Anti-Discrimination Law Passes Thanks to Hartford Students

The Hartford City Council passed the CROWN Act, which prohibits the denial of employment and educational opportunities because of hair texture or protective hairstyles including braids, locks, twists or bantu knots. The bill was introduced to the Council by students in Advocacy to Legacy, a nonprofit organization that teaches individuals and communities how to advocate for themselves.

Close the gap: Racial equity is fundamental to our health

There is so much in our hearts and minds following these tumultuous past few months and intense past few days. This is a moment to consider the causes of the consequences that are now on full display. It’s time to call out what led to such health disparities and what will it take to improve outcomes for all.

All Hands on Deck

When Covid-19 hit the US, we asked ourselves: Now that everyone is just trying to stay alive and save jobs, is Wellville just a distraction? We can’t just preach about the long term and what people want to achieve by the end of the Wellville project while they are busy responding to the short term. Instead, we tried a different question: How can we build a better long-term future even as we address current needs?

SAMHSA Evaluators Rave About Muskegon’s MYalliance

Officials with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration traveled to Muskegon at the end of August to review the progress of MYalliance System of Care (SOC), a collaboration between youth, families, schools, and other child-serving agencies to better serve youth with complex needs and their families. The SAMHSA evaluators were inspired by “visionary leadership across agencies and youth and families” and said their experience in Muskegon was “not their usual site visit.”