Getting the Lead Out of Mexican Ceramics: The Challenges of Diffusing Safe Technologies to Microenterprises

by: Steven Samford, Samantha Feldman

Publication Date: July 1, 2024
Length: 18 pages
Product ID#: 8-886-462

Core Disciplines: Entrepreneurship & Innovation, International Business, Social Impact, Strategy & Management

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First Place Winner; 2024 Health Tech Global Case Writing Competition

This case focuses on a widespread health concern to highlight the difficulties microenterprises in emerging economies encounter in the adoption of improved technologies. Specifically, it focuses on the common use of lead-oxide in ceramics production in Mexico, which has been identified by the government as a key health challenge for millions of Mexicans, both producers and users. Multiple international non-profits and the Mexican government itself have made efforts to alleviate this problem, including helping develop a lead-free glaze to replace the long-used version. Uptake and diffusion have been mixed, though, highlighting the difficulties microenterprises have in dealing with the perpetuation of health and labor problems.

The case asks students to take on the role of a program director in an international non-profit that plans to deploy a pilot training program to help diffuse the use of the lead-free alternative in ceramics production. Continued support from donors and the government depends upon a good result in the pilot program, which will be carried out among small ceramics workshops. Three communities are potential sites for the pilot program, each of which presents a distinct set of social networks and other characteristics.

Teaching Objectives

After reading and discussing the material, students should:

  • Describe conditions faced by microenterprises in many developing country settings.
  • Explain which features of small ceramics producers discourage adoption of new technologies.
  • Assess how the structure of social relations (i.e., microenterprise networks) might shape diffusion.
  • Predict how diffusion is likely to progress through different types of social networks.
  • Choose one of the possible communities for the pilot training program and justify the selection.