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27 Jun 2013

Monash South Africa (MSA) students are assisting local communities to exercise their consumer rights. Under the guidance of Dr Stephen Saunders from the Department of Marketing, students from MSA are volunteering to provide the most vulnerable members of the local community with the opportunity to share their experiences, ideas and possible solutions to consumer-related issues.

Dr Saunders, who is based in Australia, said the ‘Consumer Education Initiative’ offered a platform where students and the community could come together to provide each other with consumer-related information and support to create a better understanding of consumer rights.

“As marketing scholars we know the poorest members of society are most vulnerable to exploitive marketing practises, and are also least likely to exercise their consumer rights,” Dr Saunders said.

During the semester the students volunteered in a number of tasks and activities that provided them with the necessary skills to run workshops within the local community.

“The students were ideally placed to organise these workshops as they not only have the marketing background but also the commitment, life-skills, local understanding and language skills to effectively engage with the community,” Dr Saunders said.
One of the key tasks undertaken from the students was to collect and share consumer-related products and information that might be relevant to the community.

“The students managed to collect a huge amount of data and photographs of products and services used by the communities,” Dr Saunders said.

“They shared the information online and discussed possible community issues and problems relating to the products and services while I provided guidance and advice on further research.

“The students found widespread evidence of fake healthcare products for sale in the community and this prompted a lively online discussion and a search for literature on how illiterate consumers identify and interpret written information.”

During the community workshops, participants also raised concerns about the prevalence of counterfeit toothpaste in the community so the students were able to share evidence and knowledge about counterfeit items and suggested ideas, and possible community-led solutions to the problem.

“The feedback I have received from the students and the community has been extremely positive. Hopefully, initiatives such as these can build inclusive and genuine community engagement and provide students with a valuable service-learning experience,” Dr Saunders said.