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Women Mastering Trade Rules

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

Market trading is a vital lifeline for most people in the South. Plenty of delights usually await people in the market, where live animals, herbs and spices, fresh fruits and vegetables, and life’s necessities compete for customers’ money. The formal and informal food sector plays a crucial role in empowering women and providing food to the poor. Women are often those mostly responsible for selling fresh products and street food, and running small catering operations. By being a vendor and getting food at a lower cost, they are able to contribute to their families’ food security.

Trading and selling in the marketplace can be one of the best options for poor women. By trading, women gain economic independence, learn vital business skills and enjoy the social benefits of interacting with others. But the highly individualistic nature of market trading has its downside: traders must do everything themselves and a day not spent at market is a day’s income lost. They also can only buy in small quantities, and usually pay a higher price. Or don’t know what the competitive price is, so are in a weaker bargaining position with wholesalers.

Making market trading more efficient has huge advantages, the primary one being more money for the trader.

Women market traders in Nigeria are improving their efficiency and income with mobile phones. Rural women market traders in the Obiaruku market are using mobile phones to call their suppliers, access information like commodity prices, and contact customers. A survey of the traders found 95 per cent thought mobile phones had a big impact on their business. This has included fewer trips to suppliers, a quicker way to get help when they have been robbed, and opportunities to top-up incomes by selling airtime, handsets or mobile phone accessories.

In Nigeria, mobile phone use has shot up at a rate of 25 per cent a year. A recent study found that out of a population of 140 million, 12.1 million now have mobile phones and 64 million use mobile phones through street-side phone centres. Phones are also helping women market traders to keep tabs on price fluctuations – giving them an advantage when bargaining with crafty – mostly male – suppliers. A weak bargaining position is a common problem: In Ghana, for example, product producers are forced to sell through “market queens” who take advantage of the lack of price transparency and do not always pay producers fairly (De Lardemelle, 1995).

In the Madurai region in southern India, women market traders are using a system called CAM. It allows them to record all their business transactions. CAM uses a Nokia 6600 mobile phone to record daily transactions. This includes small loans, buying livestock, or operating tiny retail businesses. The phone’s camera takes pictures of bookkeeping forms to identify and track all documents. The phone then asks the user to input numbers to the data fields. At the last key, the data is sent via text message to a central server. According to Tapan Parikh, a professor at the University of California at Berkeley School of Information in the United States, the most successful technological solutions work because they include village leaders, customers, NGOs, and others in the design process. “This is the only way to ensure long-term sustainability and benefit,” he said.

In Soweto, South Africa a simple solution to a chronic problem for women market traders has emerged. After seeing hundreds and sometimes thousands of women selling their goods in the marketplace, it became clear they all had one thing in common: they closed on Mondays. They did this because they needed to go to the wholesaler to buy their goods. And they mostly did this by piling into taxis to get there. It hurt the profitability of their businesses in many ways: there was the cost of the taxi, the fact they could only buy small amounts to squeeze in the taxi, a day’s business was lost, and the lack of a discounted, bulk price.

But the solution to this problem is a bright one: the women place a bulk, wholesale order with a go-between who works with a computer out of a former shipping container. He logs the orders into his computer and sends one big order. The wholesaler is happy with the big order, and delivers it and gives him a 15 per cent discount. This is his profit. The women pay the same price as before, but do not have to pay for the taxi and the goods are delivered directly to them. On top of this, the women can stay open on Monday and make more money!

Published: May 2008

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Web 2.0 to the Rescue! Using Web and Text to Beat Shortages in Africa

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

The beep-beep of a received text on a mobile phone is now becoming a much-needed lifeline to Africans. Zimbabweans, who continue to struggle every day with inflation that has shot to 3,731 percent (Zimbabwe Central Statistical Office), have usd African ingenuity and 21st century technology to survive another day.

New website services have become a literal lifeline for millions suffering from economic and social hardships. At least four new web-based services have stepped in to link expatriate Zimbabweans working outside the country with their relatives back home. All share a common service: people can log into the websites and shop and select what they like to purchase or transfer to their relativs. Once a purchase has been made, a message is sent by mobile phone text to Zimbabwe, either transferring money credits or credits for fuel, food or medical services.

Mukuru.com is the most elaborate and ambitious of the services, and is expanding across Africa (currently in Zimbabwe and South Africa, it is expanding to Kenya, Malawi and Zambia). Started in 2006, it now boasts 8,000 customers and is averaging 1,200 orders per month, ranging from money transfers to fuel and digital satellite television subscriptions. A voucher number sent by mobile phone also allows the recipient to swap a PIN (personal identification) number for coupons redeemable at certain garages.

One of the great advantages of this new technology is its ability to give real-time updates and tracking throughout the transaction. Senders are informed about every stage of the transaction, right up until the gas is gushing into the car’s tank.

“Basically anybody who is able to work will do their best to support family back home,” said Mukuru’s UK-based Nix Davies. “Mukuru’s birth is the result of our inability to sit back and watch, as well as the desperate need to help those back home. The power of an instant SMS being able to provide value to its recipient is inspiring.

“Launching Mukuru.com has not been without its hurdles,” continues Davies. “Promoting a brand with one foot in the first world and having to deal with third world inconsistencies is always challenging.” Mukuru also has plans to expand into travel, freight, mail (letters are printed out and sent within Zimbabwe), and music to help local musicians.

Over at another website, Zimbuyer.com, expatriate Zimbabweans can buy groceries for their relatives at home and make sure that the money is not spent on the wrong thing.
“They’re a lot of people who left Zimbabwe and, for example, have left their children over there,” a spokesman told the BBC’s website. “But sometimes the money they have sent home for the care of the children is diverted into other things. With our service, people buy the stuff – and we deliver them to the recipients so they know what they’re buying.”

Zimbuyer’s website is similar to food shopping websites in developed countries. Prices are listed in British pounds, but the food items are Zimbabwean staples like sadza maize, Cashel Valley Baked Beans and Ingrame Camphor Cream – all delivered to people living in Harare, Chitungwiza and Bulawayo.Zimbuyer’s most popular products are cooking oil and sugar, while “power generators are proving popular because the electricity always goes off nearly every day.”

Another service is Zimland.com, which has a network of 52 supermarkets nationwide. As it starkly boasts on its website, it gives Zimbabweans abroad “a quick and efficient way of ensuring their families do not starve in Zimbabwe.”

The Zimland Superstore offers a variety of hampers of food and essentials for families, from the Madirativhange to the Mafidhlongo to the Hotch Potch Delux, and boys and girls ‘Back to School’ hampers.

Yet another service has taken on the problem of paying for medical and health services. Beepee Medical Services allows Zimbabweans to pay for doctors’ appointments, prescription drugs and surgery for relatives.

Launched in September 2006 by Dr Brighton Chireka and his wife Prisca, a nurse, the business is small but growing.

“Mostly we’re running it as a service to help people,” said Dr Chireka, adding he gets about two consultation bookings a day (US $30 an appointment). “It should be able to pay for itself… We’ve employed people who are working full-time in Zimbabwe. This side (the UK), it’s on a part-time basis to answer the calls.”

Please visit the following link for more information:

An up-to-date report from The Economist magazine on the country situation in Zimbabwe: www.economist.com

Published: November 2008

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E-Books

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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Mobile Phone Peacekeeping

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Last month UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon pointed out the urgent need for interesting and relevant content to attract Africans to the internet. Official statistics can make for grim reading: the continent has less bandwidth than Ireland (World Economic Forum). While it is true Africa is restricted by serious technological and economic disadvantages, African ingenuity, creativity and hard work are bypassing these impediments to get things done nonetheless. While word has got out about the impressive take-up of mobile phones in Africa, the new world of Web 2.0 is also spawning a new generation of inspiring African technology whizzes transforming perceptions and grabbing the world’s attention.

Alongside the combination of innovation and affordability that has made Africa the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, there is a home-grown technology boom underway: “African firms are already participating in the forefront of technological developments and investment opportunities,” according to the Africa Competitiveness Report 2007.

Powerful and easy-to-use Web 2.0 tools are being used by Africans during times of crisis. Among the most innovative are “mash-ups” – a term once used to refer to the musical style of combining two or more song tracks that has come to mean the blending together of various software programmes. These Web 2.0 software mashups combine weather information, maps, webcams, population figures, even restaurant locations – in fact any application that can be easily added to a website. The possibilities are limitless, and this is what is causing so much excitement for development in the South.

In Kenya, a website called Ushahidi (Swahili for testimony), is using ICT (information and communications technology) and mobile phones to save lives in the post-election violence. People on the ground can send in live situation reports and alerts through the web and mobile phones to the website, which then maps violence in real time.

According to the site’s originator, Kenyan Ory Okolloh, Ushahidi.com “is a tool for people who witness acts of violence in Kenya in these post-election times. You can report the incident that you have seen, and it will appear on a map-based view for others to see.”

It has been put together by Kenyan web developer David Kobia (also the developer of Mashada, an online African community), and inspired by African blogger Erik “Hash” Hersman and other Kenyan bloggers and activists.

At the start of the violence, Okolloh had put out a message for help on the web. “Google Earth supposedly shows in great detail where the damage is being done on the ground,” Okolloh said on the site. “It occurs to me that it will be useful to keep a record of this, if one is thinking long-term. For the reconciliation process to occur at the local level the truth of what happened will first have to come out. Guys looking to do something – any techies out there willing to do a mashup of where the violence and destruction is occurring using Google Maps?”

The website came together quite quickly: after initial discussions amongst the team of five on January 5, it was live by January 9 (they estimate 40 hours for development and 20 to 30 hours for testing and promotion).

For others who want to do the same, the key is good relationships, not necessarily technology, the Ushahidi team says. “My advice is to make sure you’re well networked with the right people before something like this is needed,” said Erik Hersman, who runs Afrigadget and White African blogs. “By the time you need a site like Ushahidi, it’s too late to start making connections, it’s time to build … everyone needs the passion to fulfill the vision of the project.”

And to keep it going is not that time consuming, they say. The largest part of their time is spent keeping in contact with NGOs and a volunteer network in Kenya, and verifying the information.

“My advice would be to keep things as simple as possible.,” said Kenyan David Kobia. “Mashups are basically methods of relaying data, so simplicity is absolutely key.”

“The feedback has been phenomenal. Ushahidi’s graphical representation of events illustrates to some degree the magnitude of the events to people outside Kenya. The enormity of the situation can be understood better as events unfold, keeping everyone in the loop with a point of reference – people tend to become apathetic when regular news moves from the front page.”

Ushahidi has been praised for providing NGOs, the international community and humanitarian agencies with vital information they can use to help people.

Kobia has also launched a new mashup to promote Kenyan unity called  ihavenotribe.

AfricaNews.com has also been turning to mobile phones to get the news out on the Kenyan crisis. The agency’s reporters use internet-enabled mobile phones with portable keyboards to transmit photos, video and text for reports. All of it is uploaded to the www.africanews.com website. Some are calling this the first use of mobile phone journalism in Africa.

Resources

  • Pambazuka News Action Alert blog for Kenya updates.
  • Web 2.0 tools that are for free and how to use them: an excellent resource from San Francisco’s  Techsoup.
  • An excellent set of links to Web 2.0 tools and which ones are free, is here:  directimpactnow.com
  • Mashups.com has the latest news and links to get involved in this new internet phenomenon:
  • Programmable Web: This outstanding website links to all active mashups on the web by category and gives real-time reports on progress and lots of links and support to get started.
  • African Web 2.0: 2007 was a busy year for African Web 2.0 sites, as they have grown in number and sophistication. Here you can see an at-a-glance collage of the sites’ logos and links to them:  flickr.com
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This work is licensed under a
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ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022