Looking back at 2020 from Mama Mboga’s eyes: The Pandemic as Natural Disaster

I am moved today by my work to look back at this agonizingly long year of separations and losses and delays for peoples around the world. Uncertainty and complexity have both increased, and economic volatility has become the order of the day, regardless of the development status of the region or location. More people in more countries around the world are in more precarious socio-economic situations than most decision makers realize.

Ugali and sukuma wiki only (poor man’s meal) Data source from 2016

Yet, and ironically, the natural resilience of human communities is more visible at the erstwhile ‘Bottom of the Pyramid’ – the original, and long suffering (in all senses of the phrase) precariat – than among those whose economic ecosystems were long predicated on conditions of stability, certainty, and a certain amount of control. That is, this year has shown me that the formal economy of the industrialized world is more fragile to the impact of acute and intense systemic shocks such as that wrought by the global pandemic on the world’s socio-economic ecosystem than the informal economic ecosystem of the kind that supplies slums in African cities with green leafy vegetables to add to their porridge.

The mama mbogas of Nairobi’s informal settlements, such as Korogocho where this photograph was taken by Tazama Media during the Rapid Resilience and Recovery Project for Humanity Kenya, have never faltered in maintaining the food supply into the city’s slums, no matter the risk. Imagine navigating the uncertainty of roadblocks and delays as curfews and lockdowns put a clamp on the flow of fresh produce such as sukumawiki (often called kales), or tomatoes, knowing that the entire last mile of the farm to fork value chain had no cold chain infrastructure to rely on. Spoilage, wastage, lower quality produce at higher prices, all of these unpredictable factors notwithstanding. And, they were doing this with no social security or state support.

I have just finished analysing data capturing the change in their inventory amount and frequency from “Before Covid” to “During Covid” for 48 participants from four perishable commodity ecosystems – kales, tomatoes, bananas, and onions (which are a bit more shelf stable). Two groups were formed – the primarily B2B wholesaler retailers, and the B2C vegetable vendors who staked out spots they’ve been in for more than a year for all and as long as 29 years for our most experienced Mama Mboga.

These were ladies who trade professionally, although you wouldn’t think of them in that way. Beth (not her real name) sources bananas by the truckload from a friend she made in Meru’s banana market, a farmer who will load a mutually known trucker’s vehicle for her, while she directly supplies her customer base of Mama mbogas (like the lady’s little bunch in the cart above) 20% to 40% cheaper than the major wholesale market of Marikiti. Beth herself is based in the informal settlement where her customers also operate their veg stands and thought to experiment with direct imports from upcountry instead of sourcing from the wholesalers and brokers at Marikiti.

Customers became nervous about the additional service – free of cost – that mama mbogas offer their customers – that of finely slicing cabbage or sukumakwiki prepped and ready for cooking. Unemployment in the informal settlements like Mathare and Korogosho became rife as the industrial area’s jua kali workshops shut down and the entire service sector and hospitality industry hibernated. Harassment and theft increased and the ladies took to going to the wholesale market in groups – the curfew had shortened their business hours and they could not reach the wholesale market for the best produce from the early morning farm trucks. The kales business took a big hit in terms of supplies and many women switched from buying from the farmer directly in rather large quantities to picking up a few bundles from intermediary suppliers every so often.

Their entire community’s purchasing power declined by at least 70% given the changes in inventory purchase quantity and frequency between preCovid containment measures imposed in March 2020, and when my local team met them in August 2020. They talked about losing morale but getting up at dawn anyway to trudge to market to buy the produce in the hopes that they would sell. 90% of them had reduced their investments in fresh supply by at least 60%, and simultaneously decreased frequency of purchase. They work 7 days a week and were buying fresh vegetables from wholesalers every single day at dawn. Now, 2 or 3 days gap was more common than not, and the composition of their product range changed in significantly visible ways.

But, and this was the biggest lesson from this project, none of them thought of giving up their chosen profession.  They endured stoically what can only be called a natural disaster, and continued striving to put food on people’s plates, both at home, and for their customers, walking miles with bundles on their heads to save the cost of transport. If they could do it, I thought to myself when I first began hearing their stories, then I could too.

Posted in Africa, African Consumer Market, Analysis, Base of the Pyramid, Biashara Economics, Consumer Behaviour, East African Community, Economy, Ecosystem, Frugality, Kenya, Mama Biashara, Marchés africains, Marketing, Perspective, Retail in Africa, Risk, Scarcity, Strategy, Sub Saharan Africa, urban, User research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Closing the Circle: Can integration of the flows in the post consumption ecosystem of Global North & South aid resilient recovery for all?

Conceptual illustration of consumption driven growth framework versus circular (sustainable/virtuous) industrial ecosystem.

It was in July 2009 that I first attempted to visualize the significantly large subsector of informal recycling that fed the informal industrial ecosystem with re-processed ‘raw’ materials for their manufacturing output. The first draft was based on what I’d seen and documented in The Philippines, and in India, during the fieldwork for the ‘prepaid economy project’ researching rural household financial management behaviours among lower income households.

Taken by Niti Bhan in Cabatuan market, Ilo Ilo, The Visayas, The Philippines, January 2009.

Mapping the circularity of the informal industrial ecosystem was a personal research project that led to the launch of a group blog called REculture: The Post Consumption Global Ecosystem, and inspired the launch of a magazine. It has been ten long years, but the time has come, it seems, to consider launching a proposition that the overlap region between the Global North’s consumption driven economy be visualized to incorporate the last mile activity that occurs in the Global South.

Then, perhaps, there may be a way to see ourselves linking up the global ecosystem in a far more inclusive way, particularly from the lenses of sustainability and environmental conservation. At the moment, from the literature and the discourse, it seems as though the Global North is having its own conversation and does not always recognize the amount of post consumption materials shipped to the Global South.

Secondhand clothes and charitable donations turning up for sale in the markets of African countries is one visible area where the North – South linkages are becoming visible. However, the degree to which materials are repurposed and reused has never been studied in the informal industrial ecosystem of the resource scarce contexts in developing countries. At the very least, in our last project mapping informal trade ecosystem at the borderland of Uganda and Kenya, we found that old tins were purchased by a lamp maker in Uganda from Nairobi, a hub for redistribution of regional flows.

What more could we discover if we lift the blanket of “informality” when it comes to circularity and sustainability?

Posted in Africa, African Consumer Market, Base of the Pyramid, Biashara Economics, China, Consumer Behaviour, East African Community, Economy, Ecosystem, Frugality, Ghana, global, India, Informal & Flexible, jua kali, Kenya, Perspective, Prepaid Economy & Informal Sector, Research, Retail in Africa, Senegal, Strategy, Sub Saharan Africa, Systems, Tanzania, Technology, Uganda, User research | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Response to “How to Think about Consumer Innovation in Africa”

Encouragement from my Nigerian tweeps to go ahead and write a rebuttal to a recent article in TechCabal shared on Twitter yesterday has led to this post. Given that my doctoral dissertation is based on my past decade of work in innovation & design planning for the vast majority of the population that comprises the sub Saharan consumer market – those who are informally employed or economically active in the informal economy – it made sense to do some background research on the late Clayton Christensen’s work with a more critical eye.

I have based my framing of 5 case studies of disruptive innovations from emerging markets on Christensen’s work, and his identification of the less profitable fringes as the origins of most market disruptions has been robust over the years. However, as a long time practitioner of the Institute of Design-IIT Chicago’s Innovation Planning approach, best popularized by the Doblin Group across the street, I have long held reservations about his “jobs to be done” approach to deconstructing complex problem spaces as innovation opportunities for products and services.

Here, in TechCabal, a Nigerian technology blog, the article “How to Think about Consumer Innovation in Africa” introduces the Christensen approach through the expertise of one of his Nigerian proteges. The focus is technological innovation. And, Nigeria’s Yaba Valley is considered a strong contender for the location of West Africa’s “innovation Valley”. Every year, a Nigerian startup or two joins the Y Combinator cohort in San Francisco.

I have concerns with the viability and desirability of any proposed innovation that is contextualized outside of the concept of “prepaid” mobile services business model. The fractionalization of voice & data services has indeed been pioneered by the likes of Econet’s Masiyiwa, and its called “prepaid” – why then the forced usage of “sachetization” or “pelletization” for another of Masiyiwa’s businesses? A robust innovation has been launched in payment plans by Kwese TV that is recognizable as related to various telco bundle offers in the prepaid realm. By refusing to acknowledge the vast majority of the Nigerian consumer base that prefers prepaid business models, and calling it sachetization, one fears that the author of the article is unable to focus on the target segment for the proposed factsheet on innovation for the African consumer. Sachetization is a word I made up. And search engines will be able to offer you the evidence.

Now, lets consider the Christensen “jobs to be done” approach introduced later in the article. After much thought, I’ll just share this snippet here and leave the discerning reader to evaluate whether it represents either Christensen’s work or does justice to the entire discipline of human centered design?


NB: The illustration for a multidisciplinary approach to innovation for African consumer market is from this introductory notes to its use

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Design Thinking for the post pandemic era

Design must change if we’re to meet the targets for the climate change goals. And, not only must design transform itself to be utilitarian for the needs of the novel ways of making, doing, being, that are emerging as an outcome of the global pandemic shock, but at the same time these new systems must be resilient and robust enough to cater to the needs for the ongoing climate change shocks as well.

Both the pandemic and the impacts and transitions of the Anthropocene upon our natural living environment are systemic shocks of a global nature. However, what distinguishes these two systemic shocks is that whilst both are planetary in scale, it is the intensity and duration of their own specific impact shocks distinguishes them.

Covid-19’s impact across multiple aspects of our global system has been intense, rapid, and acute. It can be considered a stress test of systemic resilience and inherent adaptive capacity of self organizing complex adaptive systems. Climate change impacts are slower to be perceived, less obviously visible, and varying in intensity and duration depending on geography and context.

For instance, the heating up of the planet is only visible in Finland as a retrospective comparison of 2020’s average temperatures against recorded history. This would not have been as obvious to most people as the visible transformation on daily life wrought by the coronavirus. Thus, until now, societal stakeholders, researchers, designers and makers working with communities have often struggled to convey the urgency of the need to plan and prepare for the social and economic necessary transformations to our industrialized ecosystems.

Design, as philosophy of making and doing, manifested in the form of products and services, has been recognized as one of the key levers for effectuating transformative change to our ecosystems. It is recognized that a significant proportion (ranging from 70% to 90%) of any given product’s ecological footprint can be addressed at the design stage1. This approach takes into account factors all along the product development chain that can directly or indirectly contribute to environmental degradation; decisions made at the design stage now become crucial in ensuring the best outcome throughout the entire system.

It is clear that now we must begin evaluating schools of design based on their underlying philosophy of values2. Value systems are the intangible aspect of the form giving process that characterizes industrial design yet few are able to evaluate the relative merits of various schools of thought.

For instance, human centered design or user centered design, is a design methodology that privileges maximization of value extraction from an ecosystem to benefit shareholders of the design investment. Whereas, the Scandinavian participatory design approach is configured to privilege the autonomy of the users, who are called participants in the design and development process (and not “users”, which in turn embeds the locus of decision making and agency implicitly) and aims to provide them with the skills and tools to adapt their own industrial ecological systems to best fit for purpose.

“Purpose” here is collectively defined by consensus of all stakeholders, which may include the shareholders of the design investment, in addition to their employees, customers, and service providers.

9th November 2020, Helsinki, Finland

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The Global System’s Fulcrum has Changed in Location and Trajectory

Where, the innovation flowed outwards from age old centers of world system changing such as the Bay Area of the US Pacific Coastline or more recently, in the first visible shift this century, from the Pearl River Delta region of mainland China, now has shifted its locus of pivoting the levers of the system into a more diffused curve – flowing outwards in starbursts – from coastal West Africa through Nairobi to bounce off Mauritius into Sri Lanka, and then spending some time in Bengaluru’s IT networks (Hyderabad, Chennai) before spinning its way to Singapore and bursting into starbursts across the South East Asian islands with long pings into Philippines and Indonesia.

Manguin, Pierre-Yves (2016). “Austronesian Shipping in the Indian Ocean: From Outrigger Boats to Trading Ships”. In Campbell, Gwyn (ed.). Early Exchange between Africa and the Wider Indian Ocean World. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 51–76. ISBN 9783319338224.

This is a much older trade network (Manguin, 2016)1, blown hither and fro by the monsoon winds of the Indian Ocean and its tributaries like the Straits of Malacca which feed the South China Sea. Junks plied this route for centuries; and, every so often, a wreck full of blue and white porcelain is found in the bottom of the sea. Migrant labour of all educational levels criss cross these seas in search of value web hubs, like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taipei in the ASEAN tiger years, or Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta, and Manila of the Far Eastern Oriental mystique years of Somerset Maugham and Grahame Green.

One could say, now that China had gotten up off its knees, geo-economically speaking; it was time for the rest of the regional commercial ecosystem to do the same. The ASEAN bloc’s rise as the fastest growing emerging markets in the years previous to the Pandemic of 2020 had put a spotlight on its future trajectory. Numerous reports touting the world’s biggest consumer market after India and China were published. The pivot seen today, however, is a post Covid one, predicated on major geopolitical changes that took place as a result of the systemic shock of a global pandemic.

The trigger event is the mega trade deal just signed this weekend. The economic impact of the trade aspects are not impressive, going by the reports, but the fact that S.Korea, Japan, and China, are all together in one FTA has been noticed. The locus of technological innovation has been shifted.




1 The first true maritime trade network in the Indian Ocean was by the Austronesian peoples of Island Southeast Asia, who built the first ocean-going ships. They established trade routes with Southern India and Sri Lanka as early as 1500 BC, ushering an exchange of material culture (like catamarans, outrigger boats, lashed-lug and sewn-plank boats, and paan) and cultigens (like coconuts, sandalwood, bananas, and sugarcane); as well as connecting the material cultures of India and China. Indonesians, in particular were trading in spices (mainly cinnamon and cassia) with East Africa using catamaran and outrigger boats and sailing with the help of the Westerlies in the Indian Ocean. This trade network expanded to reach as far as Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, resulting in the Austronesian colonization of Madagascar by the first half of the first millennium AD. It continued up to historic times, later becoming the Maritime Silk Road.

Posted in Analysis, ASEAN, Ecosystem, Emerging Futures, Mobile platform, Perspective, Philipines, Strategy, urban, Value | Leave a comment

Half a year, 2020 : The Remote Resilience and Recovery Project

I have umpteen drafts saved, of posts I began writing since the last published one on 29th February this year, and never finished. 2020 has outdone itself in its impact on all of human society, across our entire planet. I have been active on Twitter, where my literature reviews, in service of the pivot I intended for my doctoral dissertation work plan, in response to the pandemic and its supporting restrictions. But actually writing words, like this, that continue to flow beyond the 280 character limit, has been more difficult than I ever imagined, but probably less difficult than this short half year has been for most of humanity.

The whales, however, are singing.

Since April 2020, I have been working with a team on the ground in Kenya to explore remote knowledge work – can we take a participatory approach to knowledge creation and exchange? Can we co-create a programme of collaborative community resilience building and recovery planning activities that begin by devolving agency to the participants? Can we offer powerful tools for problem discovery and analysis; followed by sensemaking, horizong scanning, scenario planning, and roadmapping, from the design and innovation methodology to the informal food system actors in Nairobi who supply slums with fresh tomatoes and spinach, without a coldchain? What kind of a knowledge transfer step down transformation process would be required to facilitate innovation planning among informal vegetable vendors by young women and men from their communities? How do I make tools for problem discovery and solution development that meet the needs of women who source truckloads of fresh tomatoes from upcountry markets?

It has been an immensely exciting intellectual journey, for myself, and for the team. To remotely transfer skills for innovation facilitation to team, who will then work with groups of women operating along the stages of the last mile of the farm to fork informal urban food ecosystem, and to cocreate the sequential workshops during the prototype with the tomato chain, before scaling it to onions, banana, and green leafy vegetables with the facilitators, has completely overhauled my assessment of my own research direction, capacities, and the tenor of the PhD while retaining the original dissertation topic.

We are currently running brainstorming workshops using design thinking for innovation to facilitate the group’s navigation of their own problem space and to enable sensemaking and horizon scanning for recovery plans that maybe more resilient and sustainable in their operations and structure, than before the global pandemic’s whole systems shock. The sequential design consisting of either 4 or 3 workshops has evolved into two parallel paths, one designed to meet the needs of livelihood players like vegetable vendors, and the other to meet the established traders in the wholesale markets.

In September, we will be able to reflect on the entire experience of delivering 36 workshops with 50 people active in 4 commodity chains viz., tomato, onion, banana, and sukumawiki remotely from Finland to Kenya. The development journey has hints of a roadmap for product (and service) development under conditions of extreme systemic shock, traditionally encapsulated as VUCA: Volatility; Uncertainty; Complexity; and Ambiguity.

Scenario 4: Ugali and sukuma wiki only (poor man’s meal)

Note: In the context of informal sector dominant operating environments, where cash flows are unpredictable and incomes irregular, the VUCA context describes the base operating conditions. What has changed for the traders is that the systemic shock of the pandemic has disrupted the VUCA patterns prior to covid, thus impacting their experiential knowledge and related business and operating practices.

For instance, the estimate time and cost of sourcing a truck of tomatoes is now completely unknown given the changes in the number of roadblocks and other obstructions like curfew timings to disrupt the known estimates of time taken and costs during transport from the country to the city.

What was is no longer, and what will be, is not yet. In the meantime, the informal system’s resilience is on display as the supplies of fresh produce from farms to Nairobi’s slums has never wavered.

Posted in Africa, Base of the Pyramid, Biashara Economics, Design, Ecosystem, Flexibility, Frameworks, Informal & Flexible, Innovation Planning, Mama Biashara, Marketing, Perspective, Prepaid Economy & Informal Sector, Retail in Africa, rural, Strategy, Sub Saharan Africa, Systems, urban, User research, Value | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Coronavirus side-effect: Transformation of China’s business models, logistics, and service delivery

A guest collects food delivered by a robot at a Huazhu Group hotel (source)

Just the way the SARs epidemic kicked off China’s e-commerce revolution back in 2003, the ongoing COVID-19 containment strategies maybe triggering an even larger transformation of the Chinese economic ecosystem. I went looking today for the earliest signals of what might be underway.

Rural China is facing the biggest challenge right now as the spring planting season is critical for a bumper harvest and for ensuring fresh produce supplies later on in the year, as well as regular supplies of fresh veg. There are a few things happening at different stages of the last mile of the farm to fork value chain.

At the planting end, a “shared economy” is emerging on digital platforms that allows farmers to order everything from seeds, fertilizer, and rent agricultural machinery online. Even labour is being ‘shared’ between cooperatives and villages as the impact of quarantines and illness is still being felt.

Yang Zhengguang, a ginger grower in Shandong, punches in every day via an app to ensure that he only works within a certain range to avoid cross-infection. The purchase of fertilizers, machines and seeds can all be done online and delivered to their doorstep.

Agricultural experts also go online to instruct local farmers to take care of their land. “We can receive detailed instructions through a WeChat group every day,” said Wang Cuifen, a farmer in Shandong’s city of Gaomi.

At the other end of the value chain, digital services on the mobile platform are helping farmers sell their harvests directly to buyers through livestreaming,

On Valentine’s Day, Taobao’s first-ever philanthropic cloud concert, featuring 21 celebrities and musicians performing from their homes, attracted 4 million viewers and helped sell 380,000 kg of agricultural produce while also raising RMB570,000 ($81,428) for Wuhan.

while a veritable army of couriers has gone back to work packing fresh food like meat, vegetables, seafood, and fruits for non contact pickup by customers ordering groceries online. All of retail is transforming.

Advanced technology is also being deployed in a variety of innovative ways, with expected impact on future R&D trajectories.

For example, industries that are directly involved in epidemic prevention, including medical care, logistics, robots and security sectors, will likely see a sustained surge in demand for 5G and AI after the epidemic, driving related technologies and industries such as cloud computing, to usher in a new era, Xiang said.

Chinese researchers have developed a comprehensive system in contactless body temperature screening and identification recognition, targeting to facilitate the prevention and control works of the novel coronavirus pneumonia (COVID-19), according to its developer. Huanggang, a coronavirus-hit city in Hubei Province, has launched a telemedicine 5G-based platform capable of facilitating remote consultations, remote imaging, ultrasound and electrocardiogram diagnoses for 14 designated hospitals fighting COVID-19.

The Chi­nese cen­tral bank called for do­mes­tic pay­ments or­gan­i­sa­tions to adopt a range of mea­sures to re­duce the risk of in­fec­tion dur­ing ef­forts to con­tain the dis­ease. In particular, these include curbing the use of facial recognition technology for payment, given the need for facemasks.

A ‘contactless’ economy is said to be emerging. Hotels, travel, hospitality and food service, just about any business with a high degree of face to face contact is facing the need to transform and innovate. Tiny restaurants contemplate overnight business model disruption,

“I’m training my employees online and also learning new business models such as take-out food and non-contact orders. I think these measures will help me resist the damage of the epidemic in the future,” Zhang said.

and the 3rd China International Import Expo (CIIE) will be prepared via noncontact means such as phone calls, video calls and emails in response to the epidemic, according to its organizers. As the Chinese state press states,

The SARS virus that infected thousands in China back in 2003 is widely seen as a catalyst for the country’s fledgling e-commerce industry. Nearly two decades later, as the coronavirus outbreak put dozens of residential communities and areas on lockdown, contactless services backed by 5G technology and Internet of Things are helping people battle the epidemic.

I think the long term effects are going to go beyond just ‘battling the epidemic’ and the status quo itself will have transformed by the time the Year of the Rat is over. Digitalization and its benefits would have proven themselves to rural and urban residents alike, and they’re less likely to go back to the way things were. Logistics, retail, distribution, delivery of both goods and services, even payments and communication are all undergoing a massive redesign at a systemic level.

As the tiniest of enterprises look for new ways of doing business, new operating models, even new product development (here’s a story of an educational robotics maker successfully launching a new line of automated health check units) and receiving financial support both direct and indirect, the nascent seeds of a modern technological society are being planted. Imho, as early as 2025 we’ll look back to this as when China leapfrogged itself into the 4th industrial revolution.

I also think this will have far reaching ripple effects throughout the global supply chains which have China as a critical node in the value web, given the changes already being forced on the domestic value chains from farm to fork.

Krish Raghav, source: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/quarantine-cooking-finding-relief-from-coronavirus-anxiety-in-the-kitchen

Krish Raghav (@krishraghav aka beijing brown) was the first whose tweets offered me a hint of life under quarantine, which ultimately led to the digging I did today. He would tweet about musicians entertaining shut ins by livestreaming concerts and finally wrote it up in an article. Its not just business or technology that is changing due to the coronavirus. The experience has left its mark on people and society as well. Let us wish them all well, shall we?

Posted in Analysis, Business Models, China, Commerce en ligne (e-commerce), Consumer Behaviour, Culture, Distribution, Economy, Ecosystem, Emerging Futures, Informal & Flexible, Innovation Planning, Marketing, Migrant worker, Mobile platform, perfect storm, Perspective, Platforms, Research, Rural Economy, Scarcity, Technology, urban | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Flat to Fragmented: Observing the Impact of Sudden Jump in Complexity on Startup’s Development Journey

Source: Master’s thesis worker Anni Rahiala, based on Niti Bhan’s whiteboard sketch, Aalto Design Factory, Autumn 2019

With increasing diversity of factors that impact the product development journey comes increasing complexity in managing the product development process. For startups in particular, there is little difference between the startup’s development journey and the product development journey. Consider the phases of the startup development journey as illustrated by StartupCommons below:

Validation and Growth phases require iterative evolution of the startup’s offering as it seeks product/market fit and business model/market fit. That is, if one takes a multidisciplinary lens for evaluating these two phases, one can safely assume that in addition to the Technology and Engineering required for the service delivery (startups, as opposed to SMEs, tend to be based on some sort of novel technology or its application),the startup must also remain cognizant of the elements that will impact the design of the business model and the last mile interface between them and their future and potential customers (aka end users). That is, the nature of the startup itself implies the need to take a multidisciplinary lens to product and venture development, over time.

The sudden shock of the increase in complexity of the operating environment, such as happens when a Finland based startup seeks to enter the Kenyan market, has direct correlation to the concurrent increase in uncertainty and ambiguity that the startup development team must contend with as they seek to pilot, and iterate using the gathered feedback data, and discover a desirable, feasible, and viable product/market fit and business model/market fit, over time.

When operating environments have a significant amount of uncertainty and ambiguity, even more than startups in the developed world silicon centers experience, there are usually some factors in common across the consumer markets of the developing world. Lack of data, present or past, on consumers and their preferences & behaviours; inadequate marketing and business support systems; greatly different business and regulatory environments; a greater degree of variance in quality and availability of the necessary infrastructure and systems as enjoyed in the developed country context; are all factors common to the emerging and frontier markets. Here, tech startups focus on the mobile platform for delivery of their products and services, and, in many markets, to close the loop of transaction with an exchange of value as payment received.

Fintech, agritech, health tech, mobile money, remittances and cross border payments, loans and credit, insurance and healthcare requirements, are among the most popular verticals for startups to address in the various regions and countries of the African continent.



This blogpost was written by Niti Bhan on 24th February 2020 at 1824 hours EET, and is based on data gathered as part of the first data set required for her dissertation.

Posted in Articles on Design and Innovation, Design, Ecosystem, Education, Emerging Markets, Frameworks, global, Innovation Planning, Kenya, Marketing, Mobile platform, Perspective, Platforms, Prepaid Economy & Informal Sector, Projects and Reports, Research, Strategy, Sub Saharan Africa, Systems, Technology | Tagged | Leave a comment

Value Webs: Structure and Characteristics of the African Market Economy

When these markets are analyzed, moreover, they turn out to have a structure very unlike those of the West. ~ The End of Corporate Imperialism by CK Prahalad and Kenneth Lieberthal, HBR “Best of 1998″

When Prahalad and Lieberthal wrote this sentence over twenty years ago, they were referring to the huge consumer markets of India and China, based on quantitative metrics alone, eg. size of population segments. It, however, can also describe the situation on the African continent as long protected regional markets liberalise and open, such as Ethiopia’s or Nigeria’s, or as rapid adoption of mobile telephony digitalizes the ecosystem, best known in Kenya, but now being seen to be happening in Senegal or Ghana. Very few countries on the continent can’t be said to be digitally transforming the everyday lives of the mass majority, most of whom are employed informally and more than 95% are on prepaid/pay as you go purchasing plans for their smartphone or mobile internet services.

I use the label prepaid economy to categorize this digital economic activity only because of the dominance of the model regardless of white collar or blue collar, urban or rural, or educated or not. However, the description below is what is more important than what it is called. I first noted the emergence of this ecosystem almost exactly a year ago, written on 7th January 2019:

We were exploring the emergence of commercial activity on digital platforms in Kenya, and debating whether it could still be considered as an element of the existing informal economic ecosystem, or, was it something wholly novel and different?

What is emerging is not simply the digital version of the existing informal economy, its a novel hybrid that deserves consideration in its own right. Yet, calling it simply the digital  or the app economy would conflate it together with the developed world’s version, overlooking the unique characteristics that distinguish it as very African. ~ Africa’s emerging digital, social, mobile economy is neither formal nor informal but a bridge in between

Today, what I am writing to do, is put this theoretical wordplay together with the visual modeling we did of the informal trade ecosystem’s value flows that allowed us to map the webs of supply and demand – B2B and B2C – at the last mile of the East African Community’s regional trade ecosystem.

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Less Technologically Advanced Societies are not necessarily backward or primitive: Assume at your own risk

This illustration by Jeroen Meijer of Jam Visueldenken of Amsterdam, The Netherlands, was created for our team during a workshop to capture the insights from a feasibility study on agritech we had completed for the Dutch government’s sustainable agricultural value chain development at Wageningen University’s Economic Research unit back in mid 2013.

I’m pulling it out again now because I think it helps me communicate the complexity of the human-digital economic ecosystem we see across East Africa, especially as it links the rural and urban, as well as the formal and informal. Today’s blogpost will be based on the case of Kenya.

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Posted in Africa, African Consumer Market, Afrique francophone, Airtime, Analysis, Assumption filter, Base of the Pyramid, Biashara Economics, Business Models, Cashless transactions, Consumer Behaviour, Design, East African Community, Ecosystem, Emerging Markets, Frameworks, Indigenous & Traditional, Informal & Flexible, Innovation Planning, Kenya, Marketing, Mobile platform, Perspective, Prepaid Economy & Informal Sector, Research, Rural Economy, Strategy, Sub Saharan Africa, Technology, UCSD, Value | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment