Posts Tagged ‘informal sector’

Launching Our Digital Documentation Project: Ibadan’s Tailors, Traders, and Textiles by Nigerian/British artist Folake Shoga

finalcopyAfter months of hard work, I am very honoured and proud to announced our new digital documentation project by my friend Folake Shoga, a Nigerian/British multidisciplinary artist with more than three decades of experience.

She went on a journey of discovery through the twists and turns of the informal value web that holds together West Africa’s famed textiles and fashionably styled culture.

Her window to this world is centered around Ibadan, Nigeria, and she takes us through an illustrated, personally narrated documentary that spans the experience of getting a new dress, from choosing the right fabric, all the way through building a fashion brand.

Come and join us for this fascinating peek behind the scenes! You can also find this unique photo-documentary again on my portfolio page.

Permanently seasonal

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Photo: Niti Bhan, March 2017, New Delhi

Now Dinesh, the chick (bamboo or rattan blinds and awnings) maker offers a seasonal service in the warmer months, yet his signage and product display seems to imply a permanent storefront.

chick1More likely, it’s permanent during the spring and summer, when the chicks are replaced and installed to protect and cool against the heat of the sun – Delhi’s summer temperatures are known to cross 50 Celsius and tend to average in the mid to high 40s.

If memory serves, he returns each year, thus assuring himself of a permanent yet temporary workspace seasonally, and thus dependably and reliably.

African Youth find Opportunities in Informal Sector Biashara

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Biashara in Africa’s emerging economies – Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe- are at loggerheads with the state.  An ever bulging young demographic  and a failure to absorb them into the formal economy has resulted in increased biashara.  The informal sector’s low barrier to entry, appeals to the young Africans’ aspirations, like Simon Danda from Zimbabwe. Rather than to idle, he is one of many tapping into biashara opportunities, mostly in trade and services. A common theme is sweeping across the the continent. Yacine Bio- Tchane observes from Benin, West Africa

“ECOWAS countries’ economies are driven by more than 50% by the informal economy. In Benin, where the informal sector represents more than 90% of the economy, graduates are found becoming drivers of taxi-motos to make ends meet. They were not able to find work within their sector so they became taxi-motos.”

But, the peculiar nature of the informal economy is a challenge for state agencies.

On July 13 2016, for the umpteenth time, City Hall officials from Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, vowed to crack down on informal sector biashara people: Hawkers, Matatus, Boda bodas, car washes, roadside eateries, and street families.

“The Nairobi County Government has formed a sub-committee tasked with restoring order and sanity in the central business district (CBD) following complaints from businesses over hawkers’ invasion of key streets. All car washes, kiosks and hawkers will be arrested with immediate effect”  – Business Daily

2 weeks earlier, the Nigerian state of Lagos had clamped down on street trading in a bid to sanitize its streets.

“Lagos State Governor Akinwunmi Ambode, said the renewed enforcement was in line with Section One of the Lagos State Street Trading and Illegal Market Prohibition Law of 2003, prohibiting street trading.” – Lagos Goes Tough on Street Trading, Hawking

2 months prior to Nairobi’s crackdown, Zimbabwe’s efforts to contain protests were met by strong resistance from informal biashara people. Traders opposed an ultimatum to either vacate streets by end of June or face arrest.

“We are not going anywhere until the government give us jobs, it’s better they kill us. I have an accounts degree and was forced into street vending because there are no jobs. They destroyed the economy and now they ban us from selling on the streets.”Ventures Africa

In Africa, the line between an entrepreneur and a lawbreaker is a thin one.

Biashara contributes to the economy

informal sector jobs

When I walk through Nairobi’s Tom Mboya and Moi Avenue, I see entrepreneurs. Young men, women, breastfeeding mothers and the disabled committed to biashara. They will sell you anything you want! From foodstuffs, to electronics, or the popular mitumba (second hand clothes) to a quick boda ride out of the city.

Arguably, no one understands the needs of consumers better than biashara people. They naturally seek out demand and will go where they can find it. The massive evening foot traffic of the continent’s buzzing capital’s (Nairobi Lagos,Harare) makes for a great concentration of demand.

More people are now turning to the informal sector. GDP and labour force statistics highlights the vital role of this segment in Africa’s economies

“In Kenya, it is estimated that the informal sector in excess of 35 per cent to the GDP and employs close to 80% of the workforce.” – Taxing the informal sector requires better strategy

“In Nigeria, informal trading of which hawking is a part thus accounts for 10% of total Nigeria’s GDP, bigger than crude production” Yemi Kale, Director General of Nigerian Bureau of Statistics

The trouble is the conflict between the state agencies’ perception and the value creating biashara. How we view this sector is important and matters for both public and the private sector in

  • Crafting public policy

Biashara people are taxpayers, and economic contributors just like formal institutions, a fact often forgotten. Just like we craft targeted policy for the formal economy, after considering stakeholders interests, so we should for biashara.

  • Product and service design for Sub Saharan Africa consumer markets

Biashara people are the consumers of the formal economy’s products and services like mobile money transfer services, mobile banking services, sports betting, airtime, and FMCGs.

We need to understand biashara’s operating environment (business or people), if we are going to sell goods and services to this sector.

  • Innovation for Sub Saharan Africa’s economies

Once we appreciate biashara people as a market segment with its own merits, we can free ourselves of our one eyed biases and innovate for their  biashara needs.

For example, we can start by not referring to them as Bottom of the Pyramid people.

 

 

*The original version of this article appeared on my blog

Uber’s app lowers barriers to formalization for unorganized taxi industry in Kenya

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Nairobi Taxi stand, Kenya. February 2016 (photo: Niti Bhan)

This interesting article in the Kenyan news made me think about the role that an app like Uber could play in markets where there’s a high proportion of informal & unregulated business activity.

As with much technological advancement, resistance comes with change. Mpesa and the internet were once thought to be passing fads and have later changed industries. Uber’s disruptive strategy strayed from the normal operations in the local taxi industry. However, its benefits cannot be slighted. The app organizes the industry while creating a registry of taxi operators complete with their personal details and revenue earnings.

[…]

Deal with the local taxi organization or the app. Under the current laissez-faire model, the taxi associations are unregulated with the government unable to protect the consumers. Uber has stepped in to shape an unstructured industry into a formal operation.

What’s really interesting here is that same elements of the sharing economy that disrupt the more structured, formal markets in the industrialized world, are those that could provide structure and organization to the chaos of the cash based, informal sector in the developing world.

In effect, the gap between teh formal and the informal required something that could provide flexible, negotiable business models and organization structures in order to bridge effectively. Prepaid business models are one that work for the informal sector’s cash flows but they don’t provide any facility for an industry to organize – here, taking the necessary elements of flexiblity, negotiability, and reciprocity one step further into an app, the Uber solution offers information neatly captured and accessible at your fingertips.

Mobile Money’s next challenge: Enabling the development of a cashless ecosystem

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Equitel billboard, Nairobi Kenya (Photo: Niti Bhan Jan 2016)

The latest GSMA State of the Industry report on Mobile Money is out this month and the numbers look great in the developing world.
developing mmtThe report frames the industry’s next challenge as the need to grow the platform beyond the basics of airtime purchase and person to person transfer.
use case 1Here are my concerns, starting with the very first sentence – “to convince customers to actively diversify their usage patterns.”

This is where there is a critical need for MNOs to segment their userbase prior to designing fresh approaches to increase adoption and build an ecosystem. According to the report, only a few MNOs have data on urban vs rural, much less on gender.

use case 2The report’s fashioning of the data available into the form of an “average user” will hinder the progress more than it will help. Look at the geographic spread across widely varying economies, there’s no such thing as an average user when it comes to a tool closely related to one’s patterns of cash flow and income sources. Usage patterns reflect cash flows – why else would the prepaid business model be dominant in these same locations?

The hard work of disaggregating the information into region specific customer profiles must be done if solutions are to work effectively beyond teh basics of P2P transfer and airtime purchase – mobile money’s equivalent of a phone call and an sms.

Many of the reasons why its important to segment by rural/urban, and the proportion of users in the informal sector and on prepaid subscriptions are covered in my old posts on Google’s BebaPay fiasco – a smartphone app enabled NFC solution for cashless public transport payments introduced in Kenya a few years ago.

Economic ecosystems, particularly those with a heavy dose of the informal sector, and closer links to rural hinterlands, such as those common in sub Sahara, will need to be mapped out and understood before interventions can be designed to lower barriers to adoption. These use cases may not be plug and play components or readymade low hanging fruit, as imagined by the writers of this report. They need grounding in the context of the existing operating environment – formal or informal, urban or rural – and, the characteristics of the informal and rural economies, depending on the segment.

The formal sector and economic development: A lesson from marketing

Pursuing the thoughts introduced in the previous post further, I looked up the original reference on “formalization of the informal sector”1.

Alan Gelb, et al. 2009. “To Formalize or Not to Formalize? Comparisons of Microenterprise Data from Southern and East Africa.” CGD Working Paper 175

“…in East Africa, weak enforcement of tax payment and no significant difference in access to services between formal and  informal firms means that these variables do not explain the allocation of firms across the informal-formal divide.

We conclude that in countries with weak business environments, informal firms are just as likely as formal firms to increase their productivity as they grow.

Thus,  interventions to increase productivity and lower the cost of formality may be helpful.”

The question comes back to what is the benefit of formalizing when the costs associated with it do not offer any additional services, such as reliable electricity, for instance, that offset the investment.

Formality only becomes a barrier when new market opportunities require paperwork – a formal sector customer, or a chance to export.

“…improvements in the business environment in East Africa are potentially more valuable in changing the balance of benefits and costs from formalization, and so encouraging small firms to formalize and grow.”

Really, what seems to be the case is that instead of pushing individual entrepreneurs to formalize, it is their operating environment that must be tweaked in order to attract them towards formalization. As long as there’s little difference between the formal and informal sectors of the economy, there is no incentive to invest in the relatively expensive and cumbersome process.

The key insight here is that the current day efforts to push towards formalization, must instead transform into a pull towards formality.

If indeed we’re now seeing the end-users as customers of our services, then we must market the benefits in order to attract them. This has implications for the durability, and thus, sustainability of programs and initiatives, beyond the life of the project.

With the nuanced shift in perspective offered by Gelb et al, we can also see the role that human centered design can play in this journey. Who better to identify what customers’ need and want?

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Old and New: Changing Perspectives on the Informal Economy

ChentableOld_newInformalMartha Alter Chen’s table summarizing the still prevalent yet now considered obsolete view of the informal economy, against the revised perspective currently held is worth showcasing in its own right. Further food for thought comes from this little snippet from Sparks and Barnett:

Gelb et al (2009) found that the “…productivity of informal firms is virtually indistinguishable from that of formal firms in East Africa…” (although that was not the case they found in southern Africa)

This implies that location, and thus, the context of the operating environment matter when it comes to productivity of the informal sector, or the viability of its business models.

Further research is required to unpack the generalization of the informal economy, by geography and culture, as well the specific operating environment.

The business model of drinking water in urban Ghana

In Accra, Ghana, packaging potable water into single serve sachets for the mass market (the prepaid economy) is a business model that has evolved extremely rapidly in response to customer demand and purchasing power.

Bottled mineral water for the elite trickled down in quantity and form until the man on the street can buy a glassful for pennies. From the article The cost of pure water:

“I think we’ve seen almost an entire product life cycle in just a decade,” Stoler said. “Initially it was more of the autocrats drinking sachets. Very quickly, within a few years, it seems to have shifted to lower income and the poorest of the poor… You don’t go to a conference or symposium and get served sachet water.”

Stoler believes the “warp-speed evolution” of the industry has quickly made the product better and cleaner. Due to the enormous demand, bigger producers like Voltic have stepped in and are using the same water they put in bottles, sold to the rich, in the sachets sold to the lower and middle classes. And with lots of competition in most areas, and billions of bags being consumed each year, the customer base is quickly becoming more discerning about what they buy.

“This is one of those weirder examples of almost pure capitalism,” Stoler said. “You have this gap in supply, so the private sector steps in and fills the demand. Customers start to understand that there’s differentiation in product quality. Better quality producers rise to the top, the market incentives produce better quality products, and without tons of over-regulation, the market has ended up with a pretty good product.”

His work shows that the intelligent Ghanaian customer base has helped evolve the experimental, and perhaps unhealthy, product that Osei sampled into a cleaner one. In a recent study focusing on two poorer neighbourhoods of Accra, Old Fadama and Old Tulaku, Stoler found no faecal contamination in any sachet sample.

Reading the article further, you’ll note that this service is typical of the way the informal sector quickly senses an opportunity to be satisfied.

Key Insights on the Reality of Rural India: Socio-Economic & Caste Census data

Recently, India released a selection of data from the 2011 Census of India – their focus was rural India’s socio-economic reality, primarily aimed at policymakers and programme designers. This was the first time the Government of the Republic of India has collected information on caste. The last such census was back in 1931, by the British Raj.

I’ve gone through the standard talking points and a variety of articles online to synthesize and pinpoint the factoids that caught my attention.

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Rural Rajasthan is India’s least literate state. Photo Credit: Niti Bhan, Sawai Madhopur

Mobile  phone ownership – More than 2 out 3 households

While only one per cent of rural households own a landline phone without a mobile, a whopping 68.35 per cent have mobiles as their only phone(s). In Uttar Pradesh, as many as 86 per cent rural households own no phone but mobiles. Households with both landline and mobiles constitute an additional 2.72 per cent of the rural population, with Kerala the highest among the states at 28.33 per cent. In Chhattisgarh, this is particularly high at 71 per cent, mainly due to lack of connectivity and mobile towers, a reflection of the lack of development in the state. Source

India rural census

Literacy and Education – More than 1 in 3 illiterate

Educational levels remain dismal, with over a third of rural India illiterate. The proportion of those passing through the primary, secondary, senior secondary and higher secondary stages drops at each successive level, from nearly 18 per cent to 5 per cent, while only 3.45 per cent are graduates or above. The highest proportion for graduates is in the National Capital Territory and Delhi, at 9.6 per cent; among the states, Kerala tops at 8 per cent. Source

Rajasthan leads the pack of illiterate states with 47.58% of its population falling in that category, followed by Madhya Pradesh with 44.19% of its people in rural areas being illiterate. Bihar is at the third place with 43.85% and followed by newly carved state Telangana with 40.42% population belonging to this category. Source

Informal Sector and Irregular Incomes – 9 out of 10 people

Rural India remains largely dependent on self-employment or the unorganised sector. Less than 10 per cent households are dependent on salaried jobs, of which the majority are in government jobs. Also, 0.09 per cent of rural households are houseless, compared to 0.15 per cent in the urban areas. Source Fewer than 5 per cent pay income tax. Source

villagesNearly one in every three rural households still have an uncertain source of income and continue to live in one-room kutcha houses. They compose 31.26 per cent of the 17.91 crore rural households covered by the census — and will now be considered as ‘poor’,  eligible for benefits applicable to Below Poverty Line (BPL) families. Of the rural households covered, 21.53 per cent belonged to scheduled castes and tribes Source

Over half of rural India owns no land at all. Among households who do own land, 40 per cent is not irrigated. Just 4 per cent own any sort of mechanised agricultural equipment, and just 10 per cent own any irrigation equipment. Fewer than 4 per cent have an agricultural credit card that entitles them to at least Rs 50,000 per month. Source

The Big Picture

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Lessons for Formal Finance from Informal financial services

 

On one of my many field explorations on rural financial services,  I found out, that for one mama biashara, as soon as payment checks in, she withdraws all her funds from her local coffee SACCO account, and spreads it out via micro-deposits across her more than 5 local informal savings groups (from right to left on diagram).

 

Choice of Informal Formal financial services – continuum

 

A report conducted across East Africa using data from [Finaccess, Fin survey – ’09,’12,’13] Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Rwanda, found that on average, 60% of survey participants saved with informal groups and places – ASCAs, ROSCA, SECRET place

 

“Determinants of Household Savings Mobilization across EAC Countries: An Exploratory Analysis.”

 

Even M-Shwari – “a new [mobile] banking platform that enables customers to save, earn interest, and access small amounts of credit instantly via their mobile phones”, on paper an ideal tool for banking the unbanked, faces the same challenge as per CGAP’s How M-Shwari Works: The Story So Far Report (pdf).

“The main competition to M-Shwari as a place to deposit and store money temporarily comes from informal savings groups and banks”

There is mounting evidence of widespread use of informal and semi-formal financial services, despite efforts to shift to digital financial services (DFS). While in formal circles they may be perceived as ‘a risky place to borrow/put your money’, based on evidence, there is an allure that does not readily lend itself to be seen. Often, what is lost in countless narratives, is the fact that before banks (B.B.), people weren’t necessarily unbanked per se. As creative social beings, they devised ways to meet typical banking functions  eg credit, saving, credit rating etc Not devoid of shortcomings, but filled a role all the same.

How, do they [informal financial services] compete so well with formal finance with nil marketing budgets?

 

Consider Financial Historical Data

In the formal world of finance, any unrecorded financial history before Banks or Telcos proprietary mobile phone spending history is non-existent. Mobile phone history instead, is preferred as a surrogate for credit history. In turn, the bank provider

“partners with Safaricom (telcos) to use one’s mobile phone usage data and Mpesa transaction data as a credit score for how much in instant loans you qualify for”

Here, there is a rather obvious disconnect. For starters, majority of transactions in rural and informal economies (where the poor, unbanked and underbanked likely found) occur in cash – forms of savings, micro-loans and micro-transactions! Secondly, rich peer to peer (P2P), business to consumer (B2C) and business to business (B2B) credit exchanges, occur frequently in this domain, based on social ties, trust and familiarity in rural and informal economy transactions. Both inherently valuable credit histories.

Yet, all these financial exchanges that take place in these groups and the informal cash intensive economy are not considered as valid credit history.  If we consider mama biashara’s alternatives (as per my formal -informal continuum diagram above), for emergencies, she is likely to turn to her informal devices for plugging her short term credit needs – P2P credit, B2B credit, Business Self Help group etc than say a bank. As a function of trust therefore, these informal devices, rank favorably in her implicit trust continuum scale seen here.

 

Trust Continuum – informal and formal financial services

 

Takeaways from Informal

If by their own admission, telcos and banks admit informal savings groups are their biggest competitors, shouldn’t the first step be to understand the competition ?

by Damien Newman https://revisionlab.wordpress.com/that-squiggle-of-the-design-process/

Cash intensive rural and informal domains are a rich data mine semblance of spaghetti balls, unlike digital data that lends itself to direct measurement. The nature of this data is more qualitative – the kind collected from exploratory research, people, immersion, observing behavior, cues picked up from dialogues, and time spent interacting in environments. While we focus on readily measurable metrics, we are missing out on an even bigger source.

 

 

Glossary:
ASCA –        Accumulating Savings and Credit Associations
ROSCA –     Rotating Savings and Credit Association
SHG –          Self-help group of mamas with common business interest
Chama –      Informal cooperative society used to pool and invest savings
P2P credit –     peer to peer credit eg mama to mama
B2C credit –     business to consumer credit eg mama to her customers
B2B credit –     business to business credit eg a supplier to mama
MFI –          Micro Finance institution
SACCO –     Savings and Credit Cooperative