Africa: Start-Up Creates Business Model Reaching Informal Shops and Medicine Sellers

Every1Mobile has bought together an ability to create channels to reach and engage with communities with private sector partners. The result is a business that wants to improve the skills of informal retailers and give their customers health information and loyalty vouchers for health and hygiene products. Russell Southwood talked to Algy Williams, CEO, Every1Mobile about how it happened.

Founded in 2010, Every1Mobile started by offering to create social networks on mobile phones, largely in Africa and on featurephones. It built 7-8 sites that covered topics like sexual health and jobs, generating 3.5 million users. But although the intention was always to monetize, the platform, the market moved away from featurephones and social platforms like MXit began to implode in terms of user numbers. The young moved to Facebook and smartphones were the place to be.

“We decided to pivot. We had an effective tech platform and we had been evolving it to handle smartphones. We used our platform and expertise to deliver large social impact platforms”. What Williams had learned could now be sold to funders, clients and partners in the public sector and to the private sector,

“The funders have been going through a dramatic change. There has been a lot of negative press coverage and Government pressure. They would like to see funding become more efficient, measurable and scalable. They are also feeling the pinch. The momentum started with Bill Gates bringing private sector attitudes to the sector”.

If you want efficiency, the ability to measure results and scalability, the direction in which you have to look is towards technology. Only by embracing it will a great deal of international development do all of the above. So now we design and run large digital socio-economic inclusion campaigns”.

Among others, these have included a campaign with DFID and its provider Palladium called Voices of Change that was designed to change the attitudes of young Nigerians to gender equality and gender violence using F2F (Friend-to-Friend) outreach to students and young people. It used a radio soap opera aimed at key influencers.

“We were the digital partner for all online activities. We built an online and social platform called Purple. Everything from safe spaces to discuss gender-based violence, etc and e-learning courses along with magazine-type youth related activities with young musicians and artists as ambassadors”.

“We attracted 650,000 active users using forums, profiles and quizzes. 80,000 people completed courses in the Purple Academy. Hundreds of thousands of people left comments in the Forums. The radio station was streamed on the site. Think of it as a funnel. Most interactions are only for a few minutes but might lead to greater engagement and adopting the standards and attitudes we were presenting”.

Its biggest project at the moment is aimed at transforming the lives of both informal retailers and low-income shoppers. Currently The $412 billion retail market in Sub-Saharan Africa is dominated by “informal trade” (i.e. low-income shopkeepers/street vendors), accounting for 80% of all spending.

Working with DFID and Unilever under the Transform PPP programme, it has created UJoiN:”We want to build a digital business that will improve business capacity of low income entrepreneurs and increase social impact. We’ve been working with them for 3.5 years, over which time we’ve built an online community of dukas in Kenya. Unilever’s interest is in the ability of these shopkeepers to access their shoppers for brand awareness. DFID wants to get health awareness messages to shoppers.”

Shoppers are encouraged to join the equivalent of a loyalty scheme and get vouchers that allow them to get product discounts for a range of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and nutrition products, redeemable at their local duka. There is a points system, rewarding consumer voucher registration with short-term health

insurance for shopkeepers. Alongside the scheme there is online and offline health information and behavior change messaging. 8,300 have signed up to receive e-vouchers and over 65,000 e-vouchers have been redeemed.” Currently it’s only Unilever but it will be expandable. It becomes an interesting virtuous circle”.

“By the end of next year we’ll be very close to the point of having 10,000 shops and 100,000 shoppers signed up to UJoiN and we plan to raise private equity to roll out the model.”

But before that point was reached, Williams was asked by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Unilever to take UJoiN to Nigeria and apply it to informal, unlicensed medical vendors, PMVs (Patent Medicine Vendors). Fifty per cent of women with children under 5 use PMVs for healthcare.

” We are now with funding from Gates and Transform are applying the model to Lagos using the name NaijaCare. We are looking at how to improve their professional skills. PMVs are a big channel for counterfeit medicines. They have no access to working capital. They are not good at managing money. With online buying, you can reduce the level of non-assured medicines. We’re starting to build online ordering and group buying”. There are between 80,000-200,000 PMVs in Nigeria alone.

“Consultants Ernst and Young has offered to help because the model is a scalable business. We have a really interesting business model we’re developing. It should be at scale next year and we’ll be pursuing three revenue streams: vendors, group buying and useful and valuable data”.

“We think we have a very powerful model to build a very valuable business. We can build a business of informal traders, affecting the lives of millions of customers. It’s currently only Unilever, but we will get a range of corporate partners. It’s complementary with FMCG partners and non-FMCG partners like financial services and pharmaceutical companies”.

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