We envision that use of the SafeBoda app will empower customers to continue using digital platforms
Ricky Rapa Thomson
Co-Founder of SafeBoda Uganda
When public transportation is completely halted, it not only puts personal lives on hold. It also puts entire businesses, sectors and value chains on hold as well.
In Uganda, where the vast majority of businesses are small-and-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that serve as engines of financial inclusion in addition to economic growth, the impact is substantial.
One of those SMEs belongs to Ruth Tindyebwa whose business traditionally relied on customers using public transportation to come to her stall, often on their way from work. The halt of public transportation resulted in a dramatic loss of customers and income for Tindyebwa. But the impact does not end with vendors and customers. The value chains that underlie these vendors—farmers, producers, distributors—also feel the negative impacts.
Uganda has a special role in the collective work of the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). Uganda was the location where UNCDF and Sida launched the “Leaving No One Behind in the Digital Era” strategy—this strategy of UNCDF intended to promote the building of inclusive digital economies . When the strategy was launched in 2019, the goal was to equip millions of people—both in Uganda and throughout Africa, Asia, and the Pacific—by 2024 to use innovative digital services in their daily lives that will empower them and contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Now in the context of COVID-19, how can this strategy deliver on supporting SMEs and value chains to navigate this historic economic disruption, while helping customers receive the goods they need?
The answer is the partnership between UNCDF and SafeBoda to provide an e-commerce platform that will connect market vendors to customers during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown and beyond. Targeting an initial 800 market vendors, the SafeBoda e-commerce platform will connect market vendors to households that need a range of supplies by using the preexisting reliable SafeBoda transport service.
Through this partnership, UNCDF and SafeBoda will provide 800 market vendors access to the SafeBoda app, whereby they can sell their produce while helping to maintain the livelihoods of the 18,000 SafeBoda riders whose source of income has been affected by the ban on public transport. The partnership will also look to leverage SafeBoda’s riders and user base to share vital information and safety practices about COVID-19. This will allow a projected average of 50,000 customers to be reached daily with food stuffs and goods delivery.
But the partnership is designed to deliver value beyond COVID-19.
“We envision that use of the SafeBoda app will empower customers to continue using digital platforms, which will increase inclusion and bolster resilience for similar future shocks and stresses, not just in Kampala but in other towns across the country; including those in Northern Uganda,” Ricky Rapa Thomson, the Co-Founder of SafeBoda Uganda says.
As part of the partnership, UNCDF is providing technical and financial support for design, rollout and implementation of the e-commerce platform, while at the same time monitoring and learning how such e-commerce platforms can address the impacts of COVID-19 and beyond.
This reflects the UNCDF goal of providing “last-mile” finance models that unlock public and private resources, especially at the domestic level, to reduce poverty and support local economic development.
“The crisis may well extend for many months and activities, which is why aiming for transformational change and Build Back Better should be about serving the poor in their phases of life, vulnerabilities, and opportunities. This should include designing products tailored to specific goals and cash flows and Sida is pleased to be part of this process,” said Ola Sahlen, Program Manager of the International Organizations and Policy Support Unit with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). “Organizations that discover how to fill in the major gaps through the provision of financial services will prevail and through supporting the ecosystem approach it will be possible to reach scale.”
“The SafeBoda e-Commerce platform is an example of an innovative business model that is helping Uganda’s SMEs gain access to and usage of digital platforms and digital service offerings to stay in business during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. By addressing the challenge of limited access to transportation connecting SMEs and their customers, UNCDF hopes to serve as a catalyst; encouraging others to innovate and leverage digital technology to ensure that no Ugandan is left behind in the digital era,” said Chris Lukolyo, UNCDF Digital Country Lead.
Tindyebwa is one the first market vendors that SafeBoda has signed on and trained as part of this partnership.
"My clients now order through the SafeBoda app. I feel protected because the riders wear gloves and masks. I also always wash my hands after serving each customer,” Ruth Tindyebwa says.
For the first time since she started her business, her daily sales have hit the UGX500,000 mark. Such stories of change and growth demonstrate that by addressing everyday challenges, we can drive the growth and sustainability of the entire digital ecosystem.
Tindyebwa added, “The most amazing part is that I can save for my children's school fees on my e-wallet as I wait for the schools to reopen after this lockdown.”