“Leave no one behind” in the practice of day-to-day development: The case of street youths and women running small street businesses with innovative kiosks

February 15, 2024
Street Youths

UNDP-CMR-Young street women and men running small street businesses with innovative kiosks-2024

UNDP Cameroon-AccLab


Why do some young people end up on the streets rather than residing within the safety nets of their families? This is no doubt the question many ask when seeing street youths wandering the streets of some cities. The story of Hamza Youssoupha, a street youth, and the lessons learned from the experiment on “Which innovative solution can enhance the resilience and inclusion of street youths and women running small street businesses?” tell us more. This experiment, conducted by the UNDP Cameroon Acceleration Lab, will provide a better idea of the reasons why young people roam city streets, as well as introduce an innovative solution that could help get them off the streets. 

The story of Hamza Youssoupha, 31 years old

Hamza is a young Cameroonian, aged 31, from the Bororo ethnic group (one of Cameroon's minority indigenous communities). He is the only boy in a family of five children. In 2001, at the age of eight, he lost his father (the family's main breadwinner). This led to great tension in the family, fueled by the unquenchable appetite of his uncles to unlawfully take the modest livestock bequeathed to him by his late father. Unfortunately, his vulnerable mother herself could not do much against his uncles. Hamza, disoriented, had only one objective: to take charge of his own life to alleviate his mother's suffering. So, he took the difficult decision to leave his family in Bertoua and travel to Yaoundé, Cameroon's capital city, some 335 km away. He traveled through Belabo, where there was a train station, to infiltrate a train with a few of his peers. Despite the passage of time, he has not forgotten the day he arrived in Yaoundé on February 7, 2001 (which remains engraved in his memory). Not knowing anyone in the town, he ended up on the streets, joining the community of street youths commonly known in Cameroon as the "Nanga Boko." To survive, they had to beg and sometimes resort to illegal activities. A paper written by Marie Morelle, entitled "Street young people and "street culture" in Yaoundé (Cameroon),"  published in 2005, tells us more about the activities of these young people on the streets of Yaoundé. But Hamza's aim in carrying out these street activities was to get out of this precarious, difficult, and vicious environment as soon as he could.

[Hamza's story is similar to that of several other street youths among the 1,822 interviewed in 2023 in Yaoundé, Douala, and Ngaoundéré by the RESUC (Unified Social Registry of Cameroon) with the support of UNDP Cameroon as part of the PIJER project (Project for the Reinsertion and Socio-economic Inclusion of Street Youths/EDR)]. During his time on the streets, he learned how to make snacks. In a bid to get off the streets, he bought a makeshift kiosk where he could offer passers-by quick snacks. But the business did not prosper, and he returned to his usual street activities. Later, with the support of the Association OCALUCOPER (Cameroon Organization to Combat Street Children Phenomena), he succeeded in obtaining another kiosk, which we found him at when we were carrying out field surveys as part of our reflections on this experiment. Discussions with Hamza revealed that this activity enabled him to survive, but presented several constraints, namely: the impossibility of storing his perishable goods; the inability to sell at night due to the lack of light; and the exposure of his supplies to bad weather. As a result, he expressed the need for improved solutions to enable him to better carry out his business and deal with these constraints.

This was made possible with the support of the UNDP Cameroon Acceleration Lab. Today, Hamza is looking to the future with a little more hope and ambition, as he is currently testing the use of a solar-powered mobile kiosk equipped with a fridge to store perishable goods. The kiosk also has a lighting system, so he can sell at night with the option of recharging his phone and ultimately innovate his street eatery services.

After a few months of experimenting with his new kiosk, we paid Hamza a visit. Based on his small accounts, he told us, “My incomes have increased." In fact, after analysis, his daily turnover has increased by almost 60% compared with the system he was using before. "I can now sell at night, which I couldn't do before because of the lack of lighting," he says. This enables him to generate new income, with the added advantage of not having to pay any energy bills.

Street Youths

UNDP-CMR-Interview with Hamza about the kiosk test-2024

UNDP Cameroon-AccLab

How has this new approach increased his income?

In his opinion, the differences between the innovative system and the previous system include the following:

  • The solar-powered mobile kiosk is easier to handle and makes it easier to lay out his work equipment.

  • The model attracts the attention of new customers, such as young students attracted by the novelty.

  • Some customers come out of curiosity, especially at night, because of its lighting system.

  • The solar-powered mobile kiosk makes it possible to preserve perishable foodstuffs and store a larger quantity of supplies. We assume that this generates economies of scale in the supply chain.

Hamza told us, "Today, thanks to this new kiosk, my business allows me to solve my problems and save money." He added, "In the future, I would like to open a modern restaurant, and train other street youths in catering so that they can get off the streets like me." Yannick Ondoa, President of the OCALUCOPER Association, reports that this initiative is beginning to make an impact. In January 2024, Hamza and 11 other street youths received more advanced training in catering at the Club Municipale restaurant in Yaoundé (one of the best in the city). This was done with the support of one of the Association's development partners, who was very impressed by these innovative kiosks. This will undoubtedly enable young people to better diversify their offerings and respond to an increasing and demanding clientele, thus optimizing their income and ultimately increasing their resilience.

How did we come up with these innovative kiosks?

Step 1: Learn more about the difficulties facing those actors through a survey.

We carried out georeferenced field surveys of 216 people (71.76% of whom were women and 28.24% of men) in markets within the cities of Yaoundé and Douala. The aim was to gain a better understanding of the difficulties faced by this vulnerable target population involved in small street businesses. The analyses enabled us to understand the difficulties faced by these women and young people involved in small street businesses, and they revealed their desire for alternatives (a real need expressed).

UNDP-CMR-Map of respondents in the cities of Yaoundé and Douala-2024

UNDP Cameroon-AccLab

This fieldwork was carried out with the support of 10 student volunteers (50% women and 50% men) living in the cities of Douala and Yaoundé.  Volunteers used smartphones and the Kobo Collect mobile application for data collection. The data were then analyzed using the GIS (Geographic Information System) software Quantum GIS

UNDP-CMR-A team of volunteers in the field in Yaoundé.-2024

UNDP Cameroon-AccLab

Step 2: Improving specification of requirements and prototyping

Two renewable energy engineers were consulted on the expressed needs of our target audience as well as the hypothesis put forward in terms of a potential solution. Each engineer set up a team, one of which worked on the prototype intended to support small eatery businesses owned by street youths, and others worked on the prototype for the sale of fruit and vegetables. With the collective intelligence of the engineers and the Acc Lab team, the engineers proposed 3D models of the prototypes. Using an agile process, modifications were made to the models to ensure the needs of the target audience were met, and finally, two prototypes were developed.

UNDP-CMR-Overview of one of the 3D models designed and first prototypes developed by engineers-2024

UNDP Cameroon-AccLab

Step 3: Testing of the prototypes

With the help of the OCALUCOPER association, sites were identified to test the prototypes. The kiosks were transferred to these sites to commence testing. A weekly mini-report on the progress of the test, any difficulties encountered, and suggestions or possible solutions was sent by the users.

UNDP-CMR-Field test with the solar fast-food kiosk-2024

UNDP Cameroon-AccLab

Lessons learned

After a few months of testing, four key lessons emerged from this experiment:

  1. Sometimes, solutions to everyday challenges are not yet available, but a little collective intelligence with the target populations and potential solution-makers goes a long way towards developing them. Indeed, feedback from users and their customers has been positive, and they welcome the innovative nature of these kiosks, which are contributing to socio-economic inclusion and increasing the resilience of these vulnerable social groups.

  2. In the process of finding an innovative solution to a problem that arises, we need to adopt an agile approach, and all the key stakeholders (end-users, procurement team, solution providers, and management of the organization) need to talk/listen to each other so as not to go out of scope and develop the solution in a reasonable time.

  3. The suitability of a solution and what needs to be added or removed can only be determined in the field. Indeed, our tests have shown us that certain improvements are needed to enhance the performance of these kiosks. For example, we have received a suggestion to increase the number of sample display sections for better marketing of the products on offer. There was also the suggestion of having a hybrid energy system (solar/electric power) to enable the vendor to continue his/her activity if the solar-powered batteries were to run down during periods of high demand (especially at night).

  4. The financial viability of these kiosks, given the target, depends closely on the number of units to be developed to achieve an economy of scale.

Call to action

Join us in scaling this innovation by developing several of these tested and innovative kiosks, to get young people off the streets. According to Yannick Ondoa, President of the OCALUCOPER Association, "This type of innovation contributes greatly to the objectives of associations like ours and that of the Government, which aim to get young people off the streets through income-generating activities." Further on, he adds that "a kiosk like the street fast food kiosk can single-handedly get three young people off the streets,"  since it is currently operated by three young people (two young men and one young woman). The benefits are very appreciable, and we can see their blossoming. This solution can greatly contribute to the achievement of the SDGs, notably SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 3 (good health and well-being), SDG 10 (reduced inequalities), and SDG 11 (sustainable cities and communities).

Special thanks to our 10 student volunteers, OCALUCOPER, and colleagues Yannick Ngoa Elouga, Madeleine Julie Mballa, Jeannine Audrey Moneyang, Lawrence Neba, Jean-Vincent Gweth, Anna Ojong, Leslie Ngwa, and Klariska Moodley, for their support in monitoring the experiment and their valuable contributions to this blog. /.