Which innovative solution can enhance the resilience and inclusion of street youths and women running small street businesses?

May 17, 2023

UNDP-CMR-A woman operating a small street business (selling fruits in the Lonkak neighbourhood of Yaounde)-2023

PNUD Cameroun

The working population of youth and women in Cameroon is mostly in the informal sector, with their small street businesses, which consist, among other activities, of fast food and the sale of fruits and vegetables. They face challenges around the conservation of their products (perishable products), lighting during nighttime activities, and the mobility of their business in the streets to meet customers. These difficulties often result in the loss of products and a decrease in income, which automatically increases their vulnerability. This think-piece blog is about reflecting on and finding the most suitable energy solution that can help decrease their losses and reduce the vulnerability of their activities.

An overview of the situation

The Cameroonian population in 2019 was estimated at 24,348,241 people (BUCREP, 2019). Women accounted for 50.6% of the population (BUCREP, 2019, as cited by the National Institute of Statistics, 2020). On the other hand, 63.7% of this population are youths between 0 and 24 years old. Those social groups are at the same time those who are less represented in the different spheres of decision-making and are often marginalised and unemployed, which is a source of vulnerability. In Cameroon, it is estimated that there are more than 7,000 street youths (girls and boys facing houselessness and lack of employment) in the major cities of Yaoundé and Douala (the majority are between the ages of 15 and 25, and many of their activities are in the informal sector). Furthermore, in Cameroon, there is still a huge gap in terms of access to decent employment between men and women. For example, the employment rate for men in 2014 was 75.1%, compared to 71.7% in 2010, while for women it was 64.5%, compared to 61.4% in 2010 (source: EESI2, 2010 and ECAM4, 2014). According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2022 of the World Economic Forum (WEF), 90.1% of women workers are in the informal sector in Cameroon.

Globally, a greater percentage of the youth and women's working population is in the informal sector. Many of them have small street businesses comprised of everyday consumer perishable products, which face issues of conservation, lighting during nighttime activities, and mobility to ease foodstuffs' transportation. While women have generally fixed positions, youths are generally mobile in the streets. Most of these small street businesses are for daily survival and not for wealth creation, like many other businesses. Following all that has been mentioned above, one wonders what the most appropriate solution is that can address this issue of conservation of perishable products, lighting during nighttime activities, and mobility. Does the solution already exist? Should it be developed?

What is the idea?

The idea is to explore all the potential solutions and realise an experiment within a portfolio of solutions that can help address the challenges faced by women running small street businesses in Cameroon and potential solutions.

Women in Cameroon are, for the most part, the breadwinners in their families [1]. They are the ones who do most of the unpaid domestic work, which is a personal investment. For many women who run small street businesses, this activity is their only source of income. Women with small street businesses are very often the main providers of their families needs. However, as some of these products are perishable, such as fruit and vegetables, they often suffer losses on unsold products, which sometimes spoil. These losses, however small, have a significant impact on their ability to fulfil their responsibilities within their families. It is also difficult to purchase large quantities of products as this is a conservation challenge, so they have to go to the market every day for supplies, which ultimately increases their operating costs and reduces their profit margin. Therefore, a grassroots innovation that enables them to better preserve their products to avoid losses and reduce operating costs seems like a good idea. These small street businesses run by women also sometimes operate at night, which also poses a challenge in terms of income security as they are paid in cash. It would seem that a device with a sustainable lighting system could reduce this risk.

UNDP-CMR- Facilities of a small street business run by a woman in Nkol-Eton Market, Yaoundé-2023

PNUD Cameroun

Regarding street youths, a recent interview with them in Yaoundé revealed that some of them are on the streets because of extreme poverty and tensions within their families. As a result, these young people, sometimes still children and adolescents, are left to their own devices, and some of them engage in small street businesses to meet their basic needs. These young people often occupy temporary spaces and have to move their goods every morning from the storage point to the selling point. They also have to move around the city to reach their customers, so there is a mobility challenge. Some of these street youths are involved in street catering, for example, using perishable products, which is a public health challenge. So it seems important and necessary to have a device that would allow them to preserve the perishable products that they use, and that device needs to be mobile so that they can move around as they wish. It also seems important to have a device that could protect the vendor from bad weather, such as rain in the rainy season and the hot sun in the dry season, since we are in a tropical area.

UNDP-CMR-Street youths operating street eatery services on the streets of Yaoundé -2023

PNUD Cameroun

As these two social groups (women and street youths) are poorer and more vulnerable, it is also important to have economically sustainable energy sources. Therefore, we are thinking about the idea of a solar energy solution that does not require monthly bills. Thus, we believe that by developing one or two mobile and/or fixed solar-powered devices that can help prevent loss of goods, provide lighting, and protect vendors from bad weather, this could increase the income and reduce the vulnerability of street youth and women running small street businesses for their socio-economic inclusion.

UNDP-CMR-An illustration of the logic of our idea-2023

What area is it relevant to?

The idea of fixed and mobile solar energy solutions for small street businesses run by street youth and women is relevant to the field of socio-economic inclusion. Indeed, these social groups are vulnerable and very often marginalised. These actors are often left behind by development interventions, but these street youths and women can be enablers in improving the well-being of their communities. This idea is also important for the field of gender mainstreaming in development, as it focuses on the empowerment of street youths and women.

Policy implications of our position based on our exploratory work

Based on our exploratory work on this issue so far, it could have implications for urban management and planning policies. Indeed, the urban space in Cameroon is governed by several policies and regulations on the occupation of the public highway, especially for small street businesses. These vulnerable people are sometimes violated by agents in charge of urban planning, who sometimes collect and destroy the goods and equipment of street vendors. This can affect these people, whose capital is sometimes very small. It is planned to involve these actors in this experiment to see together what policy implications need to be considered to facilitate the scaling up of the appropriate solution. This initiative is aligned with the national development priorities of Cameroon, such as the Vision 2035, which aims to make Cameroon an emerging country with strong social cohesion and a reduced poverty rate, and the National Development Strategy 2020–2030 (NDS30), which focuses on accelerating growth, creating jobs, strengthening human capital, improving governance, and ensuring environmental sustainability.

UNDP-CMR-Image to illustrate policies-2023

Our perspective is to analyse the difficulties of the women and street youth we are targeting, to learn more about their problems, and to better specify their needs. Then it will be necessary to put together a portfolio of possible solutions, which will be tested to see which of them will adequately address the identified problem. It is also planned to work on scaling up the proven solution, and the country office and the YouthConnekt Programme team in Cameroon are already quite interested in this, and we also have the ambition to engage other actors.

UNDP-CMR- Next steps of our reflection-2023

PNUD Cameroun

So, join us and let us find together the right solution for those venerable target groups (street youths and women) so that no one is left behind in achieving SDGs by 2030.