By UNDP Peru Accelerator Labs
Innovate your Market: Digital Solutions for Food Markets (part one)
3 de Enero de 2023
“It was during this stage where I started to notice the Warrior Entrepreneurs’ engagement. Now some of them won’t stop talking when beforehand it was very hard to get a word out of them. The final products were very interesting but what I liked the most was seeing them lose their fears, present their final results, and identify solutions to improve the lives of everyone who works at the market.”Victoria Li
There are few Peruvians who have never been to a market in their city or neighborhood, that haven’t felt the scents of spices in the air or don’t know a special “casera” (stand owner) who helps them to find the best seasonal fruits and veggies. However, these essential social spaces have not been able to close the technological gap quantified in almost 60 years after the pandemic started by the Peruvian FabLab network. The COVID-19 pandemic represented an economic hit that endangered the sources of income for 300,000 entrepreneurs in the food markets and their families, but also enforced different social dynamics in a public space that used to be all about daily or weekly interactions and relationships between sellers and clients.
It was in the year 2020, in a challenging, uncertain, and socially distanced context, when Innova tu Mercado was born. Innova Tu Mercado (Innovate your Market) is a platform of public and private allies, including academia, government institutions and civil associations addition to UNDP, that share the objective of accelerating the digital transformation of women entrepreneurs in the food markets in Peru. This platform kickstarted its digital transformation path through an initial pilot in two markets: the Gran Mariscal Ramón Castilla and the Real Plaza Apromec - Ate Vitarte markets.
The learning path
A complex problem with social, economic, and digital components requires holistic and multidimensional solutions. This is why Innovate your Market is a five-month long learning path built on four pillars and spanning three stages:
The Accelerator Lab team joined Innovate your Market for the third stage of the learning path by developing a design thinking methodology, used to identify digital solutions to strengthen the economic recovery of food markets and make it more sustainable over time. This methodology was put in practice with women leaders in each of the two markets in which the pilot took place, who had already completed the first two stages of the learning path, and support from undergraduate students from the Universidad del Pacífico.
This experience went beyond the six weeks of work with the women leaders, also known as “Innova Warriors”; we discovered a unique opportunity to dive into the three frontier challenges we had explored as a Lab until that moment: changemaker youth, food systems, and culture for development.
The challenge that we faced can be summarized in the deceivingly simple equation:
28 Innova Warriors from two markets in Lima
25 undergrad students from the Universidad del Pacífico
6 weeks of collaborative work
Digital solutions for food markets in Peru
Six weeks is a very short timeframe for any project, and even more when we had to work around the Innova Warriors’ daily schedules and accommodate their regular hours at the market. Additionally, the virtual space in which the learning path for Innovate your Market took place implied that Innova Warriors and the students had to build a trusting relationship without meeting in person and with very different experiences of the market, either as sellers or clients.
The Lab embraced virtuality and time limitations as part of our experiment and jumped into putting together a design thinking methodology focused on the needs of female entrepreneurs in markets. This graph gives a snapshot of our work plan, with one week per section:
We had four hours of work each week with the students, and for two of those four hours we worked with the Innova Warriors as well, who joined the sessions after long days at the markets and sometimes while still in public transport on their way home.
As weeks went by, we discovered that our biggest challenge was not in the number of hours per week we had with the Warriors nor in virtual meetings; it resided in clearly defining who was the user for each digital solutions and fully understanding the user before jumping into potential solutions that might sound great in paper but don’t really address their pain points. This is challenge we know very well at the Lab, since we must remember ourselves and each other daily that our enthusiasm for a solution does not mean that it’s the right one for our users or even sustainable over time. It’s not easy to be patient with a process that doesn’t seem to move as quick as we would like, but at the same time we didn’t expect how empathetic Warriors and students would be with each other when it came to learning about their difficulties during the pandemic.
This is the end of the first part of our two-post series about our experience with Innovate your Market. Which insights did we find? Which solutions did we choose? Read our second post to find out, and if you’d like to learn more about our methodology, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org!