Experimentation into Informalities – Digitally Transforming Informal Markets in The Gambia

July 16, 2021

Bright Starts Entertainment group perform during the first stop of the Building Forward Better (BFB) Tour

In response to the severe negative socio-economic impact of the March 2020 closure of ‘lumos’ weekly informal markets in the rural areas, the Government of The Gambia decided to re-open the trading platform as part of its Building Back Better strategy to re-start the rural economy. A major challenge faced by the government was the need for business continuity whilst maintaining the covid protocols such as social distancing. Thus there was need to develop ways of virtual outreach to the various stakeholders including traders, buyers, and service providers; and data on the types of goods traded and revenue generated. To address these issues, AccLabGM was recruited to support a digitization aspect for the Lumos that was piloted in one of the principal trading regions, hence creating an opportunity for our work on informalities; and informal markets particularly.

Building on an impact assessment of Covid-19 on the Lumos by the Gambia Bureau of Statistics (GBoS), AccLabGM set out to develop a digital marketplace for traders and buyers, which resulted in the creation of the MyLumo App. GBoS disaggregated data on trader information facilitated  the creation of electronic profiles of the traders. Once registered on the platform and the goods and services also uploaded with price and other relevant details, online trading could easily be facilitated as a form of e-commerce with an inbuilt online payment system using mobile money. This first step ensured that we increased the frequency of trading from weekly to daily markets and addressed the issue of business continuity when closures or other business limiting policies are being enforced.

Promoting Digital Literacy using E-Commerce, E-Delivery, and IVR

Our intervention were always planned with scale up considerations factored into the design. For this reason, we also pushed the limits of the platform to cater for two other objectives in the lumo reopening project. Specifically, we wanted to contribute to the marketing infrastructure upgrades at these spaces as part of the recovery process, and secondly, to provide opportunities to build the resilience of women and youth. The closure adversely affected the livelihoods of approximately 50,000 rural women and their families as Lumos provide markets for their agricultural goods as well as being their main source of goods that they purchase and retail in their respective communities. Overall, between 60% and 90 % or rural women are engaged in agriculture as their major source of livelihood whilst between 8% and 30% are engaged in sales and services.

Following field visit to the lumos in Region one, where the digital component would be piloted, the developers of the platform incorporated an agent and home delivery option for users of the platform. The agent model catered for traders with smart phones but had little to no tech-literacy by allowing them to register and upload their goods onto the platform at a commission. This ensured that no one would be excluded from the platform. The visit also informed our incorporation of a motorcycle courier service into the output on digitization with the introduction of a delivery option for users of the mobile app. It will be particularly useful for users who could not visit the lumo on trading days, but also for those not residing in a particular region where the lumo is taking place, to order for and receive goods. (Note: there are a total of 30 lumos in The Gambia.) This helps to change the transportation service industry in and around the lumos by expanding the motorcycles within the network which also includes horse and donkey carts as well as creating employment for young people.

Besides the agent model, to further cater to non-literates, an Interactive Voice Recorder (IVR) is also being incorporated into the system, and will allow buyers to interact with an operator in local languages to participate in the trading via USSD.

Launching the MyLumo platform

The introduction of the IVR immediately shifted the project in scale up mode. We saw a silver lining in our support to the UN System in the Gambia Health response team, which included the Ministry of Health, and their collective challenge to sensitizing communities on the COVID-19 nationwide vaccine campaign. Our intervention used a planned SDG localization film screening and MyLumo app launch, to create a Building Forward Better tour during which we distributed vaccine sensitization posters around the country. On March 25, we embarked on a 10 day tour in partnership with our app developers, the National Youth Parliamentarians Network, and a popular musical theatre group which created the theme song for our MyLumo platform. At the summit of the tour, our efforts were presented to the wider UNDP global audience as part of the 2021 Istanbul Innovation Days session on Innovation in the Informal Economy – What do policy-makers need to know?

The tour included a 10,000-cloth mask and 1000 print ‘tour’ t-shirt giveaway, live performances, and raffles, and reached 13 communities throughout the Gambia. The venue sites included pop-up locations, community markets, and of course lumos. Over 5000 individuals were sensitized in the process with the caravan leaving behind COVID vaccine “what to know?’ posters across all community centers and posts. The tour helped the developers of the platform identify and establish more flexible, effective, and efficient goods delivery channels in remote communities.

Finally, to introduce the platform in urban Gambia, we hosted a pop-up market at which we invited traders from the regions to give visitors an actual experience of how we helped to digitally transform the lumos. With the launching of the IVR, an accompanying app music video and mini-drama, the lumos are well positioned to continue trading online, should another lockdown be introduced in future. We anticipate that up to 80 jobs will be created when the system is fully launched, and that over 50 percent of that will be rural based jobs.

Since the launching of the tour on March 26, more than 100 users have already downloaded the MyLumo app with over 50 active agents. Furthermore, the digital e-commerce platform helps to limit the possibility of physical personal interactions and we are confident that both the local and relevant national government authorities including the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Health, are better positioned to now mitigate the impact of created by the closure of the lumos.

We also know that they are eager to support the scale out of the app to other regions and platforms as well as other programmes. In a program integration effort, another UNDP project on social protection  supporting women in animal husbandary, will benefit from the MyLumo platform where the animals will be showcased for sale.   

Share your feedback on how we approached informal market digitization online using #AccLabGM.