Partnerships driving e-commerce development for informal sector

September 14, 2020

© Hadijah Nabbale/UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab: A vendor loading carrots with a Jumia Agent

Whether creating internal partnerships between colleagues and departments, or larger partnerships between businesses, harnessing the skills and experience of partners from different corners of your ecosystem is one of the most productive ways for businesses to drive innovation and solve complex challenges. 

In March 2020, when the first COVID-19 case was recorded in Uganda and a nationwide lockdown was enforced, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Uganda Accelerator Lab sought to collaborate with Jumia – a leading e-commerce company – to link informal market vendors with their customers online.

                                                                        Watch this video to learn more about this initiative.

One Jumia customer, Ms. Harriet Nankabirwa expressed how grateful she was to have access to the groceries segment of this service, explaining that it was very convenient for her as opposed to physically visiting the market. She also suggested that if Jumia were to partner with producers selling other products such as clothes and crafts, her life would be made much easier.

Hadijah Nabbale/UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab. A customer makes a transaction using mobile money

Partnerships to stimulate e-commerce sector development

The UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab wishes to position this initiative to forge new partnerships and capitalize on opportunities to scale this beyond the pilot phase, having already generated interest from key multi-sector actors.

The partnership with Jumia has rallied actors such as the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives (MTIC) on building a regulatory framework for e-commerce to facilitate a conducive working environment for key actors in the country. The Accelerator Lab team would like to position government to actively lead in this initiative, creating an avenue for the scale-up of e-commerce platforms and adoption by small and large businesses. The learnings gathered from this experiment will also feed into the development of a national strategy on e-commerce, pointing to a holistic approach for the e-commerce sector development. Further engagement with MTIC also presents an opportunity to unlock intercontinental trade by accelerating industrial development, promoting exports, connecting informal traders to niche markets and in turn bolstering Uganda’s economy.

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The Accelerator Lab team has also had in-depth discussions with Absa Group Limited (ABGL) to explore opportunities for an integrated e-payments system in addition to the current use of mobile money services. Such an initiative would further build on our efforts to promote the digital economy.

Discussions with financial institutions are also developing innovative opportunities for informal market vendors to access financial services which would otherwise be inaccessible to them. Continuing to empower the informal workforce to access such resources is critical to the success of their businesses as well as the success of e-commerce and the digital economy.

Regional engagement and expansion

Regionally, the Accelerator Lab team has had stimulating conversations on the role of e-commerce as a transformative digital technology with countries including Kenya, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast to support informal vendors through the Jumia platform.

With support from the UNDP Regional Bureau for Africa (RBA) – which has documented the success of our launch on the RBA Private Sector COVID-19 Response Guidance Note, Africa Financial Sector Hub – plans are in place to develop a regional framework as well as roll out this initiative in countries where Jumia already has a presence.

Internationally, our practices have also been shared with governments in Cambodia and Honduras.

Research opportunities to deepen learnings

We have also engaged with researchers and scholars both in Uganda and internationally to launch studies that could uncover deeper insights on the role of e-commerce in informal economies. We would like to develop a framework that uncovers actionable intelligence for e-commerce platforms that would further refine and adopt the Jumia platform within the local context. We wish to position this initiative to unlock further research opportunities, extrapolate some of the early learnings into deeper studies, and attract funding for innovation.

The UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab is pleased to continue to grow in partnership with Jumia and would like to launch alternative evaluation designs, as well as mining diverse data sets that will allow us to learn more deeply about the impact of e-commerce on vendors and consumers as they relate logistically to supply chains. We envision harnessing big data and embedding a systematic evaluation design to refine the current model into a fully-fledged, self-sustainable venture.

The evaluations will also help distil important information on the performance of these markets, with or without digital tools. Our goal is to track the growth trajectory of informal businesses that will be supported in this model. The insights could assist informal businesses to develop formal structures through local associations, while helping them access other financial services to facilitate growth.

The learnings can also serve to define a backdrop for future work, potentially congregating other smaller platforms within the Jumia infrastructure to create a single channel of trade that connects rural farmers with urban markets, sustaining the supply chain for agricultural produce. 

Hadijah Nabbale/UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab: A Jumia agent hands over groceries for delivery

With these partnerships in place, the UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab team are eager to learn how this initiative might serve to elevate regional trade and open markets for informal vendors in other countries. We will continue to nurture and explore multi-sector partnerships to determine how this initiative might function in different environments.

For now, this strategic partnership is just one example of how the Accelerator Lab continues to implement innovative solutions to address complex development challenges. Be sure to watch this space as we continue to share learnings from the UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab.

By Hadijah Nabbale, Head of Solutions Mapping; Deborah Naatujuna, Head of Exploration; and Berna Mugema, Head of Experimentation