Leveling The Playing Field For Slum Businesses

We recently stumbled upon this cool article in the Guardian, discussing a model for using mobile phones and e-commerce to better support “slum businesses” throughout the developing world.  There are many small businesses situated in extremely impoverished communities.  But as the article points out, most of these enterprises don’t have formal mailing addresses to send and receive products.

…Chris, a student who lives in Kibera in Kenya, the second largest urban slum in Africa, answers: “One million people live in Kibera, but we do not have addresses. So when I ordered a second-hand camera to use in my business as a journalist, I could not receive the package directly. I had to walk to the nearest postal office at a 3.5km distance. And not just once, I did not know when the package would arrive, so I had to walk back and forth regularly. And you know the people who live in Kibera have little money, so when a package arrives, we have to bribe the local authorities to ensure the package gets to the right recipient.”…

And there is also the problem of payment  for products.

…Electronic payments are crucial, as a local student explains: “India still very much has a cash payment culture. So if, let’s say, I want to make a deal with a customer in Italy via the Internet, how can I be certain I will be paid if I send him the goods? And how do I receive the money?”…

There are now corporations looking into ways to create smoother operations for slum businesses, and technology plays a key role in helping to mobilize these companies.  New technology can help these businesses rise above poverty and create an equal playing field.  A collaboration between TNT Express and Vodafone led to the design of phones that recognize a mobile phone number as an address location and enables secure payments via Vodafone’s M-paisa.

But there is more that can be done to support these companies.  Global Wire Associates is doing research on how technological innovation is helping underprivileged small businesses worldwide.  Are you a business or tech consultant who has experience working in the developing world?  Are you a small business owner in the developing world who has a problem that affects how you do business that could possibly be resolved through technology.  Please email your ideas to us at info[at]globalwireonline[dot]org that we can use for our research.  We will put together all the ideas and share them with you in the next few weeks in a more formal presentation.

Posted in Africa, Asia, Entrepreneurship, Mobile Phones, Tech Disparities and tagged , , , , , , , .

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