Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Uganda. Why mobile services are growing fast in the area.
We recently came back from Uganda where we worked on Marcus Nygren’s project in building a mobile learning platform for young entrepreneurs.
Marcus, a multi-talented student and entrepreneur, turned to us for help with design tools and methodology. As the target group was very different from what we were used to — young Ugandans with little or none experience of smartphones — it resulted in an intriguing design process where a true understanding of the cultural context and in-depth empathy for the end users were of greatest importance.
Because of the specific prerequisites, we tailored the tools and methodology to fit this context. This led to the development of a Digital Service Design method that adds a holistic approach to the digital solution for the specific target group. We’ll tell you more about this specific project in another blog post.
Why Uganda is the world’s most entrepreneurial country
Except for working with the mobile learning platform, we were curious about understanding the amazing society of entrepreneurs that flourishes in Uganda. Some facts:
- Uganda is the world’s most entrepreneurial country. (28% av of the population are entrepreneurs)
- Uganda has one of the world’s youngest population (77% of all Ugandans are below 30)
- Uganda has a huge unemployment rate (64 % of people between 18–30 are unemployed)
With a high unemployment rate and little or none social security, starting a business is for many young entrepreneurs simply a tool for survival.
But tough conditions can also lead to creativity, and there are as well many innovative entrepreneurs with great ideas and the aim to create positive social impact.
No matter the reason of starting a business, Uganda’s many entrepreneurs are contributing to the national society by boosting the economy and creating new jobs.
Why mobile services are growing fast in Uganda
We spent some time at Hive Colab, a co-working space in Kampala and we noticed that various mobile services was predominant in the startup scene. One of the reasons is of course that the country has invested heavily in communication networks, even connecting remote rural villages with fibre optic cables and thereby connecting them to a world of information.
As much as 65% of the adults in Uganda owns a cell phone, which has allowed many areas in the country to skip the landline stage of development and jump right to the digital age.
For those who hasn’t electricity at home, there are plentiful of charging booths for mobiles all over the country.
Mobile services and Social Innovations
The wide use of mobile phones has lead the way for the development of several innovative mobile services and in many cases the mobile service are way ahead of us. In Sweden we are thrilled about Swish, a mobile banking service that allows us to transfer money through our mobile phones. In Kenya people have had this service for the last 10 years.
Banking in rural villages is synonymous with mobile services, and thus more “lean” than in Europe.
Even if there are no bank offices in the remote villages, there is still a need for basic banking services such as transferring money or saving for buying medical treatments or fertilizer and seeds for instance.
One great example of a mobile banking service that is a true social innovation is Ledger Link, developed by Grameen Foundation in collaboration with Barclays Bank. This mobile banking service empowers saving groups in rural areas to save money. It is developed with human centered design methods and were lucky to meet up with Juliet, Julius and Joseph, three of the persons behind it, during our visit. Even if we are from two different continents, we realized that our design methods in many aspects were very similar. A great experience to share knowledge with these guys!
Another is Yoza, a mobile washing service that connects households with local women washers. This mobile service has increased the livelihood and securing the income for many underprivileged women and their families.
The mobile laundry service Yoza, “Uber for dirty clothes”, grew from 1 to 150 employees in just 6 months.
Now the Yoza team are about to expand their business to Nairobi that has similar preconditions with urbanisation but with a larger population. Yoza is not unique with this aiming beyond local impact. Many of the startups we met had a vision of branching out and introducing their services to other African countries. To do this they need to employing several co-workers to help building the company.
Potential thresholds for an even faster development of mobile services is the lack of resources within design and digital development. Many of the startups we met said that it was hard to find skilled people within these areas. Even if there seemed to be a few consultancies within UX, Mobile development and service design, most startups had a will to have this competence in house.
In order for young ambitious entrepreneurs to build sustainable enterprises they need to have basic entrepreneurial skills. This is where Marcus Nygren’s mobile learning platform comes into the picture.
The entrepreneurship education is an initiative of Illiana Björling from Young Drive, in collaboration with Plan International, and it has educated, supported and inspired 12 000 Ugandan youth in the process of starting their own businesses.
By training coaches that can carry out the education in larger groups of entrepreneurs, the education reach many young people at the same time. Marcus Nygren’s mobile learning platform will improve the effect even more.
The statistics are promising: One year after the entrepreneurship education 73% of the participants are running profitable businesses and they have employed 1,5 persons in average as well.
If the entrepreneurship and social innovation continues in the same staggering rate, we can expect a lot from Uganda and it’s neighboring countries in the next couple of years, especially within the mobile service business.
We are truly happy to see all this positive social innovation going on, and we are proud to have contributed with our small share. Hopefully the Digital Service Design method that we developed together with Marcus, will be something that can be useful for other organisations when developing mobile services. We also see great opportunities for further knowledge sharing between European and African designers and developers.