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How harnessing technology is modernising informal retail in emerging markets to deliver social impact

More than 61% of the world’s employed population – two billion people – earn their livelihoods in the informal sector, with 93% of the world’s informal employment occurring in emerging and developing countries. 86% of employment in sub-Saharan Africa is informal and 80% of household retail is delivered via informal retailers. Yet informal retailers face complex challenges that prevent them from growing their business, stabilising the financial status of their business and their household income,  and delivering a high level of service to their customers. 

Consumers at the base of the pyramid (BoP) face their own complex set of challenges, including lack of access to reliable health information, quality products and services. They often struggle to afford everyday essentials, such as food, medicine, hygiene and household products

The chaotic and disconnected “grey space” of the informal retail sector also represents significant challenges for the corporate consumer goods and pharma companies who operate in these markets. They are often unable to track data on informal retail sales, regulate quality or access the BoP for research, marketing or delivery of social mission goals.

Modernising informal trade is key to unlocking economic welfare for the low-middle income populations, improving the lives of the retailers themselves, their families, and the communities in which they operate. Vertical investments in each of these areas independently have been commonplace, yet no structural systems change has been achieved because initiatives have failed to tackle the informal retail space horizontally and holistically: addressing the needs of both retailers (supply-side), and consumers (demand-side) while delivering commercial value to corporate manufacturers. They have consequently failed to deliver a long term, sustainable, scalable model.

Incubated over the last three years by TRANSFORM, a public-private partnership between Unilever and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). Every1Mobile has developed a digital supply and demand platform that builds the business capacity and income-earning potential of informal retailers in the global south, whilst delivering health outcomes to their customers, directly through the mobile phones in their hands. Transaction-based revenues from vouchering, online ordering & group buying, aggregated data products and social mission delivery from corporate partners, means that platform is designed to be commercially sustainable and scalable while being completely free to retailers and consumers alike. 

The E1M Informal Retailer Platform aims to deliver sustainable, large scale social and financial impact in the following ways:

  1. Building the businesses of low-income shopkeepers via education and access to services 
  2. Delivering health outcomes to their customers through demand generation, behaviour change interventions and affordable health products. 
  3. Increasing sales, and brand loyalty as well as delivery of social marketing and social mission for corporate partners, through a scalable mobile-enabled digital platform. 

Every1Mobile will lead a Connection lunch at this year’s Business Fights Poverty Oxford 2019 on Harnessing technology for social impact, looking at sustainable business models in public-private partnerships.

We will be sharing and inviting discussion around the use of digital in delivering livelihoods and health outcomes and exploring the role of the private sector in delivering sustainable, commercially viable social impact.