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Nasser AlQatami

In developing economies like Uganda, mobile phone uptake is undoubtedly on the rise. With this rise in mobile telephony usage, so did the growth in associated technologies and innovations, with organizations such as Safeboda, which is pioneering use of digital technology in both transport and delivery services.

Safeboda is a combination of the two words: “safe” and “boda.” The former refers to the reliability and trustworthiness of the service, while the latter is the shortened version of “boda boda,” – an East African word for a bicycle or motorcycle used as a taxi for carrying passengers or goods.

Safeboda works in such a way to bridge the gap for a need that is evident in the market. This need became more evident during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown as more and more people wanted to receive groceries without social interaction. With movement by car restricted to only essential services and boda bodas allowed to operate only for delivery services, Safeboda grew by leaps and bounds, benefiting the vendor, employee (driver) and customer in numerous ways. Now several months beyond the COVID-19 lockdowns, Safeboda’s upsurge shows no sign of relenting.

Vendors are able to sell their merchandise to more than just the people who frequent their shops or kiosks. They also need not to worry about delivery should they want to reach a customer. All orders are available at their fingertips, and a simple uploading of a picture can show all the customers in their vicinity what they have to offer.

Credit: Nasser AlQatami / UNCDF.

Gilbert Nkurunziza, 19, is one of the many vendors in Naalya Market, located in the outskirts of Kampala, along one of the main roads that branch out of the bustling city. He is one of the few vendors signed onto Safeboda in the market. He says he has experienced a hike in sales since being on the app.

Gilbert said: “My sister suggested Safeboda 2 years ago and it has been great for my work, especially during the times when people were quarantining. I reach more people as half of my orders now are from Safeboda. This market also has limited parking space and therefore the motorbike delivery makes it more accessible to many.”

As he arranges Stall #6, Gilbert says that he is constantly sold out of passion fruit and sometimes buys from nearby shops to satisfy the demand. This, in turn, has helped other vendors in the market who might not be as tech-savvy to sell their products through him instead of letting them spoil or expire. He said that he always supports other vendors in the same market, particularly the elderly who might not have access to smartphones.

As for Safeboda’s drivers, most of them seem to have found the right fit for work in this city. As Kampala is notorious for its traffic, motorcycles are a much easier and faster way of getting by. The company now employs more than 500 motorcycle drivers, termed as delivery champions, who are trained in road safety, first aid, bike maintenance and customer care. Moreover, they are equipped with hairnets and a spare helmet for the passenger.

The deliveries are identifiable and trackable through the system, which notifies both the vendor and customer of the location throughout the duration of the delivery. According to Safeboda’s website: “When drivers join the SafeBoda community, they see a significant increase in their business providing impact to themselves, their family and the wider community.”

Dathive Mukeshimana, 31, is one of the two women Safeboda drivers in the company. Dathive explained: “I have been with Safeboda for 4 years. I approximately have 12 deliveries a day, mostly to stay-at-home moms and the elderly. The work is flexible, that’s why I like it.”

“We have 500 dedicated riders who are termed as ‘delivery champions’, but we also have many more riders across Kampala that offer the delivery service,” said Nantale Elizabeth Mugume, Senior Associate for Safeboda – Vendor Management.

In 2020, the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) and SafeBoda, with support from SIDA, launched the e-commerce platform for home delivery that helped over 520 market vendors and SafeBoda riders sustain their livelihoods during the COVID-19 pandemic. 520 vendors (MSMEs) were onboarded to digital sales channel via the easy-to-use SafeBoda mobile application. This enabled 57,285 active customers order food stuff and household essentials remotely and have them delivered. The project enabled Dathive and other over 26,000 riders to gain income through deliveries of household orders made on the platform.

Mugume continued: “UNCDF supported 25 markets with vendors who deal with Safeboda. It also subsidized the transport and funded free deliveries in 2020 to 2021. Waiving delivery costs helped many people during the pandemic, particularly students, women working at home and the elderly. We are hoping for more collaborations in the future with UNCDF.”

By working with organisations such as Safeboda, UNCDF aims to sustainably change the way the economy works, to offer more opportunities to underserved communities, and ensure inclusive growth of the digital economy.

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