Collection Network via SMS Technology

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Collection Network via SMS Technology

Naro Maro, KenyaNaro Maro, Kenya
Year Founded:
2012
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
Growth
Budget: 
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

A social enterprise that creates biofuel and organic fertilizer though a collection network of rural, BoP community members (who we call our "Seed Collectors Network"), generating important income by harvesting our primary raw material: Croton Nuts - an indigenously growing plant with no other use.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

we could strengthen our Seed Collector Network through simple SMS technology to the point where we can collect four times as much Croton Nuts as we do today, generating four times the income, among a wide variety of other indigenous materials that we can
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Without an adequate feedback loop to our network of Seed Collectors (which we estimate to be over 2,500 rural, BoP individuals) we cannot be certain that the BoP collectors are being paid appropriately through our agents (i.e. middle men), what the exact impact of the income we are providing is (food during hunger season, school fees, etc.), and how exactly our collection network operates in preparation of replicating it in other parts of Kenya.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

EFK has successfully piloted a cutting edge, readily available SMS technology to scale our Seed Collectors Network while simultaneously increasing communication with all stakeholders and our ability to report on impact metrics. We believe that Telerivet has the potential to be the technological backbone of our future Seed Collectors Network where communication, accountability, and scale are all accomplished successfully. The software is Telerivet, a Kenyan-created software that allows the sending and receiving of a large volume of text messages from any internet-connected computer. The key features of Telerivet that EFK has/can continue to leverage to build its Seed Collectors Network are: 1)Mass Sending/Receiving of SMS messages.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

This is how EFK plans to leverage Telerivet: 1) Mass Sending/Receiving of SMS messages to groups EFK sets up groups of collectors who work under each Agent so we can communicate with stakeholders before, during, and after the collection of Croton Nuts. 2) Text-to-Subscribe capability: Collectors in our Seed Collectors Network SMS our Telerivet number, including their location, and the Telerivet software will automatically places that contact into the correct group and provides an auto-response instantly for confirmation. 3) Sending SMS Surveys: With the ability to create and distribute SMS surveys via Telerivet, EFK will be able to efficiently and accurately report on impact metrics to better understand (and improve upon) our impact.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Before Telerivet, in the first 15 month of the company, EFK collected 125 tons of Croton Nuts and paid out $10k USD to an estimated 500 collectors. In the past 6 months since our Telerivet pilot started in July of 2013, we has collected over 200 tons of Croton nuts and paid out nearly $25k USD to an amount of collectors ranging from 1,000 (the amount we have verified on the Telerivet system) to 2,500 – meaning that more collectors are getting more money through the sustainable harvest of indigenously growing materials. This growth in collections due to the success of Telerivet was so great and unexpected that we have had trouble keeping up with it, including getting all the new collectors onto the Telerivet system and performing an impact analysis. In the future with the business’ scale we believe that we can quadruple the amount of collections going on through this same network.
Sustainability

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

As a for-profit social enterprise, we will find financial sustainability through the selling of the products we create through the Croton Nuts: biofuel and organic fertilizer. Having nearly 2 years in the market, we have already sold all the biofuel oil we can produce and over 100 tons of fertilizer. With increased investment to scale our operations, including grant support to strengthen our collection network, EFK will reach sustainability.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

EFK is the only organization collecting and utilizing Croton Nuts on a commercial level. The rural, BoP community in the Laikipia county where we operate has little to no other opportunity to generate income, so the income we do provide through our collection activity is very important. Also, because it is seasonal and not full-time labor, the act of harvesting does not take away from other income potential for this same population, which typically ranges from subsistence farming to unreliable income sources from various labor positions.
Team

Founding Story

After evaluating a small NGO’s IGA of creating biodiesel from Croton Nuts for expansion as a consultant, EFK founder Alan Paul was excited about the green, socially-responsible business opportunity that presented itself from use of the pure Croton Nut Oil and other by-products (which would later become fertilizer) of its manufacturing. When the project which he was hired for was shut down, Alan decided to invest his own funds and resources to develop the opportunity into a for-profit social enterprise with a focus on employing local communities to source raw materials, manufacturing organic products without producing any waste and creating economic opportunity from the indigenously occurring Croton Nut.
About You
Organization:
Eco Fuels Kenya
About You
First Name

Myles

Last Name

Lutheran

LinkedIn URL
About Your Organization
Organization Name

Eco Fuels Kenya

Organization Country

, Naro Maro

Country where this project is creating social impact

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Impact
Full Impact Potential: What are the main spread strategies moving forward? (Please consider geographic spread, policy reform, and independent replication/adoption of the idea or other mechanisms.)

The EFK vision is to put 5 factories across Kenya, which we believe would support a rural collection network upward of 10,000 BoP individuals across the country. Since there has been confirmed accounts of previous projects harvesting large quantities of Croton Nuts in Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda, there is the potential for country-based expansion across equatorial East Africa. This not only creates strong income potential for the rural BoP across these geographic, but significant environmental benefits from the use of our Organic Fertilizers to offset chemical fertilizers that damage soils.

Barriers: What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

To date, we have achieved much progress in collecting the volumes of nuts we need to scale production and sales at our current factory. Looking forward, the two biggest challenges for the company are: 1) Understanding our collection network so we can replicate it in other areas and 2) Building up the sale of our organic fertilizer so that we can justify further investment and expansion. Projects like this Feedback Loop one will help us with issue #1, and the continued effort building local demand for our fertilizers will be what helps us with #2 - including partnering with distributors, etc.

Sustainability
Partnerships: Tell us about your partnerships.

Our biggest partnerships to date have been with the KWS (Kenya Wildlife Services) CFAs (Community Forrest Association groups. These are groups of rural BoP who are organized to help sustain Kenya's forests, and the process of harvesting Croton Nuts which have fallen to the ground is in line with their mission. For sales, we also partner with a local consultant (Agri Business Ventures) to sell our fertilizer due to their market intelligence.

Closing the Loop
How does your project primarily ensure that feedback delivers results?

Facilitate a conversation that combines wisdom of the crowds with the perspective of experts.

Please elaborate on your answer to the above question.

With a pilot-size version of our SMS project already completed, we have already demonstrated that a feedback loop can help improve lives by helping us increase our amount of raw materials and thus generating more income for the BoP. With the expansion of the project, we will gain intelligence as to how the network actually operates, organizes itself, and is motivated so we can combine it with our expertise in an effort to replicate it in future factory locations.

Languages: In what languages are you able to read and write fluently?

English.

2nd Round Questions
Thinking about your feedback loop; what information are you trying to get from whom, to whom, and to bring about what change?

The purpose of the feedback loop that exists between Eco Fuels Kenya and our BoP collectors is to improve the collection process of our indigenous raw material (Croton Nuts) to create a mutually benefiting situation for both parties. Since there is no good data on tree population or seasonality of the nuts, we rely on feedback from collectors (via the SMS platform) as Croton Nuts are getting ready to fall to plan when pick-ups/deliveries can take place, giving us the ability to plan and organize the logistics needed to facilitate collections. In conjunction, we use the SMS platform to communicate with our over 1,000 collectors reminders of the income potential for collecting Croton for us, and then when it is time; when and where we will be conducting collections, such as a convenient meeting spot on a certain day, so that they can make sure to participate. In addition, we also notify collectors when we have paid their agent (i.e group leader/middle-man), and they communicate back to us that their fair and accurate payment has been received or whether or not they have not been paid appropriately. Thus, this feedback loop puts accountability in a system of money exchanges that otherwise would be difficult to track.

The change we are bringing about is two-fold. First off, by using the SMS network to remain in close contact with our collectors we are able to increase the income that they earn from the simple harvesting activity of Croton nuts and verify that they receive payment fairly for their work. Second, our organization gets otherwise-unavailable insight into a rural supply chain of an indigenous material sourced through BoP who only operate in an informal economy. This intelligence is used to help the organization make strategic decisions and plan appropriately, such as ensuring an adequate supply and pipeline of raw materials is available as we scale our operations. These two pieces together ensure that the increased collections of Croton nuts in the future, our biggest challenge to scale, will be a manageable problem.

What is the purpose of your feedback loop?

Accountability to external partners

If other, please specify
What mediums or mechanisms do you use to collect feedback? (check all that apply)

SMS, Phone or voice.

If other, please specify
Could you briefly describe the way you collect the feedback?

Our feedback loop happens almost entirely in the SMS software tool we have implemented in mid-2013. The tool behaves a lot like email marketing tools in the western world. First, collectors subscribe to our network by sending an SMS to our unique phone number with the word “collect” and their location, which triggers an auto-response confirming their subscription. Then, collectors are organized into groups (based on their geographical location/collection center) on the cloud-based SMS software. We then have the ability to, from the browser, send a mass SMS to the entire population of collectors, any subset of collector groups or individual collectors themselves. Collectors can then reply to the SMSs and we will get the response in the cloud software, making it easy for a single staff to manage the SMSs of over 1,000 collectors.

Of course, not all logistics and problem-solving can take place over SMS, which is why often follow-up phone calls are required to complete the collection process. However, the SMS technology does allow us to efficiently handle a large network of BoP, ‘off-grid’ collectors and operate as a lean start-up.

What mechanisms are in place to protect people from retribution?

None

If other, please specify

N/A - There is no retribution in our feedback loop.

What are the immediate benefits or incentives for people to provide feedback?

Monetary incentives

If other, please specify
How do you ensure new and marginalized voices are heard?

Incentives (monetary or other) targeting specific groups

If other, please specify

Due to the nature of the rural, BoP communities that make up our collection network; all voices have equal value in our process.

What are the incentives for the intended recipient to act on the feedback?

Monetary incentives

If other, please specify
How does the feedback mechanism close the loop with those who provided feedback in the first place?

None

If other, please specify

N/A - The SMS software only exists between the collectors and our organization, no external reports or provides is necessary.

How is feedback published/transparent?

Other

If other, please specify

All feedback is stored in our cloud-based, SMS software for reporting or publishing requirements

Give two concrete examples of how feedback loops have brought a program or policy more in line with citizens’ desires.

Example 1: Increasing Predictability/Increasing Supply and BoP Income
If a collector in a particular region reports to us (via SMS) that nuts are getting ready to fall and we have many collection centers nearby in that same region, we would send a mass SMS to all those collectors reminding them to harvest the fallen Croton nuts. This ensures that collectors are being encouraged and reminded about the income-generating potential at the appropriate time and can plan to harvest the supply accordingly.

Example 2: Verifying Payment to Collectors
After a payment is made to a group organizer/agent, we can send an SMS to all members of the group asking they have been paid accurately by the agent, in which they have the ability to reply and confirm or report any issues. Ensuring that collectors gets paid isn't just something we do out of business ethics, but to ensure that collectors are treated fairly and will continue to collect for us in future seasons; growing both the strength of our supply chain and the seasonal income created for our collectors.

If there was one thing you could change to increase the impact of your feedback loop, what would it be?

One thing we would like to improve upon to increase the impact of our feedback loop is to perform additional outreach to ensure all collectors are properly subscribed and categorized into their group-based locations. Our SMS system currently has about 1,000 collectors subscribed to it, but based on feedback from our first Impact Report (completed this week) we had over 1,500 collectors active in our most recent season; many of whom weren't part of the 1,000 subscribed to the SMS system. With support from grant funding such as that given from this project, we would allocate resources to visit each collection center and ensure that all actual and active collectors are properly subscribed, ensuring the most accountability and impact for future collection seasons.

What are your biggest challenges or barriers in “closing the feedback loop”?

Lack of funding for feedback data collection

If other, please specify
Are you aware of The Feedback Store?

No, but I would like to be on it

What are the main uses you can envision for the Feedback Store?

I believe that our SMS network of over 1,000 (hopefully to-be 3,000 by the end of 2014) of Laikipia county's poorest populations has the potential to be used for much more than just the collection of Croton nuts. I would be interested in using applications from the Feedback Store to look into additional services we can provide and data we can collect from our collectors to see how we could help address some of the other challenges they have.

What is the one thing you would most like to see changed to improve the competition process?

A clearer communication of requirements, dates and how to complete forms. I found some aspects of the process confusing and had to spend additional time 'exploring' the Changemakers site to find what I needed to do to complete the requirements. Clearer instruction, with links, via email would be helpful.

What are you doing to make sure that feedback providers know that they are empowered by the information they can give and that they know exactly what the information they are providing?

With the instant nature of our feeback loop, providers are empowered in real-time. Two quick examples of this are as follows:

1) In July of 2013 we were struggling to get answers as to why we were not getting the collections we needed, so we used our newly-implemented SMS system to ask collectors. Overwhelmingly, they came back to us with the answer that we were not paying enough for the Croton nuts. We used this feedback to increase the price from KSH 7 per KG to KSH 10 per KG, which resulted in the collection volumes we needed in under 3 weeks and increased the income for our collectors by 30%, empowering collectors through increased income.

2) If collectors report they are not paid properly by the group leader/agent, we immediately get involved to rectify the situation since fair payments is one of the most important parts of maintain crucial relationships with collectors. This is ensuring adequate payment is happening ASAP and empowers collectors to 'speak up' (over SMS) when they are not being treated fairly.

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