Shredded cabbage for sale, Wote, Kenya 3rd February 2012
Convenience can mean different things to the household consumer, depending on their location. In urban Chicago, its stocking up the freezer and pantry with a trip to a megastore like Costco while in Singapore it might be the ubiquitous neighbourhood hawker stand where rice, meat, two veg can be had for as little as $2.50 per person. Here in the mostly rural, arid Makueni district of Kenya where the concept of leftovers is moot and only bars and restaurants tend to have a refrigerator, convenience means stopping by the cabbage lady for just enough for tonight’s meal.
Kerosene sales, Wote, Kenya 4th Feb 2012
Purchasing patterns observed previously among those on irregular income streams have been clustered into four major categories:
1. Prepaid or pay as you go
2. Bulk purchases of non perishables
3. Sachetization or as its called here in Kenya, kadogo
4. On demand, for immediate use
The shredded cabbage, being sold by weight or “amount” (half a cabbage or quarter) is a clear example of the last pattern and common across the world while the way kerosene is being sold could be said to be closer to a ‘sachet’ or small purchase as it tends not to be a daily or on demand purchase.
Interestingly, here I saw bulk purchasing for firewood or charcoal rather than foodgrains since most families have some land where they grow maize. The maize is first and foremost for household use and only the surplus is sold.
So why have I called this ‘convenience as a service’?
There is a premium one is paying for the convenience – whether its the shredding being done for you or the difference in price of kerosene between the town and the village. Someone has saved you the time and effort thus it costs money. There’s an entire economy around water and its supply chain that I’ll be taking a closer look in a forthcoming post.
Next week's office
We start the immersion phase of our project tomorrow and leave for our first location in rural Kenya today. Our focus is to better understand household consumer behaviour and our methodology is inspired by the early stage of the human centered design process.
Ukambani has been the traditional homeland of the Kamba people for at least the last four or five centuries. Although oral history acknowledges that the Kamba came from the south, in the region of Mount Kilimanjaro, the creation myth which is most popularly cited places their origins in the heart of Ukambani: Mulungu (God), who created the universe, also created the first Kamba man and woman, and placed them on top of Mount Nzaui in the fertile Mbooni Hills (roughly 20km north of Emali).
We’ll be based in the market town of Wote, capital of Makueni district.
Roadside clothing shop, somewhere between Emali and Wote, Kenya Nov 2011
In a couple of weeks, I’ll be starting a whole new set of fieldwork in rural Kenya. This time we’re doing something closer to the better known applications of our human centered design approach for increasing our understanding of people. It will be among rural ‘BoP’ households on behalf of a consumer product that’s retailed in leading supermarkets. While our previous client project allowed us to delve deeply into a topic that interests us both – mobiles, internets and cyber cafes – I’m looking forward to the opportunity being made available to me to finally be able to do something approaching the ‘prepaid economy project‘ from two years ago.
That is, I’ll have the chance to find out how those on irregular income streams manage their household finances and share this openly on the blog. Since it is also a rural location, it maps on almost exactly to the criteria of the previous locations in The Philippines and in India thus permitting an excellent opportunity for contrast and comparison. What’s exciting me however is that this will be in Kenya, home of the mPesa mobile money transfer system, and I want to see if it will be mentioned by any of the respondents in their answers to the same set of questions I’d used previously.
That is, without any mention of it from my side, I want to see if MPesa has made any difference to the way rural folk deal with emergencies or planned expenses or any other aspect of their daily life. If there’s anything of note, my hope is to be able to write a comparitive paper on it and extend the findings from the previous research. Of course, our current client will also receive what they have asked us to find out for them – its just that its all under an NDA.
This series will be categorized under the Project category titled “Prepaid Kenya series” and I’ll be using “prepaidkenya” as a tag to all relevant posts, if you’d like to follow along.