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Mobilized Construction - Catalyzing community development and prosperity using just a shovel and a cellphone

Coordinating manual labor to repair dirt roads to improve access to markets, health, water, and more. Saves up to 90% of costs vs. machines

Photo of Kevin Lee
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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

Create jobs in the community by using labor to repair roads. This increases incomes for farmers, improves access to schools and hospitals, and links communities via trade to build peace.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

Mobilized Construction creates software so local people can participate in road repairs.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

This project will be our organization’s second field implementation. Our first project in Uganda focused on community health access. Since then we have added our CTO, Jens Pedersen, and 5 developers to accelerate software development.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Rural roads are in poor conditions because road repairs are very expensive using heavy machinery. Roads facilitate almost all economic and social activities in communities.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

We are improving our software platform, determining impact methods, and engaging with funders until August. Kevin and Johan will then transition to East Africa to manage field implementation. It will take 2 months to build community relations and train engineers, project managers, and construction workers to use our software. Road repairs will take place the following 6-8 months to reach 100% road accessibility in the community. We will gather data every 2 months to assess impact.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

Kevin will train stakeholders to use our software and build rapport within the community. Johan will work closely with the project manager to oversee repairs as well as assess impact. Jens will update and build new software features from Copenhagen.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Business Development/Partnerships

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Get feedback from experts

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

(Prosperity) Job creation – New jobs created throughout the project (Prosperity) Transportation cost of crops – Survey farmers by SMS on the changing cost of transportation to market (Peace) Distance of crops transported – Survey vendors by SMS at different markets (government designated and bus stations) to map where farmers come from to sell crops (Planet) Crop spoilage – Survey vendors by SMS at different markets (government designated and bus stations) to assess estimated food spoilage.

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

We changed our payment frequency to construction workers after conducting interviews. We expected to pay people every 2 weeks, however individuals requested once per week if if not twice per week so they could more frequently purchase food.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

The biggest challenge for our startup: There are many different stakeholders in infrastructure governance and repairs and the sale cycle for each segment require more evidence and patience. Our primary customer segment are local governments and their pain points are they need better road intelligence and lower cost repairs to serve more of their communities. The challenge we have encountered are they are hesitant to adopt new technologies and need to see case studies before they will purchase. Our next customer segment are funders such as foundations and development agencies. They don’t dispute the impact of of roads and have previously funded road improvements. Their hesitation is they need more data from a larger scale implementation to validate our model creates the same social impact they’ve seen. Our third customer segment are businesses and NGOs that have local operations. Large agriculture and natural resource companies have paid for road repairs before given the closed loop of their operations. For other companies, they need evidence that show sustained road improvements tie to lower cost operations and better supply chains. We believe these concerns can be addressed with one larger scale implementation of our software for road repairs. Specifically, road condition data will be collected to create the vital link to social impact and roads will be repaired so local government and communities can see the immediate impact. To get ahead of the question of financial sustainability, we see grant funding as critical in the beginning to validate our model. On an operate basis though, stakeholders have expressed willingness to pay and it is a matter of grabbing a piece of their budget.

This idea is a software platform (mobile and web).
It tackles the problem of limited economic opportunities in rural communities because poor road infrastructure limits movement and drives higher costs.
It addresses the problem by standardizing road data collection and coordinating manual labor to repair roads using a shovel and a cellphone. It intersects peace, prosperity, and planet.

3.4 billion people live in rural areas where dirt roads are the primary form of infrastructure. That's almost every other person on this planet. Routine tasks like fetching water or going to school might result in becoming stranded because of flooding caused by rain or traffic accidents. A journey to the emergency room at the hospital quickly spirals from minutes into hours. Farmers eager to switch to cash crops fear they will spoil before reaching the market. Refugees seeking to rebuild life realize there is almost nothing to start from. 

Mobilized Construction is creating mobile software platform to enable dirt road repairs using manual labor. Organizations like governments, NGOs, businesses, and development agencies can use our software to gather road condition data, coordinate manual labor instead of using heavy machinery like graders, and pay individuals once repairs are completed.

Utilizing standardized data collection and mobile phones opens up the possibility that this can be scaled and localized to even the most rural regions of the world.

Explain your idea

We are creating a software platform to governments, development agencies, businesses, and NGOs to manage road repairs using software. Our software platform works in 5 steps: 1. Measure road conditions by mounting smartphone and driving over roads to capture bumpiness, vehicle speed, and photos to GPS coordinate. 2. Create and assign micro-contracts for manual labor repairs from local community 3. Local individuals bid for and then complete work manually. They document daily progress by submitting photos and distance repaired. 4. Officials evaluate road conditions by driving over roads or visually surveying repairs to validate quality of repairs. 5. Wages for repairs are sent via mobile payments like M-Pesa.

Who Benefits?

The long but true answer is everyone. We all use roads every single day. In areas where unemployment can reach upwards of 40%, our model creates jobs for youth and women. Farmers can earn more money from accessing cheaper seed and fertilizer and eliminating the possibility of crops spoiling. Higher incomes affords school fees and healthcare for the entire family in addition to being able to physically reach schools and hospitals safer and faster. Over time the local communities can self fund to pay for roads repairs and one day, tarmac. Communities will be linked together, fostering not only trade but cultural exchange, interdependence, and peace. Ultimately, better roads seed the entire community with the ability to earn income and onto the path for self-sufficiency.

How is your idea unique?

Coordinated and sustained manual labor repairs has not been attempted across entire communities because organizing and quality controlling labor is hard to scale. Individual road segments repairs projects have existed throughout the World Bank and other development agencies with realized cost savings and job creation. Roads quickly return to disrepair once funding is depleted though because there is limited focus to build local capacity and empower the community to manage the repairs themselves. Infrequent road condition evaluations and delays once potholes or flooding occurs quickly spoil roads. The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) has piloted the “Do-nou” methodology to use packed sandbags with manual labor to make road repairs more resilient. They are not focused on large scale implementation and repaired 10km over the past 7 years. Bridges to Prosperity is likewise focused on infrastructure however they are only focused on bridges and individual projects.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototyping: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing my idea.

Tell us more about you

Kevin Lee is currently based in Washington, D.C. and focuses strategy and design. Kevin previously worked as a UX designer and product manager at IBM building new software products for clients in food and hospitality. Prior to that he was an investment banker at Sonenshine Partners advising healthcare companies in company strategy and capital raising. Johan Juul Jensen is currently based in Nairobi and focuses on operations and evaluation. Johan has previously founded Play it On, an organization that has reached over 15,000 children in Uganda to foster cultural exchanges by bringing people together around sports. He was also a researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies focusing on public-private-partnerships and natural resources management. Jens Egholm Pedersen is based in Copenhagen and focuses a software engineering and data architecture. Jens has previously managed complex data systems and developed the infrastructure for one of the central control systems for the particle accelerator for CERN in Switzerland. We have been supported by the Halcyon Incubator, the Danish Innovation Fund, the Penn Wharton Innovation Fund, and Venture Cup Denmark. We have been recognized by Seedstars and Disrupt Africa as one of the rising startups in Africa.

Expertise in sector

  • 1-2 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.
  • Yes, we are a registered company.

15 comments

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Comment
Spam
Photo of Kate Rushton
Team

Hi Kevin,

It is great to see the updates to your idea proposal.

Are you able to share some high-level insights from your interviews with the construction workers i.e. from this ‘we changed our payment frequency to construction workers after conducting interviews’

What is the biggest challenge for your startup?

When do you hope to complete testing? Is that July/August? Do you have an early stage app we can check out?

(p.s. I am not expert feedback, sorry).

I wonder if these OpenIDEO members might have some insights/thoughts on the project - Olivia O'Sullivan Vincent Gainey @DeletedUser Nancy Wagi Sofia Cornejo Reindl 

Spam
Photo of Kevin Lee
Team

Hi @Kate,

Thanks for the additional follow up questions. There’s a lot in here but I wanted to share some commentary we got during the beneficiary feedback phase but also interviews we conducted previously. I think this will help color in the impact of our work to the many groups of stakeholders.

Insights from construction workers:
1. There are very few jobs in the rural villages. People are very excited for the direct jobs created in road construction. They are aware of the potential of indirect jobs in farming/taxis but will believe it when they see it.
2. Individuals typically have $5-20 in savings and do not like to use their “emergency funds.” They typically receive wages as they complete day work so even once or twice per week is not preferred. They are ok with lower frequency since road construction jobs pay higher than normal day labor. They agree that payment transfers are expensive and trust we will pay after roads are evaluated for performance.

Insights from government engineers and project managers:
1. Current road maintenance budgets do not provide enough funds for road repairs. Often 3-10 years pass before roads are fixed. There is little data to link together road performance with payments to contractors.
2. Collecting road condition data is time consuming and there is a lot of personal bias when collected manually. Using sensor technology is too expensive for local governments. This leads to misappropriated funds, slow road repairs, and little transparency to the community. Local constituents often protest to government officials to get their roads higher prioritized and repaired sooner.

Insights from villagers:
1. When it rains, the price for transportation increases significantly and farmers have no other choice but to pay the higher prices. Brokers take advantage of the limited access and pay significantly lower prices for fruits and vegetables.

We also have some individual quotes from interviews:
Daniel, construction worker and boda (motorbike) taxi driver in Luwero, Uganda
I have worked as a boda driver and before that a bicycle driver. There are very few jobs in the village. I do any work I can so I can make money to buy food and to pay my children’s school fees.

Agnes Acholo, UNRA Road Surveyor, Mbale Uganda:
We spend days mapping out roads in a car filled with 5 people. Each person focuses to collect their data and it is really labor intensive. We spend a good chunk of our budget just to surveying a road to assess the scope of repairs. We need separate surveyors for ditches, drainage, signage, potholes etc.

Frances Gitau, Infrastructure Secretary of Kenya, Department of Infrastructure:
There is no way to track the money that is spent on road maintenance to the quality of the roads that are repaired today. This helps us do performance-based contracting.

David Motoko, Transportation driver, Bungoma Kenya:
Our matatus (buses) are clearly damaged by the road conditions every time we go over a bump it hurts our engine and suspension. These damages costs money to repair, something that either increases tickets prices or pushes our other expenditures down such as salaries.

Mama Billy, Farmer in Siaya County, Kenya
When it rains, the local boda drivers increase their fares from 70 shillings to over 400 shillings because the roads get very muddy. There are no alternative means of transportation because cars even getstuck.

Spam
Photo of Kevin Lee
Team

On your question on biggest challenge for our startup:
There are many different stakeholders in infrastructure governance and repairs and the sale cycle for each segment require more evidence and patience.

Our primary customer segment are local governments and their pain points are they need better road intelligence and lower cost repairs to serve more of their communities. The challenge we have encountered are they are hesitant to adopt new technologies and need to see case studies before they will purchase.

Our next customer segment are funders such as foundations and development agencies. They don’t dispute the impact of of roads and have previously funded road improvements. Their hesitation is they need more data from a larger scale implementation to validate our model creates the same social impact they’ve seen.

Our third customer segment are businesses and NGOs that have local operations. Large agriculture and natural resource companies have paid for road repairs before given the closed loop of their operations. For other companies, they need evidence that show sustained road improvements tie to lower cost operations and better supply chains.

We believe these concerns can be addressed with one larger scale implementation of our software for road repairs. Specifically, road condition data will be collected to create the vital link to social impact and roads will be repaired so local government and communities can see the immediate impact.

To get ahead of the question of financial sustainability, we see grant funding as critical in the beginning to validate our model. On an operate basis though, stakeholders have expressed willingness to pay and it is a matter of grabbing a piece of their budget.

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