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Digitizing road repairs in Kenya to physically connect rural communities to the global economy

Physically repairing roads through manual labor to create economic opportunities and revitalize local communities using mobile phones.

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

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

The local Murang’a community feels perpetually stuck in the past. They have seen neighboring towns like Thika, Kiambu, and Nairobi quickly grow into larger cities. They are afraid of being left behind and ultimately seen as relics of the past. Youth see few opportunities left at home and are increasingly migrating to larger cities Thika or Nairobi to work in construction or as taxi drivers. Roads are a common to complain about but little is done. Public bus routes have stopped and motorbike taxi fares increase every time it rains. Mobilized Construction’s community road repair program facilitates widely available manual labor in local communities to repair roads. Locals receive jobs to repair roads and eliminates the need to transport heavy equipment from nearby cities deep into the villages. This creates supplemental income and locals to directly participate in road repairs to make a difference in their community.

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

Roads are integral to daily life. The underlying challenge is low profits per farmed acre which challenges households to pay for school fees, healthcare, and much more. Farmed fruits and vegetables often spoil because transportation is unreliable and expensive. Father Mwangi gave us local kale from his local garden because with the cost of transportation, he would earn no money selling it at the local market. Each month kilos of kale spoiled on the stalk.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

The largest change will be in the individual and community’s perception that roads will constantly be in poor condition, and during annual rains, are impassable. Changing this expectation will spur investments in farms, seed, and fertilizer so crops will be more productive which will increase incomes.

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

The immediate difference will be lower cost of transportation for individuals. Within 6 months, we expect passable roads will entice new public transportation buses and taxis to reduce fares and provide reliable scheduled transportation. We observed a 50% reduction in transportation fares and travel time from our prior projects. Long term funds will be from traditional government sources (fuel taxes) and community/business investments in roads.

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

We learned there is tension on community expectations for roads. They are desperate for better accessible roads. There was a death in the local community but difficulty transporting the body for a funeral because some roads were impassable. On the other hand, the community measures development by the number of roads that are paved. It will be delicate to manage expectations and clearly communicate our work in the short term and how it links to the long term. The focus today will be on jobs and higher farming incomes which are the first steps towards paved roads. Paving roads is extremely expensive and require highly technical equipment and logistics. Once built, maintenance is even more expensive since asphalt/bitumen is not widely available in rural areas and there needs to be skilled labor to repair potholes. Dirt roads are vital intermediate steps to ensure manual labor jobs in road maintenance and to spark economic development which will sustain future road improvements.

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

Kevin Lee is leads strategy and software design and has worked in Kenya the past 2 years. Joseph Kigo leads project delivery and is from Murang’a County. He is a lawyer and previously led local community public works projects in roads. Gikeri Mwangi is field supervisor and oversees local teams repairing roads. He has built and repaired over 3,000 km of roads and is excited to improve connectivity in his home region where his father and brothers are farmers.

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

BridgeBuilder funds will support three main pillars. 1. Costs of road repairs in Murang’a Kenya. 2. Software customization for smart contracting to link micro-contracted repairs to data collection. We have recently focused on automating data collection and developed an Internet-of-Things (IoT) sensor recently. 3. Program management and impact evaluation from staff

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

Diversifying project funding and financing will be critical to ensure long term revenue sustainability. This is not a traditional impact category of health, education, or energy so funding is limited. We are considering social impact bonds to financing road repairs and unlock capital and have received interest from an investor. Funds provided upfront to finance repairs are repaid through fuel taxes with a return. This is similar to financing to build a toll road. SIB impact investing is nascent though. Are there key learnings that could be transferred (and thus save on legal expenses)? How much is social impact actually worth vs. financial return? Are SIBs too complex right now we should wait for the field to mature?

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

We installed sensors onto vehicles and use was seamless. Drivers initially noticed the sensor but quickly forgot about them and operated and drove as normal. Drivers said the blinking light can be distracting in the evening so we will need to make an enclosure to cover the light. Vehicle owners were excited about tracking vehicle movements to understand driver patterns and use. This data could be used to encourage installation onto more vehicles. Community wide implementation will need to be tied to specific projects and goals of funders in the short term. We received guidance to continue to focus on challenge competitions or work with large industry sectors like mining that are obligated to improve local community infrastructure as part of their agreement to extract. Several social impact bond advisers said the legal costs will be extremely high and project budgets need to be in the millions of dollars to justify issuance which is not feasible at this stage.

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

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

This project is a software platform (mobile and web).
 It tackles the problem of limited economic opportunities in rural communities caused by neglected roads which increases the cost of transportation, restricts physical movement, and increases crop spoilage.
It addresses the problem by integrating local individuals into repair roads by creating new jobs through our mobile and web digital platform. Our project intersects prosperity (job creation), planet (post-harvest loss reduction), and peace (community collaboration and trade). Mobilized Construction proposes to repair and maintain 100km over 3 years in Murang’a County in Kenya. Phase one of the project requires 12 months to raise road quality to International Roughness Index (IRI) quality 12 where 14-seater mini-bus public transportation will start on roads. Activities include training and deploying local individuals to level potholes and clear drainage and receiving payment over M-Pesa. Phase two of the project is continual maintenance and repairs of roads over the following 2 years to ensure road repair processes become embedded into existing the local road repair workflows and income improvements are fully realized and sustainable local funding is secured. Activities include alerting local workers to newly formed potholes and blocked drainage ditches and payment over M-Pesa. Income improvements will be local farmers switching to the cultivation of fruits and vegetables from low spoilage crops like beans and cassava which provide higher profit and productivity per acre of land.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

The long but true answer is the entire community. Almost every community member uses roads directly and indirectly every single day. The largest impact will be decreases in the cost of transportation decreasing because public buses cost less than motorbike taxis. In our prior Uganda projects, we saw transportation fares decrease by 50% because of higher quality roads reduce transportation times and wear and tear of vehicles. Other impact will be faster and safer accessibility to the hospital, school, and water well in Murang’a County. Indirect impact will be lower retail prices of products, supplemental income derived from road repairs, higher income from new crops.


How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our project can operate in remote regions where there is limited cellular connectivity and in communities where there is primarily feature phones. Our sensors track seismic movements to GPS points and do not need cellular connection to operate. Road quality data is transmitted and processed once the data returns to Wi-Fi or cellular connection to complete before assessment to create a micro-contract and after assessments for quality validation. Micro-contracts are sent via SMS and wages are transferred using M-Pesa mobile payments. Our second key innovation is using manual labor for road repairs to create jobs and reduce the cost of repairs. Manual labor has been widely tested by the World Bank and the ILO and proven to produce similar quality roads as heavy machines. By digitizing road procurement using mobile devices, individuals from local communities can receive supplemental income and contribute to their community.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Mobilized Construction believes road infrastructure is the foundation to catalyzing prosperity in rural communities and uses mobile technology to ensure technology can be implemented and ultimately owned by local communities. www.mobilizedconstruction.com

Expertise in sector

  • 3-5 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered company.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

Momma Henry and her husband eat pinto beans grown from her garden every night. Her sons Billy and Henry moved to Nairobi to become taxi drivers because they saw little hope in the village - no one bought beans because they everyone grows them. Prior attempts to grow kale and avocados produced small profits after paying the taxi drivers high fares to sell to a Nairobi-bound wholesaler.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Prosperity is influenced by the high productivity farm land in Murang’a which provide bountiful opportunities for income generation. Fruit and vegetable production and the ability to sell at the market impacts the ability to earn income. Prosperity is threated by the proximity of Nairobi the capital. Murang’a county is situated 100km away from Nairobi, a 2 hour drive, which draws many youth and individuals who seek income opportunities. Planet is influenced by market access, if roads are flooded from seasonal rains, products do not reach markets and all inputs and effort is wasted. For example, every 1 kg of carrots requires 6kg of CO2 production and every 1 kg of milk production requires 4kg of CO2.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

We will work with the local government of Murang’a County to identify high impact roads that need to be fixed in the community. We have worked with the Minister of Transportation of Murang’a, Amos Njorge, who we previously collaborated on two projects for. We worked with the Murang’a Tea Factory Collective to assist with data collection on their existing tea collection trucks who run daily on certain roads. We worked with Joseph Kigo and Gikeri Mwangi, two respected community leaders, who mobilized and managed 30 local workers for our projects in January and February. They have worked with youth training and employment initiatives in construction over the past 5 years.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The Murang’a community’s top strength is willingness to implement new innovations and experiment. Minister Amos Njorge sees our data collection as vital to delivering better and faster assessments and repairs to his citizens. There is also surplus of youth want to remain in the local community and not migrate to Nairobi for economic opportunities. They see independence and autonomy in farming and hope to remain in their rural community.

Geographic Focus

Murang'a County, Kenya

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

Our project will require 36 months. The first 3 months will identify the highest impact roads with local community leaders to account for high traffic point of interest like hospitals and schools and measuring the cost of transportation, income, and post-harvest loss. The next 9 months will be repairs to raise road quality to IRI 12 to enable 14-seater public buses. The following 24 months will be deploying as needed repairs from new rain induced potholes and conducting impact assessments.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • Yes

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)

We’ve implanted 2 new projects in Murang’a Kenya and improved road accessibility for 15,000 individuals. We had three key learnings: 1. Local individuals are eager to participate because the $5 daily salary is equivalent to picking 50 kilograms of tea leaves in the community. 2. Incentivizing public bus companies to offer transportation is critical to impact and easy because of profit motives. The road project we repaired previous had a bus route but was eliminated when the roads became too bumpy. The wear and tear on the vehicle made operations unprofitable. 3. We learned that clearing drainage ditches is as important as smoothing the road because flooding and pooled water quickly causes potholes. On a strategic level, we developed our proprietary Internet of Things sensor to automate data collection and reduce user interaction for data collection. Our sensor attaches to the dashboard of a car and automatically collects road quality data once the vehicle starts driving and uploads when it is within range of wifi. Additionally, the sensor does not require any user interaction which reduces potentials for errors in data collection. By moving from a smartphone, we also eliminated the threat of device theft since our sensor components are not widely used and thus reselling would be minimal. We received the Edge of Government Award from the Prime Minister of UAE for our work in Kenya.

23 comments

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Photo of Chris Lowe
Team

Hi Kevin,
I love your idea and innovative use of widely available technology! I assume by tracking seismic movements, you are using the gyroscope technology found in most smartphones, but how are you accounting for any inaccuracies in the data? Is it a single pass per road, or an average of multiple?

I really like your use of offline data collection, we are hoping to implement something similar ourselves :) Good luck!

Chris

Photo of Kevin Lee
Team

Hey Chris Lowe null 

Thanks for your question! The data collection is multiple passes. We are putting our sensors onto public buses or supply trucks which have regular operations on road routes so data collection is a limited extra costs after installation. This ensures multiple measurements but also detection of new road hazards or potholes over time.

For example, if one day there is seismic data indicating a new pothole, it will be confirmed on subsequent days or other vehicles with sensors. If the data is only momentary, i.e. there one day but not repeated the following days, then it is likely just a temporary anomaly (anything from a parked car to an animal).

Last thing to mention on this is technology does automate everything. Government officials visit constituents locally and will be there as a second set of eyes. Same with road repair supervisors. Our conversations with transportation department stakeholders focus on the data and analysis supplementing existing processes where local citizens submit repair requests to local leaders.

Please let us know if you'd like to chat about offline data collection. Cheers!

Kevin

Photo of Ashley Tillman
Team

Tagging in Chris Lowe (saw a different Chris got tagged into the response :)

Photo of Chris Lowe
Team

Super. Many thanks, Ashley. Much appreciated!

I'll share this with the team, including our IT manager who will find this very interesting.

Best wishes,
Chris

Photo of Kevin Lee
Team

Thanks for catching that Ashley Tillman  :)

Photo of pederbukavu null
Team

Le changement le plus important dans la perception de la communauté selon que les routes sont en mauvais état et qu'elles sont impraticables. Changer cette attente stimulant les investissements dans les exploitations agricoles, les semences et les engins afin que les cultures soient plus productives, ce qui augmente les revenus. courage

Photo of Marnie Glazier
Team

Good to see tech employed in socially conscious ways!

Photo of Kate Mulloy
Team

First, this is a really compelling proposal-- well done!

In response to the questions you posted re: SIBs: you're right that diversifying project funding and financing will be critical to revenue sustainability and that this falls outside of traditional funding silos. There has been growth in the space (e.g. World Bank Green Bonds) but to determine whether it makes sense for you to pursue SIBs, you have an excellent network already (judging from the contacts/awards listed on your website) who can help you determine the best potential avenues for long term funding. As regards how much social impact is worth vs financial return, my limited experience in the impact investment space has reinforced that profit is still pretty central. One thing I'd keep in mind though: the relative importance of social impact vs financial return doesn't really matter at this stage if the project can be shown to be profitable and if you can quantitatively demonstrate its social impact. That's what you need to focus on right now. Consider how you'll identify and track leading indicators related to social impact (improved access to healthcare, education, etc.) because if you can demonstrate the social impact your project is making in a rigorous, data-driven way and still make a profit, you'll be very well positioned to take advantage of coming rationalization of the complex SIB environment.

Photo of Kurt Davis
Team

This is a great initiative. I think you should look for investment from Israel as they have strong connection with Uganda. This organization does a lot in Uganda. http://www.innoafrica.org/. Also, the Chinese are building lots of roads as you know. Try to form a partnership with them...

Photo of Katie Messick Maddox
Team

It'd be great to link up as poor roads are a major issue for the smallholders in our network, especially linked to market access and post-harvest spoilage. We are currently working with youth networks and Youth Agents to bundle products for smallholders remotely - specifically working with youth and women who have limited surplus volumes and finding markets, one of the key challenges is poor roads and spoilage after picking up produce at the farm gate, as well as boda boda's breaking down etc.
Your initiative is really interesting and although we are coming at it from different perspectives I see the potential for some great synergy!

Photo of Kevin Lee
Team

Hi Katie Messick Maddox , I totally agree! Would you be free to Skype in the next couple weeks? Drop me a line at kevin@mobilizedconstruction.com and let's try to set something up. Cheers!

Photo of Luz Gallo
Team

Hi Kevin,
I liked your idea a lot. Infraestructure is basic to deliver any service along the country.
Since we are in the Refinenment phase, it would be good to visualize some aspects of your projects, such as the interactions that the different actors besides the beneficiaries have. There is a tool that call the 'Actor's map': http://www.servicedesigntools.org/tools/36
Also, since this is a job that is supposely to be a duty of the goverment, Have you consider to develop a partnership with the goverment in order to obtain ressources from their side and make this project more sustainable?

Photo of Kevin Lee
Team

Hi Luz Gallo 

Thanks for your suggestion and question. I created an Actors Map and will be adding it to the files in our submission. I used this video as a guide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KETAUaiYIsU. Given the diverse stakeholders and beneficiaries, I create 2 maps, one for beneficiaries and one for the road construction and maintenance process itself.

On your question about a government partnership, that is exactly the answer. To get there is where the situation gets complex. In summary, the government has asked for longer term evidence to convince the community that this is the right shift. The BridgeBuilder grant would enable us to implement longer term projects to show local individuals first hand of the impact to daily life. Collecting longitudinal impact data would also help unlock larger donor/World Bank funding.

Getting into the details, our system shifts standards to focus on accessibility and passable whereas the sentiment today is to produce high quality dirt and paved/asphalt roads where there is the “ribbon cutting opening” to generate positive PR. For a local villager, it would seem like things are stuck in the past since paved roads are logically the next step in progress. A BridgeBuilder project we would bridge the divide and give tangible life improvements in jobs, lower transportation costs, and higher farming income.

The Murang’a government contributed in kind to the 2 projects we completed. Over this larger project, part of project planning will be negotiating to grow their resource contribution. Over the long term, it would be a seamless shift of their resources in the system since they will have already allocated some resources and seen how the system works first hand.

Photo of Anubha Sharma
Team

its a great idea Kevin. Your answers to the questions below make things that much clearer.

Photo of Kevin Lee
Team

Thanks Anubha Sharma !

Photo of Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO)
Team

Hi Kevin,
This sounds like a great idea that uses technology in an affordable, effective, and innovative way! Congratulations on receiving the Edge of Government Award, and keep up the good work!

Photo of Anjali Nayar
Team

This is a brilliant idea, and definitely much needed! If you're still working on a verification system for the road maintenance, feel free to reach out. Our team in Nairobi has a fair bit of experience with that and we'd love to help get you started. You can also find us at www.timby.org :)

Photo of Kevin Lee
Team

Thanks Anjali Nayar ! Our verification system is based on the vibration patterns, less bumpy means the road is fixed. I'd like to learn more about your work at Timby and could definitely see that as an addition for community engagement and another set of eyes on the ground. I'm sending you an email now. Cheers!

Photo of Anjali Nayar
Team

Hey Kevin -- thanks for your email! That's a really interesting concept, and I'd love to hear more about it. Someone from our team will be in touch and we can set up a time to chat!

Photo of David Ezra Jay
Team

This is an awesome idea that could certainly scale.
How does your payment structure work?

Photo of Kevin Lee
Team

Hi Ezra Jay , thanks for the encouragement! I'm interpreting your question in two ways, first is us as a company (a.k.a revenue model), and the second is for operations.

On the revenue side, it is through government as they get budget from central government, local taxes, and petrol taxes. Their incentive using us is to reduce road construction and repair costs, with the possibility of fixing more roads in the entire community, and creating jobs in local rural communities. We are looking at donor funding (the World Bank, DFID, GIZ) invest in road building and maintenance projects.

A down the road opportunity will be creating a social impact bond where private investors provide upfront investment (like a toll road) and get repaid as government's receive cash flow from taxes or central government. The goal here is to even out cash flows to ensure there is money available to fix roads as roads deteriorate after annual rains.

If you meant payment structure for local individuals, here in Kenya we use M-Pesa which is a widely used mobile phone payment network. It is similar to Venmo in the United States. Over 90% of all citizens are registered in this service. We've brainstormed partnering with a bank to issue debit cards so wages are transferred there but thankfully we haven't had to do that just yet.

Cheers!
Kevin

Photo of Nazly Catalina Ortiz
Team

Great! I just only have a question. Is it too expensive to implement and use this technology in the rural community?

Photo of Kevin Lee
Team

Hi Nazly Catalina Ortiz ! It is not expensive because we use mobile phone and our sensors to collect road quality data. Second is these devices go onto existing vehicles like public buses, supply trucks, police cars, etc, so there is 0 extra operational cost to collect data.

Another thing, there is no need for active cellular network connection because GPS works without it (when you turn the data off on your phone, you still get a GPS reading).

The largest cost in this will be manual labor to repair roads. We tried to just do the data only for the local government to better plan repairs but they are overwhelmed with sheer number of crumbling roads so that's why we are focused on the full service of detection, coordinating repairs, and validation. Please let me know if you have any other questions!

Kevin