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MamaCarts: Economic Empowerment through Street Food

A mobile street food delivery service that improves the hygiene and quality of street food for consumers in Benin, while also providing a consistent livelihood and certification program for vendors. [Summary by the Amplify Team]

Photo of Rachael Miller
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Provide a short description of your idea

My idea is a mobile, street food delivery service. It tackles the problem of inconsistent nutritional and hygienic conditions currently rampant in the street food market in West Africa. It addresses the problem by directly selling superior meal choices in food-specific mobile carts, as well as works with local government and specialists to implement a certification program throughout our target regions. ***** At MamaCarts, we believe that access to healthy food is a global right, not a privilege. Our mission is to improve the quality of global street food for consumers, and market conditions for sellers. By leveraging local resources and partners, we sell affordable, nutritious, and clean meals to underserved communities via food carts. Every food vendor deserves access to food safety education and resources. Every consumer deserves affordable, healthy, and safe meal options.

Get a user's perspective on your idea.

Please check out our attached User Perspective in the Additional Files section.
Solution - Power to the Street Eater 
MamaCarts created a 2-prong approach for market entry to empower both street food vendors and consumers to make better choices.  Our model is designed to strengthen supply chains from ingredient producers to end consumers. 
We begin with sourcing ingredients from local suppliers and locally fabricate (versus import) food carts.  Meals are prepared by trained cooks at the MamaCarts’ Center and sold at predetermined street-side locations via food carts.  All cart food at the end of the day is composted into fertilizer and sold as a niche gardening supplement in partnership with Parakou boutiques. 
However, MamaCarts’ goal is not to eliminate the incredibly rich street food culture that already exists, rather improve and foster overall quality of products offered.  In partnership with government entities such as the Mayor’s office, Ministry of Education, and Department of Health and Sanitation, MamaCarts is creating a certification program for street food vendors who already sell their own products.  By providing training on sanitation, nutrition, and business management as well as a strong market presence through MamaCarts’ branding strategy, the free market system of competition will encourage each street food vendor to be her best; both for her and her consumers’ well-being. 
Our 2-Prong Approach to Better Street Food for Everyone!
Product: Direct Sales - Cooks at the MamaCarts Center prepare meal components and vendors then distribute at roadside locations. Cooks are paid a daily wage and complete nutrition and hygiene training during their MamaCarts “apprenticeship”, at the end of which they receive a certificate. 
To introduce new meals to market, 1 cart will operate at the “Plate of the Week” cart.  Non-traditional foods have already proven successful in Parakou, such as Lebanese options like schwarma and American fare such as hamburgers.  In a recent survey, both vendors and consumers have expressed a desire to increase meal variety and weekly promotions will increase exposure and meal adoption. 
Some key differentiations from the status quo:
1. Using predetermined meal component measurements to get the same plate     composition every time.
2. Actually consulting a nutritionist to compose these meals.
3. Pre-price each plate and post a menu for consumers to use.
Promotion: MamaCarts’ strength and differentiation in the street food market lies in branding; other local examples of brand success include FanMilk, MTN Mobile, and Coca-Cola. None of these names are in local or official language (French), yet they have all gained significant market share based on a strong brand presence with fixed color schemes, logos, and catch phrases.  Billboards, radio ads, local television commercials, other brand partnerships, and targeting specific populations such as university students create an image of an aspirational product at an affordable price. 
Distribution: Prepared, complete meals delivery through MamaCarts owned and operated food carts.  Vendors are paid a base salary with commission potential, based on number of daily meals sold. 
Certification Courses   
Product: Certificate of Completion for non-MamaCarts food vendors
Program components: sanitation, nutrition, business management

Price: (pending further pricing sensitivity research) 
Focus group feedback suggests women will pay between 1,000 and 10,000 cfa for the initial certification.  Depending on enrollment and actual course fee, direct sales revenue may be used to cross-subsidize this community-focused initiative.  While vendors pay a one-time certification fee, they will also be required to pay an annual membership to remain a “Model Mama” in the MamaCarts’ Network. 
Distribution: Word of mouth is the best manner of advertising in the street food community.  If this program proves valuable and increases sales, other vendors will choose to become certified as well.  Additional certification and MamaCarts’ Network benefits include: Continuing education opportunities and access to a MamaCarts’ Boutique where we sell ingredients in smaller quantities at bulk prices (by breaking bulk). 
MamaCarts’ is in collaborative talks with local officials to organize a Street Food Vendors Appreciation Festival, to take place on World Food Day (October 16).  These certified vendors will be presented to the community as nutritional ambassadors. MamaCarts will co-sponsor this even to increase brand and mission awareness. 
Control: The MamaCarts Monitoring and Evaluation Officer will be responsible for creating a weekly, randomized control tour to visit each certified vendor. A standardized checklist will be completed at each visit to ensure all points of nutrition and sanitation are met.

Explain your idea in one sentence.

MamaCarts improves street food quality through direct sales and certification trainings.

What is the need you are trying to solve?

Global urbanization is on the rise. The increasing number of people living in these expanding communities often rely on the informal street food economy as both a source of income and meals. 4 root factors compound to prevent these underserved, urban communities from accessing clean, nutritious foods on a regular basis and vendors from providing them. (1) High food prices (2) Gaps in nutritional education (3) Poor sanitation (4) Broken supply chain Women represent the overwhelming majority of street food vendors in West Africa. Often, these vendors lack the daily capital to purchase resources for the next day of sales. In a 2012 report by the FAO on West African Street Food Vendors, trainings and organization were recommended themes to increase overall conditions. After completing our baseline survey of 200 vendors, and 4 focus groups totaling 45 vendors, it became clear that existing traders are ready for a change and welcome formalization of the under-appreciated market space.

Who will benefit from this idea and how would you monitor its success?

MamaCarts' goal is to improve market conditions for street food vendors and street food quality for consumers. Monitoring: Participatory monitoring will be conducted throughout the project by the M&E Officer and a team of MamaCarts volunteers including: • Baseline Survey: This survey will be conducted at the commencement of the project to collect benchmark data on nutrition awareness and food consumption behaviors. The baseline survey will use individual and household interviews. • Quarterly Monitoring: Monitoring will be conducted by our M&E Officer on a quarterly basis, as a way of crosschecking the progress of the project with the project work plan. This will also allow us to gain insights on how to improve the project implementation, as well as improve execution of staff responsibilities. • Focus Groups: MamaCarts will use focus groups to directly involve the target community in the rapid prototyping process. This will assist in identifying specific needs that impact the community, redefining the project, and develop a co-creation program. • Reflection Meetings: The project team will organize monthly reflection meetings where staff will share and discuss the project progress, identify problems encountered and solutions, prepare an action and budget plan for the upcoming month, as well as provide capacity building to project staff for improving their performance. • End-of-Project Survey: Using the questions from the Baseline Survey, an end-of-project survey will be conducted to collect data on nutrition awareness and food consumption behaviors. Evaluation: Inception Report: The M&E Officer will brief the Project Lead on findings from the Baseline Survey. A determination will be made if adjustments are needed to the key indicators and goals. Impact Assessment: One final evaluation will be conducted at the conclusion of the project with participation from MamaCarts, relevant government institutions, and other local community people. The evaluation will assess the project’s overall impact using key indicators. The M&E Officer will identify lessons-learned/best practices for future implementation and dissemination opportunities. In addition, the project team will produce booklets describing the project experiences for widespread dissemination. End-of-project Evaluation: An end-of-project evaluation using the OECD/DAC evaluation criteria will summarize key findings and assess the performance of the project at its conclusion against all of the intended outcomes. This evaluation will look at the appropriateness/relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact, connectedness, coverage, coherence and coordination of the project. Data collected during the Food Consumption Survey and Quarterly Monitoring phases will be used in performing the evaluation. A third party evaluator will be engaged at this stage to ensure independence and objectivity.

Who would be best equipped to implement this idea in the real world? You? Your organisation? Another organisation or entity?

We are the only organization in Benin focused on improving these conditions through partnerships and direct sales. MamaCarts received a 1-year grant from the 2013 Rockefeller Foundation Centennial Innovation Challenge. Our goal is to leverage local resources and connect these pre-existing pieces of the puzzle to bolster supply chains and create a better street food ecosystem. We are the best team in town to empower women as entrepreneurs and increase their purchasing power. Needs moving forward: Sanitation specialist: Other countries already have franchised food chains that have institutional norms for sanitation. While not necessarily healthy, these chains' systems are renowned for efficiency and scalability. We are seeking someone trained in kitchen systems to perform a kitchen and cart audit and co-author our training manual. Certification Model: As we dive into local government politics, we are seeking consult from other organizations that have implemented change through policy. While mandating baseline processes for food preparation has worked to overhaul systems in developing countries, this needs to be an inclusive initiative that does not leave too many current vendors behind. Strategic Advising: MamaCarts is not just about Benin. Safe and tasty street food is bigger than 1 country or even 1 region. As we move forward and consider the challenges and opportunities unique to street food, we want some more brains in the mix! Bring us your, criticisms, high fives, ideas, and feedback; if we're not pivoting and evolving our idea, we're doing something wrong.

Where should this idea be implemented?

We are currently piloting in Benin, West Africa. The FAO has shown that some households in urban West Africa may spend up to 40% of their income on ready to eat meals. Our goal is to create a West African MamaCarts network and continue to pursue global partners to expand this idea into other regions. With the progress the Benin team has already made since January 2014, MamaCarts is creating a plan to enter the U.S. market. We plan to leverage seasonal market surpluses of produce, prepare healthy (and tasty!) meals to sell in areas lacking access to good, prepared foods. While there has been a spike in urban produce production, single parents with multiple jobs still have trouble finding time to prepare dinner every night, especially between jobs. "Fast Food as usual" is a treat, not a way of life. With these two locations, we can leverage cross-subsidization concepts for both ideas and resources.

How might you prototype this idea and test some of the assumptions behind it?

Prototyping a MamaCart: While mobile food vendors are not a new concept to Benin; investing resources in a vehicle to specifically sell food IS novel. Not only do our carts need to be easy to use for the vendor, they must look appealing and approachable to consumers. We started brainstorming with a local welder, who is familiar with introducing new products to market. He got on board with our mission and a few weeks later, we had a cart to roll around our potential markets to see people’s reactions and gather feedback. Our second iteration is under way as we missed a few things the first time around: 1. We underestimated the size of compartments needed to sell enough meals each day to make each cart financially sustainable. This means increasing all the dimensions. 2. While cart weight was our greatest concern, after towing this thing around with a motorcycle taxi we now realize durability is a larger concern. Can’t sell any food if the wheels keep flying off! 3. Efficiency! The pre-measured plate concept is new for street vendors. Ordering a “Plate #1” will become common practice but in the startup phase, we need to post a clear menu with pictures so people can prepare their order. 4. To-go containers are black plastic bags or Styrofoam here. We are seeking a compostable solution, however this may not be possible here for several months unless we can figure out a low-cost source. 5. Point of Sale money exchange. Benin is a cash-heavy economy. Everything is done in hard currency, and it is often very difficult to make change for larger bills. We have partnered with a local telecom provider to leverage the existing mobile-to-mobile payment system. This will require consumer adoption of this program too, so we will need to incentivize payment in this manner through loyalty programs. The Benin team is employing rapid prototyping strategies to discover best food cart design parameters, community meal preferences, price points, and vendor needs. This requires us to engage with several local partners such as our food cart welder, current street food vendors and consumers, and local authorities who are responsible for public health and safety. Of course, opinions vary widely and will will be changing many of our assumptions on the fly.

What might a day in the life of a community member interacting with your idea look like?

Parakou University (Benin) student Catherine is feeling sleepy. She needs a quick pick-me-up and the porridge saleswoman outside her classroom just isn't going to cut it. She needs something that is affordable, tastes good, and gives her an energy boost to get through the day. Dorcas, the MamaCarts saleswoman has seen this need and parked her well branded, food-safe sales cart filled with nutritious and clean meals outside the lecture hall. Consumers like Catherine are now empowered with better, affordable ready-to-eat meal options. Food vendors like Dorcas are able to increase their daily income by leveraging the MamaCarts brand and increasing their client base because of a well-respected product. Through primary research we have found that her increased income will be spent on in household improvements, children's school fees, and providing better meal options at home.

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Does this idea have the potential to impact the lives of low-income women and girls living in urban areas?

Yes, the idea clearly targets low-income women and girls living in urban areas. - 66.7%

The idea targets women and girls but isn’t necessarily focused on those living in low-income urban areas. - 0%

The idea targets people living in low-income urban areas but doesn’t seem to benefit women and girls specifically. - 33.3%

2. Does this idea describe a set of next steps and a timeline to accomplish them?

The idea clearly outlines next steps, the resources and team needed to execute them and a timeline to accomplish this. - 100%

The idea gives a broad explanation of what it hopes to accomplish but there is no clear timeline or activities to reach its desired goal. - 0%

The idea has not clearly articulated what the next steps are. - 0%

3. How feasible would it be to implement a pilot of this idea in the next 12-18 months?

Very feasible – the next steps described in the contribution seem achievable in this time period. - 100%

A pilot appears feasible but more work needs to be done to figure out how it would be executed. - 0%

The idea is not ready to be piloted yet – the concept needs several more months of user feedback and prototyping to be ready for a pilot. - 0%

4. Does this idea bring a new and fresh approach to the city or region in which it’s set?

Yes, this idea appears to be new and innovative! I’m not aware of other ideas in this city or region that address this need using a similar approach. - 50%

There are other initiatives doing similar work in this area – but this idea targets a new group or has an updated approach. - 50%

I can think of many initiatives addressing the same need using a similar approach in the same region. - 0%

5. How scalable is this idea across regions and cultures?

This is an idea that could help women and girls in many different cities. I can see it being implemented across multiple regions and cultures. - 100%

Maybe but I’d imagine it would need very significant changes. - 0%

The idea is really only suited for one specific region / population. - 0%

6. Overall, how do you feel about this concept?

I love this idea! - 100%

I liked it but preferred others. - 0%

It didn't get me so excited. - 0%

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Ibrahim is hungry at the office, but he doesn't trust any of the quick lunch options in town...if only there was an affordable and quick solution....


Join the conversation:

Photo of Anne Marie van Swinderen

Hi Rachael, I like your idea and I think it is quite feasible. Would there be a possibility to partner? E.g. that you offer training to e-kulki's group-members on how to improve snack-sales businesses (typically, savings groups have some 10 to 20% of the members living of mini-restaurants and food stalls).

Photo of Rachael Miller

Hi Anne Marie, thanks for touching base! I love the Safe-ings model! We are trying the leverage mobile-to-mobile payment systems as well to address the 3 safety issues you highlighted. I've never worked in your region of the world and am very curious about brand perception. We've found in West Africa that well-presented brands are highly respected and a point of leverage for those operating under a label. I'm wondering if e-kulki is working on that side of your business?

Sounds like there is certainly some space to collaborate. How would you like to proceed? Skype? Email? ( Thanks and good luck!

Photo of Kairen P

Its a good idea, I believe it will have positive impacts on local unemployment while also enhance people's capabilities

Photo of Kairen P

Its a good idea, I believe it will have positive impacts on local unemployment while also enhance people's capabilities ? Do you work in the field ?

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