COVID-19 has increased the urgency for reliable, accessible and regular health information, and forced a shift to remote community engagement and greater focus on local-led responses. Every1Mobile’s experience in Kenya shows that capacity building and mobilisation of local informal businesses through digital technology can empower high-risk communities with knowledge to combat COVID-19 and reduce financial barriers to essential health and hygiene products. Alongside combating COVID-19 mobile technology can be used more widely by informal businesses to access value chains to increase their economic livelihoods and potentially ‘rebuild better’.
Nairobi’s informal settlements are home to an estimated two million people and have become the epicentre of Kenya’s COVID-19 outbreak. Informal communities are at high risk from COVID-19 due to their dense populations, limited medical facilities and poor sanitation infrastructure that make hand washing and social distancing near impossible. It is vital that Every1Mobile reach these vulnerable communities. However, traditional methods such as face-to-face interactions are severely limited due to social distancing measures and curfews. Local informal businesses, who are already at the very centre of settlements and in daily contact with a wide range of community members, are in a unique position to become effective change agents. Local informal businesses can rapidly share up-to-date, crucial information and discounted health products to their consumers and the wider community with immediate effect, empowering them to protect themselves and others from the virus and save lives.
With 93% of Kenyans having a mobile subscription, digital technology is the safest and most effective tool to reach local businesses and communities rapidly and at scale with the information they need to take action against COVID-19. However, to reach the widest number of people in informal communities it is essential that any digital medium is compatible with both internet enabled feature phones as well as smartphones; it should offer users low data versions to reduce the cost of browsing; and, for users with low levels of digital literacy, provide support via WhatsApp or over the phone.
Every1Mobile are using digital technology to change behaviours in informal settlements by:
- supporting local informal businesses to act as change agents and information centres for critical COVID-19 messaging that they disseminate to their communities.
- enabling informal businesses to offer e-vouchers and discounts on essential items such as soaps and cleaning products for their low income customers.
- disseminating information directly to community members through their mobile friendly ENDCORONAVIRUS.KE site, which provides critical handwashing guidance, accredited COVID-19 information from the World Health Organisation, local helplines and daily statistics.
Looking to the future, it is essential that we think beyond the pandemic to the recovery period, and how the inevitable damage to livelihoods and the general health of low income populations can be addressed. Every1Mobile are continuing to leverage their digital platforms such as U Join and NaijaCare which build low income retailers’ capacity, increase their access to value chains, and generate demand from their customers, all of which increase their income-earning potential and ability to ‘build back better’ after the pandemic.
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