One-line solution summary:
Transforming the informal sector by providing social protection visibility and empowering entrepreneurship via employment digitalization
Pitch your solution.
Due to COVID-19, global poverty is expected to increase in Sub-Saharan Africa by 282Million . To get back on track with SDGs, digital access to business, education, and social security is essential.
To tackle income reductions, lack of opportunities and insufficient visibility of social protections, we provide a central place for opportunities and resources.
Nowd is a digital marketplace and networking platform designed for the informal economy. We interconnect this sector to each other for business while simultaneously offering social insurances and education.
Considering the informal economy in Nigeria and Benin account for more than 65% GDP , we view our users as potential entrepreneurs that lack accessibility.
Through Nowd , they can post business opportunities in 20-seconds, connect in 5, and in 50-seconds access social protections.
Nowd Empowers the "Invisible billion" providing good tools to digitally reimagine and redesign business, education and social security, by them and for them.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
We are committed to solving the lack of accessibility to opportunities for wealth creation and visibility of resources of social insurance and education for the “Invisible Billion” at an interpersonal, regional and national level. We are particularly focused on assisting women between ages 15-25 in the two pilot cities of Lagos and PortoNovo.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis and the oil-price drop, global poverty is expected to increase, setting back all efforts to eradicate it. The World Bank estimates an increase of 70 million people falling under $ 1.90 / day in 2020. The informal sector is being disproportionately impacted, especially women, with little to no access to capital. With job loss, rising prices, and disruptions in education and health care, it adds the visibility challenge, where they lack accessibility to resources. In Nigeria extreme, and low-income poverty rates are expected to increase + 1.8% and + 1.5% in 2020-2021. Neighboring countries are doomed to similar results.
Our platform closes the accessibility gap both ways. We connect users to each other for mutual business opportunity creation and shared economic prosperity, and connect them to a centralized net to already existing educational and social security resources.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Our solution serves anyone that lacks accessibility and visibility to existing resources in social security, education, and business. We focus on providing a tool for the informal sector who depend on their day-to-day income to survive. We are particularly committed to meeting the needs of women between ages 15-25. Our pilots will be Lagos and PortoNovo.
We involve our users in every step of design through deep-listening. We have collected testimonies from our target audience and experts. Their testimonies were key to understanding needs, routines, and current gaps in the market and allowed us to design a platform specifically targeting those necessities.
Nowd is for the community and by the community. We recognize the dynamic aspects of their needs, especially during times of uncertainty. Particularly for women, who have extra obligations and social pressure. In many instances cultural dynamics hinder women's path to financial independence. Our platform aims to close this inequality gap, inspiring young businesswomen to achieve success and economic prosperity.
Nowd adapts to our users' needs. Giving visibility to their changing needs, and resources inside the community. Users address each other's needs, creating small positive interactions inside the community for mutual prosperity and wealth creation.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Mission Billion Challenge WURI West Africa Prize and your selected dimension.
Nowd strengthens social protection systems at a regional level providing two-way visibility and accessibility for the “Invisible Billion” in West-Africa.
We provide centralized access to social insurance services for the informal economy, particularly focusing on women. Furthermore we use the posting activity and profile information of our users to generate social profiles. They give visibility to our users needs at any given time. These profiles can provide vital information to social protection programs who wish to channel their efforts into delivery systems that best represent population's needs at the grassroots level.
Where is your solution team headquartered?Philadelphia, PA, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?
Who is the primary delegate for your solution?
Lucia Vina Lopez
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
The need for centralization and digitization of resources that COVID-19 has opened up creates an opportunity for innovation. Nowd is the social-media that interconnects the informal economy in a professional network while centralizing access to social-security.
We provide a social-media approach to informal business. Social profiles generated from our app not only provide visibility to the invisible, but also to their needs and goals - insights that social-media competitors like Facebook fail to capture.
Unlike competitors, we are able to generate insights into what our users' needs are and provide them to NGOs and top-down systems already operating in these regions. By bridging our users to each other and to external systems, we aim to buttress the several phenomenal trading practices present locally. Our goal is to use technology to implement a solution that empowers existing channels and mechanisms than introduce a standalone alien system.
Our approach allows for dynamic opportunities in a dynamic world, unlike static user-flows offered by competitors. Our immediate competitor, LinkedIn, fails to accommodate informal-sector workers as they don't account for their unique business-dynamics. Through Nowd, users can post either offers or demands, to enhance mutual benefit partnerships while preventing a unilateral establishment of terms. We digitize successful partnerships generated through our app as ethical contracts, promoting accountability and transparency in the informal economy, while creating tangible support for the value being generated through partnership. We believe these salient features set Nowd apart from the crowds of social-media and resource-aggregator platforms already in the market
Provide evidence that your solution works.
The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the global need for a digital platform that centralizes and digitalizes business, education, and social security. Our solution leverages the power of relational capital and connections, visibility and accessibility for business, personal, and community growth.
Building on the success of LinkedIn, our platform serves as a professional networking arena for the untargeted informal economy. The informal economy functions predominantly through in-person transactions, relying heavily on strong social networks. Our platform captures their dynamics, creating a digital market that allows for expansion not limited by neighbor-to-neighbor interactions.
Our solution focuses on centralizing resources whether they be social programs or business opportunities, significantly reducing the time it takes our users to discover available options. Platforms such as Skyskanner capitalize on a similar effect of centralizing information, where users can compare prices or companies when traveling. We provide a space for users to create personalized results based on whatever needs they may have in a timely manner.
Lastly, social media, which has become a staple in the world, not only serves to connect billions of users but also to promote international and local businesses . Without any formal place of business online, many informal workers are left to use social media platforms for their trade. We aim to fill this vacuum for a market that has long been on the hunt for a purpose-built platform to do business and aggregate resources for the informal economy.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
What is your theory of change?
Nowd is a social media platform That AIMS to Reduce Poverty by providing good the "Invisible billion" with tools to Reimagine and redesign business , education, and social security. Our platform offers 4 main activities:
- Discovery: promotes business opportunities
- MyCommunity: connects users
- Education: provides financial / entrepreneurship education
- Finance: advertises social insurance services
Through the “Discovery” tab, Nowd encourages users, to locate and contact suppliers of products and services to increase their exposure to unexplored communities and avenues. This tab of the platform aims to increase users', especially women's, business activity and diversify their income sources. Now's built-in features enhance partnerships of mutual benefit which lead directly to sustainable business growth, and discourage one-sided partnerships. In the long term, we hope to have the discovery page be an aspect of business for informal workers, thus bringing them closer to steady income.
In “MyCommunity”, Nowd provides users a platform to keep in touch with their network, view their business activity, and celebrate shared successes. By viewing progress updates and opportunities from their immediate network, users build a stronger sense of support and shared prosperity within their communities. Through time, we believe this will contribute to building resilient and peaceful societies.
With the aid of audiovisual tutorials, Nowd's “Education tab” aims to guarantee a sense of security to users who lack an understanding of concepts regarding social-service programs. Through thoughtful implementation of behavior-design patterns , we encourage individuals to follow better financial practices in their daily lives. Our goal is to have women become financially literate and independent so they feel informed when making bigger financial decisions.
In our “Finance” page, we aim to connect users to websites that offer social programs such as savings, healthcare, and micro-loans. We expect an immediate increase in the awareness of the social programs accessible to them. The long-term goal is for users to regularly access social services and rely less on daily wages for health visits, and other life expenses.
Nowd provides users a digital space to close the inequality gap and reduce poverty by connecting people to essential resources and strengthening communities.
Describe how 'user friendly' your solution is to incorporate into social protection programs and delivery systems in West Africa.
From the inception of our platform we have focused on user friendliness. The emphasis has always been on ensuring we enable users to reach destinations and complete actions with the fewest clicks required. It takes just three clicks to notify interest to a social protection resource. With the aid of elaborate iconography and audio-aid, we ensure our users completely understand the nuances of signing up to social programs and partnerships.
Nowd builds on the interfaces of existing products like Facebook and WhatsApp, both widely used in West Africa, to establish trust and leverage familiarity with the product's ecosystem. The platform makes use of carefully placed art patterns of the Akwete form to induce a sense of familiarity. We believe this familiarity will encourage users to interact with the features of the app more frequently.
We have reimagined every user interface widget to do away with assumptions that are often associated with their functionality. We understand that many of our users may not be familiar with conventional web interface patterns, and we've built widgets from scratch that specifically account for inclusivity and accessibility. Larger clickable surfaces, more responsive buttons and input fields, and audiovisual aid widgets that accompany each text block are just some of the ways we've attempted to make every user feel at home.
Explain how your solution is interoperable with existing technologies and open standards.
We are currently creating a Progressive Web App using React in TypeScript for the frontend, and Spring Boot in Java for the backend. Among other libraries, we are using ant.design and Redux in the frontend to increase the aesthetics of our service while maintaining compatibility with existing technologies. Our servers will be hosted in a cloud service to guarantee availability and to handle dynamic load demand. Our robust systems, implemented with industry-standard designs, enable us to maximize support to almost all browsers and mobile devices.
Our platform is fully compliant with the WAI-ARIA standards for web accessibility. This enables screen readers and other accessibility devices to easily interface with the platform, thereby ensuring we provide an inclusive and all-encompassing experience to our users.
Shared addresses and other contact information of users will be visualized using the OpenStreetMap Application Program Interfaces (API) , an open wiki of maps.
Communication between the frontend and backend will be done via REST APIs . We are planning on leveraging existing APIs to quickly expand the growth of our services and to allow partnership with existing services / solutions that are in line with our goals. Finally, we will expose our own API endpoints and design APIs following OpenAPI specifications (formerly known as Swagger specifications) so people / businesses can seamlessly connect and interact with our service, as well as allowing integration with other systems
Our authentication system will include OAuth2 protocol, so it can be opened in the future with a profiles API.
How does your solution account for low connectivity environments and for users with low literacy and numeracy levels?
We have designed two alternative options two interact with the platform for those that lack a reliable internet connection:
SMS: Users can use an SMS system to navigate through the main features of the platform via text messages.
Call: A voice recognition system to interact through voice with the platform
For individuals with low literacy and numeracy levels, we have designed a user-friendly website by utilizing audiovisual media, familiar icons, and images that will accompany text. We designed our website to follow a transparent step-by-step process, where little to no skill is needed to complete tasks and interact with the features available.
In addition, text-to-speech assistance and audio recordings will be included everywhere to make the platform more accessible to those who are more comfortable speaking their language and lack literacy skills. Users can choose to speak rather than write and listen than read.
The videos offered in the “Education” tab will be voiced in French and English for now, and be accompanied by subtitles in additional languages to enable users from all backgrounds to quickly and accurately grasp the information provided.
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
We currently have no active users, but are building social profiles of the informal markets in Benin and Nigeria to prepare for pilot tests. This includes identifying aspects of their daily lives to understand their participation within the market, their income, and phone/internet usage.
1year: Our pilot is scheduled for January 2021. The first testers will consist of 600 women ages 15-25 who participate in the informal market. 200 (Benin) 400 (Nigeria). We are looking to test user interactions and make adjustments that set a tone of prosperity, mutual benefit, and empowerment in the app. After phase one, the focus group is expected to double to 400 (Benin) and 800 (Nigeria). Technical development will continue for the next 4 months after which Nowd will be officially released for public use. Accounting for 13% social-media penetration in Nigeria and 9.2% in Benin, we aim to reach 544,000 (Nigeria), and 26,125 (Benin) informal female entrepreneurs. Our platform is accessible to both men and women but aims to tackle the gender-inequality-gap. Taking into account the increasing rate of internet/phone penetration across West-Africa and participation of both genders, the expected user base for the first year is 1.14Millon.
5years: Expansion to Togo (7.9% social-media penetration) and Niger (2.1% social-media penetration) in the second year, and following 2 extra countries per year. We expect our user base to double yearly from the predicted 1.14M. Although this is subject to change, we expect our platform to have reached 76.31M users in five years’ time.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
1.Increase engagement of services that offer social insurances.
How: Users can access the Financial-tab to locate and filter subsidies and financial support resources they qualify for.
2.Stimulate market growth and strengthen community bonds by connecting users to one another as well as advertising informal market job opportunities.
- Users can post and react to opportunities, interact with profiles, and view contact information.
- Record digital partnerships to formalize business relationships.
3.Identify trends of need in the community and create social profiles.
How: Analyze frequently visited social services and posted opportunities to evaluate the needs of the community.
4.High Inventory Turnovers: Reduce the time an opportunity stays in the market, ensuring frequent engagement from the community, and thus business activity.
- Increase advertisement of low viewed profiles and redefine our algorithms that match businesses, profiles, needs and opportunities
- Ensure relevant opportunities are shown to users thus increasing the click and partnership rates.
5. Improve financial literacy of informal market participants.
How: Using the Learn tab users can access info on social-services provided and resources on emerging entrepreneurship practices to maximize wealth.
6.Increase accountability and transparency in the informal economy
How: Users can record partnerships that serve as a tangible way to demonstrate income.
7.Greater interaction with social-services
How: Using the Finance tab, users can explore other social services provided if they lack insurance.
8.Expansion across West Africa and increase partnerships across regions.
How: Expanding to 2 West African countries per year will be our priority during the first 5 years.
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Currently our main barriers are financial and time oriented as we do not contain the funds to sustain ourselves. Financially we must cover the cost of tech development / maintenance, background research, and advertisement. As we develop and expand our platform to other locations, we expect to face more challenges.
During our first year we expect:
Internal bias that might arise from inside the platform against particular genders or ethnicities, thus overshadowing certain business opportunities.
Gender cultural dynamics that might favor men possessing capital over their spouses which limits the financial independence of their partners. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women who lack capital fail to qualify for social services if unsupported by their spouses.
The bare minimum of users required to make accurate predictions of the needs of their communities is substantially large.
To build a platform around the community while not imposing our own solutions, biases, and choices over the populace.
The aforementioned barriers also apply to following years, as we scale up, together with:
5. Limited literacy acts as an invisible wall when accessing different features of the platform.
6. The possible misuse of the platform by individuals with wrongful intentions that could partake in illegal or unfair business deals.
7. Being able to reach areas where Internet and phone usage is nearly or totally zero.
8. Scaling the servers' capacity depending on usage while keeping costs low
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
To overcome financial barriers we plan on applying to organizational grants that look for platforms which tackle global challenges of community development or poverty reduction. We'll invest these grants in tech and research related expenses.
Our first user group will be potential women-entrepreneurs that will set the tone for the platform, for others to follow. Likewise, we will analyze users' behavioral patterns to detect gender and ethnic discrimination .
Empower women through the inclusion of role models within the platform. Favor companies that have more resources available for women, push for external change. Identify extra needs and social pressures women of our platform might need and connect them to opportunities and specific content in the platform.
Advertisement of our platform to the informal market through NGOs, informal market participants, and social media.
Work closely with our users to build relations and rapport.
Ensure multiple languages are available through audio and continue to develop our inclusivity features.
A strong moderation team that knows the ins-and-outs of the community and can decisively detect fraud and malpractice. Implementation of an authentication and verification system for businesses on the platform. Every user gets a unique ID that could be used as a WWA ID. A feedback system will also be available to users to voice dissent.
Continue making the platform available for interaction through SMS and Call
Comparing different options available where we select services that offer the most features for their listed price.
What type of organization is your solution team?
If you selected Other, please explain here.
N / A
How many people work on your solution team?
Our team consists of ten young innovators who have come together during the Coronavirus pandemic to create a solution that will bring forth global positive change. The US, Spain, Honduras, India, and Vietnam are some of the countries the team calls home. Our academic backgrounds include population ecology, computer science, mathematics, data science, physics biotechnology, environmental science, engineering, peace engineering, and social behavior.
Ten temporary research contributors in product design, law, and political science provide us valuable insight, and more than six industry mentors in human-centered design, social insurances, peace finance institutions, and venture capitalism also give us thoughtful guidance.
How long have you been working on your solution?
7weeks researching ideas, contacting academics, potential users, and making a prototype for testing
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Our team is made up of ten ambitious students from across countries, grade levels, social classes, and academic majors. What truly makes us unique is our diverse background, experience, and passion for becoming social entrepreneurs and making a sustainable positive change in the world.
Our ability to rapidly come together, collaborate effectively, and innovate despite our varied backgrounds highlight our passion, teamwork, and skills. In seven weeks, we have been able to research and build a solution from scratch and develop a working prototype that aims to empower the Invisible Billion.
Our advisors include professionals in social sciences and those established in country contacts, not excluding local academics and citizens. Our core team is also extensively experienced in the field, with members who are CEO's of their own tech companies (Kodular), some who have worked at Dell, Harvard University, MIT and Google, and also others who are Nationally awarded researchers, Global Scholars , and full ride university students.
We are data driven and human centered. We are caring, determined, perseverant, and adaptable with empathy being our driving force. The nature of our platform allows us to bring our users into the design and development process, and allow them to lead the way for progress. Our platform is an extension of them and their communities, and we hope to uplift them as much as possible for they hold the keys to their own future.
What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?
None at the moment.
What is your business model?
Our business model relies on community empowerment through digital connections. Women with limited resources, impoverished individuals, communities, local/international organizations, countries' economies, and SDGs benefit directly from the use and growth of our platform.
We connect people to each other and to resources:
Increasing reach, market exposure, business activity, and financial literacy of users will strengthen and grow small business. Facilitating the growth of entrepreneurship nourishes the innovation hub.
Better goods and services
Baseline for generational wealth.
We invest in women empowerment through financial independence and entrepreneurship. We aim to reduce the gender-inequality gap, improving the quality of life for families and future generations. We further increase accessibility to social safety nets to strengthen user's investment in their future.
By deepening mutual-benefit cooperation between individuals and across borders we encourage shared prosperity and positive peace.
We measure our platform's impact based on inventory turnover rate as a direct indicator of economic activity. By recording connections and business-partnerships, we capture relational capital, network development, and value generated through collaborations. Analyzing interaction rate with our educational resources identifies the extent of our users financial literacy. Interaction with posts and social services on our site directly measures the degree of a community's needs.
We use a strategy between market-intermediaries, market-linkage and service-subsidization. Advertisements relevant to user development, and population-needs-assessment reports will serve as our constant revenue source. Tech developers / maintenance, data-analysis, Innovation & Development are our key resources and expenditures. Profits will be reinvested in expansion, innovation, and community-outreach.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?
What is your path to financial sustainability?
Nowd uses a combination strategy between market intermediaries / linkage and service subsidization. We've planned different income strategies as our platform expands.
We'll use grants for development, testing, and launch. During the pilot we'll open Nowd for enterprises and social services to advertise themselves to our initial audience and generate revenue.
Once we scale we'll have four levels/sources of income:
Level-A: Financial Resources Advertisement.
Enterprises that are resources for our users (ie, Governmental Aids, Insurances, Banks, Incubators) will pay a premium proportional to the number of users connected via Nowd .
Level-B: Market Intermediary and Recruitment
Market Intermediary - We connect formal enterprises interested in diversifying their supply chain to users' local businesses (favoring ESG investment) Eg clothing companies interested in supporting local textile providers.
User Recruitment - As users formalize their businesses, we look to partner and receive revenue from formal resources like LinkedIn who specialize in the formal market. By transferring entrepreneurial profiles from our platform to theirs, our users benefit from their resources right away.
Talent Recruitment - Recruiting companies would get access to a currently inaccessible market in exchange for a premium cost.
Level-C: Generic Advertisements.
Enterprises unrelated to entrepreneurship development or financial support who wish to access granular control into who they want to target with their opportunities, can do so at a premium cost.
Organizations that utilize demographic information and social profiles such as development banks, government organizations, and NGOs can invest in our generated population-needs-assessments, social profiles, and informal-market trends.
If you have raised funds for your solution or are generating revenue, please provide details.
We have not yet raised funds nor generated revenue. We have received our backing for developing our project from Asana. They are currently supporting our work providing us with free use of their Premium platform.
If you seek to raise funds for your solution, please provide details.
Winning the WURI West Africa Prize would give us funding necessary to finish developing our first product prototype and begin pilot testing in Lagos and Porto Novo. We are also open to other grants, with our internal deadline to keep raising capital being November. During this time we would invest in backend, research and development, marketing and legal/insurance fees. Moreover, with the funds obtained we would be able to establish Nowd as a company and obtain all the licenses and permits necessary to get started up. We would also invest the money on developing a secure infrastructure to ensure all of the personal data of our users is protected.
Our estimated cost to get started is $41,467. We are looking to continue developing our product, move to pilot phase and start testing it to get feedback from the community.
What are your estimated expenses for 2020?
Why are you applying to the Mission Billion Challenge WURI West Africa Prize?
The global pandemic that tore apart families and economies in West Africa served as the force that brought us together in pursuit of a solution that would aid communities. Winning the WURI West Africa Prize is thus quintessential to furthering the goals shared by us and the World Bank.
The seed funding we will receive will enable us to continue developing our platform and introduce it to our target regions while we can still minimize the repercussions of the Coronavirus on affected communities, time is of the essence for us.
Mentorship from Google Development will enrich our team's expertise in developing algorithms that improve security and inventory turnovers, thus resulting in higher economic activity and a better experience for our users.
Additional mentorship from the World Bank, who has experience in economic development and providing humanitarian aid in times of distress, will be an invaluable resource. With our goals closely allied with those of the World Bank, their connections, partnerships, experience, and positive public opinion will help in fulfilling common targets. We believe that by joining forces, we can build on the reach of our platform to maximize our impact on communities, while also giving back to the World Bank by aiding them in their mission - to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity - at a faster and global scale.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Please explain in more detail here.
We look to strengthen our solution's technology algorithms to improve data-security and user experience. We're particularly interested in technical guidance to decrease internal bias that may arise in the app, identify fraud, and increase inventory turnovers to ensure our users' opportunities are shown to the most impactful audience.
Financial support would allow us to continue developing our platform, introduce it to our target regions in a timely manner and establish Nowd as a company. Further counsel on legal processes for establishing our international presence would expedite the process.
Recognizing the cultural variations and dynamics across West Africa, it's our priority to deliver a platform that fits individual needs across cultures. Receiving mentorship from the World Bank enables us to design a strong marketing strategy to effectively target users and generate the highest impact possible.
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
Initially, we're contemplating grants from America's-Seed-Fund, UNICEF Innovation-Fund, and Global-Innovation-Fund .
As product development progresses, we intend to collaborate with NGOs in West Africa to increase our reach and impact. Association-of-Nigerian-Women-Business-Network would be a great first in-country partner who would set the tone for our platform while we shine a spotlight on their work as successful women entrepreneurs.
We are looking to partner with the World Bank and other organizations focused on economic development. We recognize the pressing need of demographics of the “Invisible Billion.” We will be generating population-needs-assessment reports that serve the dual purpose of helping users and also partnering organizations to accurately direct resources during crises. ECOWAS is also a partnership of interest as they are looking to increase their visibility of the informal economy, and we are looking to promote business across West African countries
We would also like to partner with educational institutions that specialize in finance/entrepreneurship. We plan on contacting financial education programs like Miguéze’s , which offer guidance on how to manage savings accounts. We also wish to partner with banks and social-protection companies to grow our financial tab into a diverse marketplace of social opportunities, while giving them access to a new market.
Finally, we are interested in partnering with Stanford-Peace-Innovation-Lab and Peace-Innovation-Institute to study the business partnerships between users from communities in conflict. We wish to understand the dynamics of mutual benefit and how they collaborate across boundaries, and how our platform serves as a tool that promotes global peace.