Musana carts: The solar street vending solution

Natalie Bitature (2nd left) with other street vendors who have used the Musana Carts. courtesy Photo

What you need to know:

  • Natalie Bitature is the brain behind Musana Carts, a street vending carts providing clean energy to legal businesses on the go.
  • Bitature was one of the top three women innovators recognised at World Economic Forum in Kigali, Rwanda this year.
  • One of the vendors who have been able to use the Musana Cart like Kizza and his fellow vendors explained the high cost of operating illegally.

“Police! KCCA, omussajja wuwo, (the man is there). That is the usual rant on the streets common among vendors who usually hawk food items and toil on the streets of Kampala.
It started the morning after the day the Kampala Capital City Act, 2010 was passed six years ago. Apio, a street vendor knows no other way of supporting her family other than vending bananas and other food items to passengers and road users who are caught up in traffic jam. Her sight is, however, troublesome to the city authority officials who are supposed to keep them off the streets.

However, a new innovative solution that will provide a location and a cart that acts as a working position for vendors seeks to provide a solution to the hide and seek mantra that the city officials are involved in with the street vendors.
According to Natalie Bitature, one of the brains behind the new street-vending solution - Musana Carts, a street vending carts provides clean energy to legal businesses on the go.
She says the carts are built in such a way that they provide access to solar energy, “…Powering customised business features and allowing market vendors to operate without the fear of being arrested by city council.”
The carts are modular, easily adaptable to any street vending business with a fridge, a cooking stove or a mobile money terminal.

“With Musana Carts, we build legal microenterprises as well as provide access to finance and business training,” she says.
The team sought the partnership of the city authorities to allow them to do the project.
“To make this project a reality, we secured a sustainable partnership with KCCA,” she says.
One of the vendors who have been able to use the Musana Cart like Kizza and his fellow vendors explained the high cost of operating illegally. It involves constantly paying bribes to avoid their stoves from being seized and being arrested.
On the other hand, KCCA is facing public outcry about their treatment of street vendors. The innovators struck a partnership with KCCA that will provide a win- win solution. So every Musana Carts licence will allow its vendors to operate freely within the designated zones.

Bitature says her team was formed to participate in the Hult Prize, the world’s largest start-up accelerator with more than 25,000 applications from around the world this year. Musana Carts won the first and second round and are amongst the final six teams selected for the grand-global final. The first place winner of Hult Prize will receive $1m (Shs3.4billion) from President Bill Clinton on September 20, 2016. The remaining five teams will receive $200,000 (Shs676m) to operate their ventures.

She says they are working with Design without Borders, Briketi Stoves and TASS Solar Suppliers to build the Musana Carts.
“From a financial perspective, we learnt our target customers do not have the capital to pay for the carts up front. So we quickly realised we don’t have the capacity to manage the payment collection process,” she explains.
Sh added: “We are partnering with the largest local microfinance bank, Pride, to provide loans for the vendors so they can buy a cart and pay back the loan within six months.”
With Musana Carts, Kizza and those who will embrace the innovation, will save cooking time, energy costs and get more customers in addition to increasing their income.

Creating employment
By locally producing the carts in Kampala, Bitature says they will create more than 300 new jobs within the manufacturing sector. In year one alone, she says Musana Carts will save 3,000 tonnes of carbon emissions and reduce the thousands of annual smoke related deaths in Uganda.
There are currently more than 100,000 street vendors in Kampala. However, she says their target market is just one per cent for the first year.

“So we estimate sales of 1000 carts, breaking even at 200 carts as we reach economies of scale with the cart material suppliers,” Bitature says.
She says 90 per cent of the vendors they interviewed were willing to pay Shs1.5m per cart for mobile phone charging businesses, street food businesses or cold beverage businesses. After taking the carts to different markets for four days, she says they had a waiting list with more than 40 orders!
“Vendors are eager to have access to affordable energy with improved cleanliness and safety,” she says.

Through frugal innovation, solar technology has become more efficient, affordable and attractive to international investors for Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa currently has 13 cities with more than 5 million people and they are all continuing to grow at rapid rates. She believes Uganda can be the pioneer in using this technology.
“Through franchise partners, we can expand, serving 10 million market vendors in Africa by 2022,” she says.
“Our journey started with a simple concept which became a reality by sharing lives, stories, hopes and smiles with the market vendors of Kampala. Supporting Musana Carts today will empower us to start the solar street vending revolution!” Bitature says.

At World Economic Forum

Bitature was one of the top three women innovators recognised at World Economic Forum in Kigali, Rwanda this year.
The criteria for the challenge required entrants’ companies to be less than three years old, be earning revenue for at least a year and have proven innovation and positive social impact. The winners were invited to the World Economic Forum on Africa in Kigali to meet other social entrepreneurs and impact investors, and take part in conversations relevant to their expertise and interests.

“I strongly believe that the 21st Century will be Africa’s century, that its young population has the potential to build a world where they are not only materially better off, but also where things are fairer, more sustainable and more tolerant than at any other time in history. But this will not be achieved unless women are able to make a full contribution. This is why we show cased Africa’s best female entrepreneurs in Kigali,” said Elsie Kanza, the head of Africa at the World Economic Forum.