Lorena Moscovich Head of experimentation AccLabUNDPArgentina
Community markets to promote digital inclusion in digitalization of cities
Can local stores play a role in the digital inclusions of thousands of people at grassroots level? Moreover, can they promote digitalization of cities at the very same time as well? In some low-income neighborhoods of Argentina there are some experiences, so far isolated, of something that could potentially become an emerging trend.
Some years ago, Sabrina was at her father’s store in a neighborhood of the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area when she started giving advice to some of the young clients to help them get students free passes for public transport. To do so, high school students needed to fill out several forms, some of them online. Later she rented a place of her own and opened an office and school supplies store, where she also started helping her clients, all of them neighbors as well, to complete standard online tasks such as: applying for a social benefit, scheduling an appointment to renew driver's license or enrolling children in public school. She called the store “Empowering you”.
Sabrina is extremely patient and answers to different kinds of requests. Thanks to her, neighbors get the help they need and many of them learn to do things by themselves. They are extremely grateful for her help and very happy to pay a very small fee for her services. For Sabrina, this acknowledgment is very rewarding and good for business as now more people come to the store and she makes more sales. Sometimes, when she has doubts or is not sure on how to help, she does online searches acquiring more experience and knowledge in the process.
Sabrina and her store are an example of a solution that the accelerator lab from UNDP Argentina, the Co_Lab explored, mapped, and now is testing and scaling at once. Some of these experiences found in low-income neighborhoods in different provinces, and, more generally, this way to help neighbors dealing with their everyday online tasks was quite successful particularly during the lock down in the pandemic but is still far from being widespread.
In this solution, shop owners help people complete standard municipal tasks – boosting their own digital literacy while acquiring additional income. All the community can benefit from this bottom up digital transformation, which is a creative way to integrate digital literacy into everyday life. The split over of this solution went beyond shop owners, who increase their sales, and neighbors can avoid the cost and risk of taking public transport and going to crowded places in times of the pandemic. It has also encouraged the local government to go digital with more administrative procedures paving the path to a more open and digitized government, the base of a potential smart city.
The accelerator lab of UNDP Argentina, the Co_Lab, has just partnered with the Municipal Government of Concepcion, in Entre Rios to launch the "Con Vos" (with you) network. Thanks to this action, we are going to support stores to start offering help for digital tasks, the services that shop owners, like Sabrina, already offer in several other places. This network of stores will first reach 25 local shops. Already 7 stores have joined as pilot test.
The goal will be to guarantee access to online procedures in nearby businesses. By doing so, the initiative is going to increase the sales and income of local shops strengthening community markets, also, this is going relieve the neighbors of the burden of going downtown, taking public transport spending time and money and also exposing themselves to the risk of getting sick, in times of pandemic.
For the city, it also has a lot of advantages as it clears public offices reducing waiting times and needing fewer employees to attend to the in person demands. The municipality is considering the digitalization of new procedures. Overall all the initiative has given birth to a virtuous cycle of a bottom-up “Digital City” process.
With the “Con Vos” network the lab has created an identity and a brand for the solution and will support stores with basic equipment, such as a printer, branding material, such as sidewalk bicycle racks etc. intervening with the action the urban landscape. The program line of the UNDP Argentina Country Office will use this experience to offer this solution to other local governments as well.
The experiment will approach the supply and demand side of the initiative. We don’t expect stores to see the advantages of this action immediately as it will take time away from other activities implying extra costs associated with the learning processes. Although we know that in the long run they will experience an increase in their sales and also benefit from this experience, in the short term we should create incentives for the adoption of this solution.
If the tradeoff between the time used to learn and the material benefits of the initiative is positive, the local stores will be willing to offer the services.
First the lab is going to unfold different strategies to approach some shop owners with different kinds of incentives, to encourage them to adopt the solution, such as the delivery of different devices and the extra promotion from the advertising of the initiative and branding materials. Also, on the demand side, some people may not be willing to rely on stores for tasks they are used to doing personally in town. For this reason, in the second stage, to effectively decentralize administrative procedures the same incentives approach will be used to foster the demand, by, for instance, offering free coupons to complete their digital tasks in the local stores, instead of going into town.
We innovate by moving away from the expected sequence of experimenting for later scaling, for scaling by experimenting. We aim at broadening the reach of the solution, building digital capacities for shop owners, low-income population, and municipal government.