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Increasing social inclusion in cities- In Conversation with Frederico P. Silva, founder of UX in Mozambique

Author: Evelien van Egmond
Published Date: 7 May 2016

Ahead of the high-level workshop in Harare ‘Inclusive Cities of the Future’ we are honored to get the opportunity to talk to Frederico P. Silva of the Mozambican start-up UX. UX, founded in 2012, develops locally-relevant, market-driven tech-based products and services for high social and economic impact in emerging markets. They created many social inclusive programmes like, the largest online job board in Mozambique and Biscate, a platform to boost work opportunities in the informal sector. One of their latest promising projects is Monitoria Participativa Maputo (MOPA), a programme to communally report on waste issues by using feature phones to improve waste services in Maputo. Hivos spoke with Frederico to hear more about his visions on increasing social inclusion and the prospects of MOPA as a focal project to improve public services in Maputo.

This interview was conducted by Evelien van Egmond at Hivos. 

What were the key motivations to start-up UX?

I think we spend too much time pointing the finger at the government and complaining about our country’s situation. Mozambique was for 6 or 7 years one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Yet it is still ranked as the 9th worst country in the human developing index. It is a sad reality to understand that economic growth is not parallel to social development. The use of technology could play a pivotal role in improving the country’s situation.

What does an inclusive city mean to you?

I think everyone should have a voice. I truly believe that you should have a strong link between the government and the citizens. Cities should not be represented by a niche that is basically composed of the people with the highest levels of education and income. They should not be the only ones that actually are able to have a voice and to state their concerns. Everyone in the city should be able to have a voice. But I am not naïve. I know that this sounds very utopic, but I really believe in the power of technology to mitigate this issue, which is not going to happen overnight. But I think that the disruptive power of technology allows this process to go quicker then it usually be otherwise.

What is MOPA?

MOPA is a platform through which citizens can request services directly from the municipal government using mobile phones. Collected data is sent to the City Council of Maputo, which then relays the information to private waste collection companies. MOPA allows marginalized households in low-income areas to request services that are not regularly provided to them.

 What smart partnerships have you engaged in to better deliver your work?

We have had the privilege of working side by side with the World Bank. This is helpful in terms of the relationship we have with the municipal council of Maputo and how we are able to engage them in believing in this solution as the way forward. The municipal council could think of MOPA as a platform to point out their flaws, because the information is made public in terms of the reports from citizens. By using a human-centric design approach we could involve all stakeholders, including the municipality, in the design phase of MOPA. We were able to explain the benefits of this service to the municipality to improve their own processes and making them more efficient. Furthermore, entities that are working with waste collection could also be made more accountable. So, in terms of partnerships the municipal council is definitely a key partner.

We also had a hackathon to get the local tech-community to participate by developing applications that could add value to the technical part of MOPA. I think the young techies were really enthusiastic. The application that came out as a winner has huge potential in terms of optimizing the routes for the micro-enterprises that are collecting the waste in the peripheral neighborhoods where paved roads are scarce. It is very important to optimize the roads for the efficiency of the work of these micro-enterprises.    

How do you make MOPA future sustainable?

Sustainability wise there are a couple of revenue streams that can be generated. One of them that I think is probably the most interesting is that we want to engage citizens in the recycling process. People collect iron and plastic, which they sell to different companies. We want to engage citizens into dividing their own waste and then, by using MOPA’s technical application, communicate that they have plastic available. Others citizens will come and collect this waste at a small cost and will sell it in bulk to the bigger companies. By doing this, you are creating a revenue stream not only for maintenance of the application but it enables citizens to be fully involved in recycling processes. The key element is to make sure that everything is in place for people to be completely engaged. That is one thing that is very interesting: it can be not just sustainable, but profitable for people.

The other thing is that the municipal council is already interested in pivoting this technology to the sewage system. When you have the drainage that is blocked they want people to be able to report this in order to start tackling issues with the sewage system as well. It could be part of our sustainability to tweak the technology of MOPA for other purposes.

We made the technology of MOPA open source so other people could use it. But the fact is, a lot of the times you want to make changes to the technology, it is easier to contact the people that have developed it instead of trying to figuring it out yourself. Even though it is open source, we could still be a key player within the field of using technology to engage citizens and municipality in order to improve public services in cities.