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An Initiative to Re-purpose Kenya’s Informal Sector

In normal times, Nichanor Ochieng sells shoes on a busy junction in Dandora, a high-density, low-income neighbourhood in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. But these are not normal times. As the new coronavirus continues to spread, his small shop has now been turned into a temporary distribution point for free hand-cleaning and other essential products, piloting a tech-driven initiative aimed at helping slow down the pathogen’s transmission. Launched by a coalition of community groups and businesses – including some of the country’s leading technology firms – Safe Hands Kenya is working to use existing tech-enabled supply chains to hand out items such as sanitiser, masks, soap and surface disinfectant, particularly in poor, densely populated areas. Collectively, they have access to more than 200,000 geolocated points of sale across the East African nation, many – like Ochieng’s – located in informal settlements. The firms have stitched together their retail datasets with population surveys to build a geospatial demand map, which they say should help ensure more precise and equitable distribution of products to vulnerable communities.