Tambula: a Digital Street Market (Innovation Type: Frugal Innovation)



Innovation Type: Frugal Innovation

Urban challenge

In many African nations, measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 disproportionately impacted the informal sector, which encompassesabout 50% of the working population, with adverse effects on the income of street market vendors in particular. In Namibia, thesestreet vendors were usually the main suppliers of agricultural produce throughout cities – but lockdowns and social distancingmeasures hampered physical visits to markets. Vendors were rapidly losing their sources of income, while citizens struggled withgaining access to everyday groceries. Although COVID-19 presented an opportunity for the formal sector in Namibia to transition intodigital modes of operation, the pandemic exposed a lack of digital readiness within the informal sector. Market vendors continued tosuffer whilst relying on traditional commerce.

Innovation process 

Seeing this unfold, the UNDP Accelerator Lab in Namibia embarked on the challenge of uncovering new ways to continue to earn alivelihood or income stream for informal vendors. At the time (in early 2020), a local startup, Tambula, had just emerged with anAmazon-like e-commerce platform – but had not yet ventured into the sale of perishables and groceries. The Accelerator Labapproached Tambula, to ask if they may be interested in a collaborative effort to keep informal market vendors in business. Vendorsselling vegetables and foodstuff in particular - which were more urgent priorities during lockdown - were first targeted for a pilotprogramme. Tambula and UNDP visited informal vendors and did a recce of markets to better design the workflow and platform for thesolution. was the initial focus for the pilot. 


With these efforts, a tab for groceries from informal markets was published on the existing Tambula web platform, listing some of themost in-demand items to begin with. As essential service providers, Tambula personnel were allowed by the law to bring ordered goodsdirectly from vendors to customers' doorsteps. The platform accepts all of Namibia's most popular digital payments modes fromcustomers, whilst paying vendors directly in cash to assure vendors of direct income - and to avoid steep learning curves for vendorsless well-versed with digital. 


The Tambula platform offered informal street vendors access to a wider and larger audience base, across the city of Windhoek. Thisway, besides their existing customers, informal vendors reached new customers during the pandemic - generating more income,expanding their businesses, and earning larger customer networks. Plans are underway to expand the reach of Tambula's services tonearby cities, although COVID-19 remains a hurdle, as does the perishable nature of many informal market goods. However, Tambula isexploring the inter-city delivery of informal market handicrafts and other non-perishables. Tambula has also inspired several new e-commerce platforms, though none others on the informal sector. The project has also earned substantial political and public visibility, facilitating a sustained series of innovation and capacity development activities in partnership with the Office of the Prime Minister.

Key takeaways

  • Digital solutions should include, not exclude. The project took an unexpected twist when informal vendors returned to their oldtrading styles after the lockdown, despite customers' keen interest in using the platform. Collaborative efforts with theNamibian Informal Sector Organization were undertaken to identify the gaps and challenges vendors faced, and the resultsshowed that vendors felt excluded from the platform precisely because it was digital. This informed UNDP's next steps, whichwere to...
  • Use a multi-faceted approach, and intervene beyond a single solution. After the Tambula-UNDP partnership took off, UNDPcontinued to explore new opportunities for informal vendors. For instance, having identified a lack of digital payments useamongst them, a crowdsourcing platform with a focus on servicing the informal sector has been launched with the NamibianUniversity of Science and Technology. The Ministry of Trade and Industry have also gained greater interest in the informalsector, as has the Namibian Investment Promotions and Development Board (NIPDB) – who did not have a registry of informalvendors prior, but now working with the Accelerator Lab to develop one. 

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