It’s not every day that a mobile application is launched to the accompaniment of songs, dances, and gymnastics. That’s exactly what happened at Sarangombe in Kibera, where a crowd gathered to launch M-Maji (“mobile-water” in Swahili). M-Maji is a mobile phone-based water information system that aims to empower under-served communities with better information about water availability, price, and quality. Water vendors use their mobile phones to advertise on M-Maji and water buyers query the M-Maji database to find the closest, cheapest, and cleanest water. All this is free and accessible on even the most basic GSM phones.
M-Maji was developed by Weza Tele, a visionary firm that applies mobile technologies such as USSD, Mobile Web, and SMS to solve problems. Weza Tele teamed up with a group of Stanford students, as well as Umande Trust, an organization based in Kibera that addresses water and sanitation issues. Because M-Maji is a novel approach to improving clean water access, it was critical to conduct a randomized, controlled evaluation of our system. Weza Tele’s contribution to M-Maji involved requirements analysis, design, development, prototyping and testing.
When water is scarce, a resident of Kibera may trek for miles in search of it with no guarantee of success. Simply finding the water takes up valuable time and energy. M-Maji makes it possible for vendors to advertise for clean water at specific landmarks and allow customers to be able to look up the places where they can find water vendors in their specific location through the use of the mobile phone.
How M-Maji works
Step 1: At the start of each day, water vendors notify M-Maji via USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) that they have water to sell, the price they are selling it for,and where they are selling it. They also have the option to advertise whether or not their water is purified. All of these vendor notifications from across Kibera are collected and stored in a central M-Maji database in real-time.
Step 2: Water buyers who are searching for water initiate a USSD session with M-Maji, through which they obtain a location-relevant listing of local water vendors who have water to sell, their price, location, and vendor ratings.
Step 3: If a water buyer subsequently finds out that a vendor misreported water availability, price, or quality, the buyer can file a complaint with M-Maji via USSD. The database will keep track of complaints and alert future buyers of such negative histories through the use of vendor ratings.
The launch had the honor of hosting government officials such as Chairman of ODM Mr. Ombongo, Area Chief of Sarangombe Mr. Ongweso, Area councillor Kodiao, Chief of Makina Christine Lithwa also availed herself. There were also Stakeholder representatives from Umande Trust among the few were Musimi Boni. Stanford University was also represented by Professors Joshua Cohen and Terry Winograd.
The launch was breathtaking filled with entertainment from the Kibera Hamlet school who brought a splash of colors to the day with their acrobatic dances and flexible moves, a musician spoke about the importance of water and marveled the crowd. Songs were sung by local primary schools from Kibera, a play was done to showcase the lifestyle of water vendors who were faced with obstacles from harsh customers who complained about the quality of water.
Mr. Ongweso the Area Chief of Kibera talked about some few challenges that Kibera inhabitants faced. He addressed the issue of contaminated water being something that could be controlled if people took responsibilities of where they dispose waste. He said Sarangombe has five tanks for water and pipes that direct water to different locations however, people always interfere with them and cut them so as to get water. This exposes the clean water to germs and external waste that could as a result cause diseases.
Vendor registration was also being initiated at the launch where we had different vendors putting down their phone numbers and location so as to be part of the system. Customers who wanted more explanation of how M-Maji works were also putting down their names and numbers so as to be given a text of how it actually functions. However, a practical demonstration was done to everyone who came on the simple process of M-Maji.
Although the code was not activated the people were excited and anticipated the new solution of water access. They were informed of its soon activation and embraced it positively.