Technology can help spaza shops become a hub of learning, skills development in underserved communities
By Andrew Dawson, MD at MACmobile
Spaza shops are at the heart of many South African informal communities, selling small quantities of everything, from groceries and home care products to medication and cleaning supplies. For the millions of citizens who live hand-to-mouth, the role of the spaza shop as a bulk breaker is a lifeline. Yet what if these community hubs could become more than just general dealers, and play an active role in the upskilling and upliftment of the people they serve? Technology has the potential to help them do this, creating centres of learning, education and distribution enabled by a digital world.
The digital key unlocks a new world of possibility
Distributors have already seen the value in bringing spaza shops into a digital economy – simplifying the ordering and selling processes to create greater efficiency and line of sight into the last mile of the value chain.
Merchants are able to automatically generate orders without having to wait for a sales rep to make a call, which makes their processes faster and more efficient as well. However, this same technology has the power to evolve into so much more than just a logistics tool.
Once digital solutions are in place, the technology can, fairly simply, be extended to benefit the community at large with a platform to assist with educating and growing opportunities. The same system that is used to send out information around product promotions in-store can be used to address knowledge gaps in the community.
Engage to educate
Ensuring the stability and sustainability of spaza shop ventures requires the owners to undergo skills development themselves. Improving entrepreneurial, selling and financial skills enable more stable and sustainable ventures. From this point, educational portals can be incorporated to offer community members access to learning initiatives.
For example, an educational portal could aid in providing communities with a stopgap for much needed skills shortages. Entrepreneurial courses could provide better financial and business management skills for micro to small business owners, who need support and guidance to ensure business continuity. These same skills can provide opportunities for new business and the growth of these micro enterprises. Possible medical skills could be taught in order to provide a better understanding of basic health awareness. This will also allow community members to be treated locally rather than seeking healthcare further away or at busy healthcare facilities. The application and reach for a community portal is possibly endless. We need to capture the opportunity and make the best use of enabling less fortunate communities – as they could make a world of difference for the country.
Spokes from the hub
With economic sustainability at severe risk due to COVID-19, rampant unemployment and governmental instability, it is essential to grow greater participation from a larger proportion of the population. Skills development and upliftment of people is critical in achieving this.
If those involved in the logistics chain look beyond generating revenue and growing business opportunities, towards adding value to communities, we could help people move beyond survival mode. The spaza shop is the one constant in often disrupted communities, and they have the potential to become the centre of a positive ripple effect. They are the connection to the community and have the potential to become the hub for creating circular micro-economies within underserved communities.