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Why Trust?

A man walks to a stall in the market, he purchases foodstuff he expects to last his family the whole month and realizes he needs more cash. Leaving his goods there, he tells the trader he will be right back. He walks off leaving his goods and cash with the trader. He is not concerned about losing his goods or hard-earned cash. He goes off to return at an unspecified time.

A mother of 3 does her monthly shopping at an adjacent stall. She makes purchases worth ₦24,700 and hands over ₦25,000. Her change is ₦300. The trader doesn’t have smaller bills so she leaves the change with him and tells him “Ba komai” (no problem), “sai wata mai zuwa in sha Allah” (see you next month God willing)

A lady sends her teenage younger sister to the market to buy some urgent condiments for her, she had just started cooking lunch when she realized she was out of certain items she needed. On getting to the market, the sister hurriedly picks up the items and rushes out of the store dropping a ₦1,000 note on the table. The trader sharply calls her back, hands her back the money and tells her to remind her sister that 2 weeks ago she had overpaid for certain items so she didn’t need to pay for these. Neither sister remembers the transaction but both are grateful for the surplus.

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These transactions and many more like them are the backbone of commerce in Northern Nigeria. The unwritten rules and arrangements that drive microeconomics within our society. Strangers are always baffled when they observe these “exotic” practices which are never backed by any documentation, but having delved deep into the system with many stakeholders, the answer is always the same… AMANA. 

“AMANA”, means “trust” in Hausa. But more than that it represents a moral code which must be upheld for any society to flourish. For centuries, the people of what is now northern Nigeria established and maintained economic relationships based on Amana. The ability to trust that everyone is acting in good faith is fundamental to these societies which form the core of CoAmana’s focus area. Our most active state in Nigeria is Kano state, unsurprisingly named the “Center of Commerce”, for its bustling activity and wide influence in the West Africa region. Almost all economic activity in these societies are Amana-based systems which is why you find every market having some sort of honour system in place that serves as a foundation for all trading.

How do you digitize a process which has been in place for so long and which serves the markets so well without digitizing the market itself? That is a question we constantly chew on at CoAmana. While digitizing the entire market operations is out of the scope of our current roadmap, we have built a foundation on which any future digitization can sit. What we have done is to attempt to digitize ‘trust’. By mimicking the established hierarchies in the market, we created a digital solution which optimizes processes within the markets and critically strengthens market linkages. We incorporated the markets, market clusters, market leaders, traders & farmers as entities on our platform and developed robust tools for each entity unique to their requirements. Our suite of web, mobile and offline tools are built to subtly fit into the existing market operations and eventually become the critical infrastructure of the various operations. This approach has enabled us to record tremendous successes in bringing the markets into the digital age.

As expected, one of the obstacles we consistently face when activating a new market is establishing trust. Before we talk about technology or innovation, we must first convince the stakeholders of our sincere intentions. Unless we can demonstrate that we come in the spirit of Amana, we are unlikely to be able to onboard such a market. Thankfully, our vision has always been rooted in the belief that businesses must be socially responsible, and we have been able to demonstrate it to all our existing and prospective market communities. We have been fortunate to earn the trust of marketing communities across our operating area to the point of being accepted as part of the economy.  We reached an apogee when we realized that market actors were now willing to leave produce/funds in our custody without any documentation (which we nevertheless insist on), and recognize us as facilitators for their transactions. Clearly, our investment in Trust has paid off.

After all, who better to support Amana, than CoAmana.

Building Trust with Users of New Digital Solutions

Trust, a psychological state comprised of real or perceived vulnerability and openness with another person or entity in anticipation of a positive outcome is imperative when introducing new technology in any niche. Particularly, to end users not familiar with adapting to technological innovations or end users unwilling to change from the current processes and protocols they are already familiar with. This brief article will highlight some key factors to consider when building trust with end users of digital solutions. 

Interdependencies which enable trust are theorized to be cognitively and emotionally hardwired, given our pro-social nature as humans and our vulnerability at birth and dependence on a trusted parent or caregiver. As we grow older and experience and understand the negative consequences of trusting the wrong person or entity we become more risk averse, preserving our trust for only candidates we deem worthy. Further, the degree to which an individual trusts another can also be determined by that person’s history of prior failed and successful relationships based on trust.

Yet, even individuals who have suffered from perpetual violations of trust must trust just enough to be functional in society; this could range from trusting the pilot just enough to land the plane without sabotaging it when travelling to trusting the prescriptions of a physician just enough to get better when ill. Trust, in this sense, is not unidimensional but best conceived of as operating along a hierarchal continuum.

As innovators trying to gain the trust of end users, it is important to understand how individuals on average evaluate trustworthy relationships and factors that fuel their aversion to relationships based on trust. Presented below is a non-exhaustive practical account of factors to consider when trying to build trust for the uptake of new digital solutions.

Credibility, Integrity and Honesty: Even the simplest of decisions are complicated by a series of conscious and non-conscious cost-benefit analysis that can occur in seconds. Lacking credibility, integrity or honesty are three core components that could significantly negatively affect the end user’s evaluation of your solution. End users, in the absence of any history or knowledge of your innovation or product, are likely to use their knowledge of other products to assess yours. A climate of internet/phone-based scammers is likely to make end users sceptical about converting to digital processes, particularly when finances are involved. During the trust-building process, it is important to realise that in the absence of a well-known brand name, individuals are likely to make judgements about your product based on the failures of your perceived predecessors. Therefore, these failures must not be swept under the rug as the problems of a third party lacking credibility but engaged with to make potential end users understand how you would not make the same mistakes or lapses of moral and ethical judgement, in an honest and verifiable manner.   

Value, Ability and Consistency: The most successful businesses address needs, either pre-existing needs, needs the end-user was never aware of but became enlightened about, or newly created needs that the end user has to now address. The beginning of almost every trust-based relationship, particularly business-based relationships is the cost-benefit analysis. The end user, either articulated or not, will be primarily concerned about the value your innovation offers. End users will also want to know if you have to ability to deliver on the value you claim to bring to them. Lastly, there must be consistency, trust building is perpetual; it is not a one-time battle, but a journey that must continue against all odds. 

No Zero-Sum Games: Utilization of your product must be a win-win situation for both your product and the end user. Getting new users to trust your product enough to engage with it is indeed a difficult process. However, part of the key to successful trust-based business relationships and brand loyalty is the emotional and cognitive feeling of triumph the end user gets after using your product; the feeling that they have successfully navigated the various options available and utilized one where they have not left feeling cheated or exploited.

Leverage Reviews and feedback: For startups, and indeed, any organisation, reviews and feedback, particularly if negative and reoccurring, must be viewed as an opportunity for learning and improving services.  Monitoring, evaluation and learning can sometimes be resource intensive, and biased if not outsourced. However, getting feedback from users is a cost-effective way of understanding the user experience of your product 

Leverage on Data and External Facing Regulatory Mechanisms: Maximize the use of data generated through your digital solution in an ethical way that provides added value for your end users. Provide mechanisms for end users to rate each other; this gives users a greater sense of control over who they choose to interact with. 

This brief article highlighted some key factors to consider when building trust with new users of digital solutions. Building and maintaining trust with end users of digital solutions must be conceived as perpetual processes. Credibility, integrity, honesty, value for money, ability for the digital solution to perform consistently, providing win-win situations, leveraging on customer feedback, data and rating systems are some of the practical ways to build trust with new users of digital solutions.

Beyond the Physical

An often overlooked aspect of maintaining a successful and efficient organization is work culture. Company culture goes beyond what can be perceived externally, such as: accolades, dress codes, and even PR; but rather it shows in the everyday routines and behaviors of individual employees in the workplace and in how they relate to their fellow peers, as well as management.

The Coamana Nigerian Team

Oftentimes company culture is boiled down to simply, “how things work around here”, but in order for an organization to pull together its core values and general mission statement, there must be room for an evolving company culture. For this to occur, management and leadership must take up the flag post by modelling new behaviors and maintaining new protocols to show employees that such changes will also be to their benefit. CoAmana often employs new procedures, particularly within our operations department; and the change very much starts from the top down.

As HR we serve as the go-between between employees and executives. We guide leadership with the understanding of how their decisions will affect staff engagement and satisfaction. In the reverse, HR can also influence leadership by pushing forth rules and protocols that encourage new behaviors among staff, which in turn influences the decisions of management and the executive level.

The Coamana Kenyan Team

To this effect, HR strives to ensure that we are consistently opening communication channels with employees as well as actively listening to their concerns, providing clear and actionable feedback, and maintaining consistency in protocol and internal management so that nobody ever feels dismissed or unengaged within the CoAmana Ecosystem.

A poor company culture shows when employees do not have a unified vision for the company, are not having their concerns and opinions heard by management and leadership, and there is a distinct focus on external factors and not the internal resources and amenities that are available to staff.

Rather we want an environment that’s inclusive, allows for career growth, and is flexible. We understand that everybody has a life and responsibilities outside of their job that also requires time and dedication. At Coamana we have dedicated ourselves to reducing staff turnover, as well as promoting in-house. It is imperative that our employees know that we have their best interests at heart.

Rome was not built in a day; and as such, we will continue to grow and evolve as an organization, both internally and externally. However, with open communication and trust in our peers and leadership, we trust that CoAmana will maintain the type of work environment to bring out the best in each other.

Financial Solutions to Social Problems

In my short time at CoAmana, I have come to realize that a common theme is unlearning and relearning. Anybody from a financial background reading this will understand how hard it is to let go of all the rules, expectations and viewpoints that have come to be a crucial part of us.

Nigerian Market

Before joining CoAmana I had never had the experience of working with farmers and at first, it felt like I had been dropped into an ocean and my choices were sink or swim. We have had to constantly realign our processes in order to address the needs of the farmers and traders to ensure that our practices are more impact than profit driven.

It is common knowledge in the agriculture space that one of the major problems faced by farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is having access to ready buyers for their produce and at reasonable prices. On the other hand, traders within the markets have ready buyers but oftentimes they do not have the required capital to source for products directly from farmers.

How did we address this problem? We stepped in and served as market links through Amana Market, for registered traders within our partner Market Clusters. We provide them with bridge resources to enable them to get these products to trade with. The major condition for accessing these resources is that these traders have to source products directly from farmers.

Over time, this model has allowed traders and farmers to expand their businesses with confidence. We monitor each party’s performance over time and increase their working capital limits in order to encourage them. With this model, we have impacted thousands of businesses and built trust across different clusters in 2 countries. We have seen sales groups go from transacting in thousands to transacting in millions. Despite all the successes we have had with the current model, we have come to realize that it is not foolproof as we have had to put in place several mechanisms to ensure it works and till date, as we have continued to expand, we are constantly having to learn and adapt our processes. 

Most of the challenges we (CoAmana, farmers and traders) have faced so far, have stemmed from the political, social, environmental and economic factors; Inflation rates affecting prices and traders’ abilities to meet up, volume and quality of farmers’ produce threatened by drought/ climate change, just to mention a few.

Stay tuned as we will give more insight to these challenges and how we have been able to navigate these challenges in our next issue.

Trust: Because We Kept Showing Up

Even though Halima was not present for the CSA day in Abuja in 2021, she told me how excited she was about the success of the event and how she hoped to attend one in the future. When describing the event, she said, “We are happy that our company is growing and we trust that it will be better for us all.”

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I Can See a Future…

There are very few joys in life that surpass coming face to face with people that have been impacted by your work, especially if most of your work revolves around a computer screen.

As a result of the partnerships we have built over the years, Amana Market has undertaken various projects that have resulted in high engagements with female farmers and traders. During these projects one major obstacle we have faced is how much more expensive it is to onboard women than it is for men. However the major upside is that getting the buy-in of one woman within a community has widespread impact.

Last month, as part of a series of field interviews we encountered Amina Salmanu, a farmer from Bunkure in Kano State Nigeria. Amina was such a joy to speak with, her smile was welcoming and her excitement was infectious. While she spoke about the obstacles she had faced as a farmer within her community, she explained to us that the use of technology had lessened some of her burden. She narrated to us her initial difficulty with adapting to technology and how she had enlisted the help of her son. Amina’s son is in his early twenties and has been helping her farm since completing secondary school, she had hoped that the opportunity for him to attend a university would present itself but the limited income she got from selling her farm produce would not be able to sustain her household as well as provide for her eldest son to attend a university.
One attending one of our training sessions hosted by our network officer in Kano, Amina saw the potential value she and her family could gain if she was able to learn how to use Amana Market to sell her goods. She tried her best to follow during the training but she admitted that several things went over her head. At the end of the session she waited patiently for a chance to talk to the network officer so she could ask if she could bring her son to the network officer at a later date for her to explain the process to her son because she believed that her son would be in a better position to understand everything that was said during the training.
About a week later, during her trip to the market to sell off her goods, Amina brought her son to our demo location in Danwanu market to speak to the Network officer. Much to Amina’s delight, her son was able to fully understand the process of selling on Amana Market and was even able to list her sesame seed on the platform for sale and thus began Amina’s journey with Amana Market.

In the 3 months since Amina began using Amana Market, she found 3 regular buyers for her sesame seeds and her son is now an Amana Market Supply Agent helping several farmers within their community sell on Amana Market. 
At the end of her interview she told us that she was beginning to hope again and she should see a future where her children would not be limited and had a chance to attend a university.

Sadiki’s 5,000 Magunia: A Story of Data, Information and Growth

From Giakanga to King’ong’o, Sadiki’s Ubora maize flour is widely regarded as the best quality maize flour in the Nyeri region of Kenya. Restaurants, households and even traders contact Sadiki on an almost daily basis to buy some Ubora flour. There is a popular saying that the best ugali in Nyugali is made with Ubora flour. 

Sadiki has owned the same shop in Gitathini with her sisters for the last 15 years. 

Sadiki has bought maize from the same farmers and used the same processing machine for the last 15 years. She has built a loyal customer base, and her suppliers know exactly what Sadiki needs when she needs it. The secret to Sadiki’s success is simple: consistency. The same people, the same product, at the same time for 15 years.

While consistency has helped Sadiki grow her business in the last 10 years, her loyalty and circle of supply and production has created a massive barrier to scaling her business. It is common knowledge that there is demand for Ubora flour in other regions of Kenya, and while travelers and other businesses have continually told Sadiki that she should sell her flour to more regions and make more money, Sadiki has consistently refused these offers because she is afraid of the impact that growth will have on her business.

Sadiki operates her business with knowledge. Sadiki knows the 28 farmers who supply her a total of 950 magunia of maize every three months. She knows her processing plant manager and her farmers know the kind of maize Sadiki can buy. 950 magunia is always enough to meet the demands of all her buyers, and so far, her business has thrived on the originality and quality of her flour. That is what Ubora flour is; quality because Sadiki knows. 

Expanding her business provides too many unknowns for Sadiki. She does not know where most of the buyers are. She does not know how much it will cost to transport her flour to other regions. She does not know the prevailing prices in other markets. These are just the unknowns in selling. What about the increased demand? Where will she find farmers that will give her the quality of maize she needs to keep the Ubora brand? What about processing? How much will she have to pay these new farmers? What happens when the farmers don’t supply enough? 

The answer to Sadiki’s questions lies in the data provided by market activities. Around Nyeri and Ihururu, over 1,500 farmers produce maize at the quality that Sadiki needs; they transact on a weekly to monthly basis and have built systems that allow them to supply over 5,000 magunia of maize to businesses across the country. Buyers in Nakaru will pay over 1.5 times more for flour of the Ubora quality because most of the buyers are retailers and businesses. This information is generally simply processed by monitoring how markets in Nakaru operate. However, with this data, there is no simple way of providing Sadiki and the thousands of traders like her with this information. This is where we come in.

If we can curate and manage this data, we can build a system where business owners like Sadiki can grow from 950 magunia to 5,000 magunia because they have accurate data. Investors can see the potential for Ubora’s growth and the information from our indegenous businesses can grow the potential of our continent. 

We know that Sadiki’s story is still being written. We want to join her to write the next chapter.

Finding Allies – Issue 1: Unlearning

Welcome to the ‘finding allies’ section of our renewed newsletter ‘Tuamke’, where we take you on a journey with us through our process of unlearning and relearning. We will share monthly articles, videos, and audios addressing how development, technology and business can be more inclusive. 

CoAmana has been working for 4 years to understand the best ways to solve market inefficiencies for low income and rural populations across Africa. Before then, many members of our team worked in academia, communications, tech, finance, development consultation and project management across sub-saharan Africa. As the farmers would say, we are ‘book people’, a term they often use to classify educated English speaking people who have been made impractical and hubristic by their dependency on using external over refined or complex knowledge.

Tanzania, MandaA – 25 APRIL 2013: Woman going to work with the hoe in field

However, having spent years in the field, our entire management team have had to go through a process of unlearning and dropping common ‘educated’ assumptions in favour of listening and serving our customer base. We started out with “problems -> solutions -> people”, but our experience in the field has taught us to be more focused on “people -> problem -> solution” and we would like you to join us as we share the stories and experiences that have led us to where we are now.  

We invite you to follow us as we explore opportunities for sustained impact by revisiting well known assumptions from the perspective of the people we aim to impact. In a world where ‘book people’ are anchored in the metaverse, blockchain, RCTs, satellites tracking weather patterns, big data, machine learning, digital information and NFTs. How do we ensure that we forge relationships with people in such a way that it ensures that they are carried along by forming a common ground for change? How do we see the communities we work with as allies and vice versa? 

Each issue of our newsletter will focus on unpacking a single learning. Our next issue will focus on ancient wisdom found only within local market systems and how it has worked for people and the environment. You will hear from experts that have been in this space and not just the expert “book people”, but people who know their communities and these age-old systems more than we do. People who understand what it takes to create indigenous change.

The Start of Something New

Dear readers,

Since the last time you heard from us, so much has happened; we have grown, we have learnt, our goals are much closer and we are excited to share it all with you as you join us on our journey. Join us as we start something new.

Sometimes we reminisce on how far we have come from our tiny office space in Abuja  to where we are now. We now have a staff of over 30 across Nigeria and Kenya.

We have had to unlearn and learn as we pursued our dream. The experience we gained along the way has shaped us into a formidable African company that is capable of solving the problems within our purview. 

In the last 4 years we have dedicated ourselves to building our product; Amana Market and so far we have over 150,000 farmers transacting, over 1,200 farmers with insurance in 2020 and over 10,000 access financial services in 2021.

Recently, we sat down with one of our active agents in Kaduna, Titilayo to hear what she had to say regarding her experience using Amana Market so far; “They told us they will link us to the farmers to cover the price gap from what we get in the market”… “I use that platform and they will give you what you want” … “I have bought and I have sold to some people. I added a little amount on each bag so it improved my income too”. Feedback such as these validate our experience so far and we believe that as you join us in our journey forward, you too will share in our victories.

We invite you to join us as we take the next step into achieving a collective goal for Africa and the world.

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