Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Update on Frugal Innovation Practicum 2 Projects

Students, vendors, and facilitators after the first design charrette
A major outcome of the FIP2 were projects designed to meet critical needs in the four markets. Over a period of two weeks, students and market committees designed projects based on action research, collaborative identification of critical problems, and through a process called ‘design thinking.’ In addition, each market had a modest sum of money (around 720USD), made available through a small grant provided by a student from the FIP1 cohort and a crowd-funding campaign. The design-thinking forum was carried out over a period of two half days and resulted in four project plans.
The money was allocated to markets in late November of 2016.  As of February, 2017, three out of four projects have been completed, while the fourth is still in process. An update for each market follows. The information contained in the following summaries was collected during visits to markets in February and through conversations with market representatives and Mr. Genscher M’Bwabwa, the Director of Commerce at the Lilongwe City Council.
A representative from Central Market with the *big* check

On important outcome of all four projects is an apparent improvement in communications and transparency between the city council and market committees.  While this is in large part due to a commitment on the part of individuals in the market and the city council, the practicum provided a forum to bring these parties together in new ways.  In addition, involvement of students and academic institutions as intermediaries provided a theretofore non-existent service of conflict resolution between market committees and the city council. Thus far, this appears to be a good model that warrants scaling in coming months and years.

Area 25A

The Area 25 market committee decided to renovate toilets as a first step towards increasing the cleanliness of markets.  In the past, the toilets were managed by an individual that had been contracted by the city, but who had no other connection to the market.  This person allowed the toilets to fall into disrepair and neglected to pay the water bill, even though he had been collecting user fees from vendors. 

To date, the successfully accomplished work includes:
Pointing out the newly routed drainage
  •  Renovation/upgrades to toilets
  •  Extensive re-routing of pipes to the septic tank
  • Creation of a new toilet management plan, which is agreed upon by vendors and which ensures accountability within the market

The market committee said that the fee structure will require people to pay to use the toilets, but not the urinals.  When it was pointed out that women still have to pay to urinate because they use a toilet, they agreed to rethink this so that men and women were treated fairly.  The final decision will be made by the market committee.

A newly rehabilitated toilet!
Due to the previous mismanagement by the contracted city employee, the water bill went unpaid for many months and was eventually turned off.  As of mid-February, the water had  been off for four years and had not been turned back on.  The Lilongwe City Council appeared to be seeking a quick resolution to the matter, and was attempting to have the water board re-direct the outstanding bill to the original city employee, which would allow the water to be turned on in Area 25.

The money provided by the practicum did not quite cover the costs of the toilet renovations. The remainder was collected from vendors and the work was completed by people from within the markets.

Mr. M’bwabwa cited the Area 25 management plan as a model for other markets.  Aside from the daily improvement that the toilet brings, it is perhaps this ‘process innovation’ that will have a greater impact on how markets are managed. 

Area 47

The new gate at Area 47
Area 47 identified a number of critical needs, but, given the available funds, decided to focus on installing a gate in order to enhance the security of the market.  This market is located next to a bar, the patrons of which are reported to wander into the market at night and steal food.  The gate is closed at around 6pm, which prevents this kind of theft from occurring.

Not all business people at the market are happy with the installation of the gate. At least one tailor said that he was no longer allowed to stay late, which, he said, was inhibiting his ability to work.  Currently, there are no plans to come to an alternative agreement about what time the gate is closed


Like the other markets, Lizulu identified a number of critical needs, but decided that the installation of floodlights was a priority since many vendors need to be in the market when it is dark.  However, the amount of money provided by the student practicum falls considerably short of what is needed.  The practicum contributed around $720 and the total quotation for the work is close to $2000.  In conversations with both the city and the market committee, there is an emerging consensus about how to close this gap.  The city is likely going to contribute both labor and materials, while vendors will contribute, as well. Though no fixed date for the work had been established, the willingness on the part of both parties to complete the project was evident.


Central Market is the largest and one of the oldest markets in Lilongwe.  A broad range of vendors works from this market, including a number of small restaurateurs.  During the practicum, the market committee identified the lack of affordable water access as the most critical issue to address with the available funds.  In a market serving 2800 vendors, there were only two water taps. It is worth noting that the market committee had long been trying to resolve this problem, waiting only on approval from the city council to install the taps, but that their efforts had been frustrated by confusion and miscommunication with the city council.  In addition, the market committee noted that many vendors in the market were unaware of, or resistant to, the idea that water bills had to be paid by the vendors. As a result, the market was behind on paying water bills.

One of the new taps at Central Market
During the practicum, the market committee was able to devise a clear strategy for installing the taps and a management/communication plan for collecting fees and paying water bills.  In addition, the practicum provided a forum for pushing past the inertia that had frustrated efforts to resolve the issue with the city council.  

Despite suffering a severe fire shortly after completion of the practicum, three new taps have been installed and are currently functioning in different parts of the market.  The market committee will manage these taps independent of city council oversight and have hired attendants to collect fees at each.