Hungry? Try a microfranchise

    Women in Benin participate in a nutrition workshop. Bringing together women entrepreneurs and locally sourced produce to deliver nutritious, sanitary and delicious meals to low-income urban areas is the aim of the MamaCarts microfranchise project. Photo by: Rachel Miller

    Next year marks a milestone for Rachel Miller and the rest of the team at MamaCarts. They will finally see their award-winning social business model in practice.

    MamaCarts seeks to promote both social entrepreneurship and good nutrition in food-insecure areas of the developing world, through food cart microfranchising. The place the founders chose to pilot their idea: Benin.

    Benin was a natural choice for Miller; it was where she said she learned the true nature of hunger.

    The former Peace Corps volunteer explained: “Seasonal fluctuations in growing seasons make commodities, such as corn, very expensive. Sometimes fresh vegetables are just not around or are too expensive, making it difficult to maintain a consistent nutrient intake.”

    “Even if someone gets a big bowl of rice to eat, that doesn’t mean their nutritional needs are satisfied,” she added. “The ramifications of this problem are very real — premature blindness, higher susceptibility to various illnesses, anemia; the list is very long.”

    MamaCarts plans to establish cooking centers that source all of their food from local suppliers. Kitchen waste will be converted into compost and sold to farmers in the organization’s supply chain.

    The cooking center will then sell cooked meals to food cart vendors, who like MamaCarts cooking center staff, will undergo a structured training on nutrition and business, seek loans and resell the meals in a franchised, human-powered food carts, so that “their earnings are their own at the end of each day.”

    “Our goal is to prove the specific food cart model and demonstrate that nutrition can be sold as an aspirational product,” Miller told Devex, noting that MamaCarts entrepreneurs will need around $100-$200 per year to sustain their business much like other microfranchises.

    The training is open to everyone, but MamaCarts, as its name suggests, concedes that it targets women for the program, as they are a more marginalized group and tend to support several family members.

    The MamaCarts team is well aware of challenges especially for a new brand. To ensure product adoption, the group plans to carry out several rounds of meal testing with focus groups.

    “MamaCarts will sell complete, clean and delicious meals. However, it is important to realize that nutrition isn’t always the best selling point,” Miller said. “Building a trusted and reliable brand that families regularly purchase takes time, the right price point, and a solid product.”

    Beyond bolstering local supply chains and training Beninese locals to become nutritional ambassadors, MamaCarts has another goal for the pilot project: It aims to prove or disprove the food cart franchise model and gain a better understanding of purchasing motivations.

    Miller said she and her colleagues intend to open their findings to the public and any interested aid organization.

    “It is encouraging that more social enterprises are discussing the importance of metric measurement. It is no longer acceptable to simply measure ‘meals served.’ That doesn’t necessarily translate into ‘lives improved,’” Miller argued. “In addition to locally impacting the communities in which we work through economic empowerment of entrepreneurs, our goal is to engage with the larger NGO network to better understand methods in which to co-create solutions within communities and how to better measure success.”

    Read our previous #innov8aid and let us know what you think about this innovation by leaving a comment below.

    About the author

    • Eliza Villarino

      Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.