So far in this series I have tried to share the fundamentals of social impact venture building: the why's and how's. In this blog post I would like to make it practical and share a story of launching the beginnings of a social impact venture. This is the story of E-Express.
The Covid crisis sharpened the need for abundant well priced cleaning supplies particularly for informal and remote communities. These communities face highly priced goods distributed using the formal retail networks, usually far from their homes. An additional impact of Covid was a spike in unemployment albeit unemployment in Namibia has always been a chronic challenge. It was clear that a new approach compared to formal retail outlets was necessary to reach the underserved communities.
Inspired by the pop-up shop movement and taking principles from the green economy, E-Express was born as a last-mile distributor of FMCG goods starting with cleaning supplies, using recycled plastic bottles to distribute these products and offering bulk refills by customer's own containers, distributed from refurbished shipping containers.
To test the hypothesis of low-priced cleaning goods in informal communities, the first store was launched in Windhoek in 2020. During the launch, the various parameters of the model were adjusted in a nimble and iterative manner to get the “recipe” right. The store staff were intentionally recruited from a community of unemployed youth in an effort to address the additional issue of unemployment.
Given the overwhelmingly positive response to the first pop-up store, the Mariental store was quickly planned and launched in early 2021, catering to this underserved community in the south of Namibia. Future launches are planned, as well as expanding the offered goods and implementing a franchise model with the goal to reach commercial profitability as a tactic to reach sustainable impact.
The aspiration is to build a case study both for Namibia and the rest of the world, and this experience serve as inspiration to address the needs of similar communities.
I hope this will inspire you to get involved in the community. Visit the E-Express project page at www.impacttank.org.na/e-express to learn more.