Tech startup Mobilized Construction is piloting an innovative new method of rebuilding African roads via mobile technology and a marketplace for micro-contracts.
Launched last year in Uganda and now moving into Kenya, Mobilized Construction enables local community members to manually rebuild roads by creating a marketplace for micro-contracts.
Its software maps road conditions to GPS coordinates, creates repair schedules, deploys individuals to fix road hazards, and monitors road performance, all through a mobile phone.
The Mobilized Construction technique is simple but effective. Someone drives over rural roads to gather road conditions, with the startup’s software measuring road topography – or bumpiness – to GPS coordinates. This creates a map of the rural roads and identifies which roads need repair.
The platform then creates road repair schedules and contracts to allow local individuals to fix these roads. Local contractors manually fix the roads, before Mobilized Construction measures the quality of the repair. Individuals are paid via mobile money.
“The benefits include capacity building, job creation, climate-resilient roads, more flexible repair schedules, and significantly cheaper costs compared to today,” co-founder Kevin Lee tells Disrupt Africa. “Our first road maintenance project in Luwero, Uganda cost US$1,500 per kilometre, one-tenth of the African Development Bank’s typical construction costs.”
Mobilized Construction was born one year ago, upon the realisation that less than one-third of Africans have access to an all-season road.
“This means after after heavy rains, rural communities can become completely isolated,” Lee says. “Societal costs include limited access to health clinics and schools, more expensive seed and fertilizer, potentially spoiled crops, and increased travel times. All of this could be addressed by repairing roads.”
The goal of the startup is to remove the need for, and cost of, heavy machinery road construction.
“Local governments have limited budgets to fix roads, and heavy machinery maintenance is expensive. Manually fixing roads stretches these existing budgets. Manually fixing roads does takes a longer time but road quality has been found to be comparable to heavy machinery fixed roads. Manual labor road maintenance also allows more flexibility in what type of work is done,” Lee says.
Investors have liked the idea, with Venture Cup and the Danish Innovation Fund backing the company in January and July. The startup has already completed its first project in Uganda and is now planning a pilot in neighbouring Kenya.
“We have also spoken to ministers and representatives from Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana, and Nigeria, and they have expressed interest,” says Lee.
Once testing is complete, Mobilized Construction plans to monetise by licensing its software platform to governments and international agencies such as the World Bank and the African Development Bank, charging a project implementation fee and an annual subscription.
For now, though, the challenge is to encourage uptake in a government-dominated industry, with Lee also saying infrastructure and roads “aren’t sexy”.
“The general attitude is “out of sight, out of mind.” With that said, it is exciting to innovate in such an environment and the fruits of our work have the potential to help entire communities,” he says.
“We are speaking with all levels of government, international agencies, and relief organisations to build a broad coalition to support roads in the development agenda.”