We are digitising the ‘mama fua’ enterprise
When a mother to her former high school friend came over to ask for a cleaning job in 2014, Elizabeth Mwangi knew that something had to be done to ensure that such people find it easy to find work. Years later, after completing campus in 2018, an idea struck her while chatting up with a cab driver.
“I thought to myself “why can’t we have an ‘Uber’ for mama fua?” I realised the potential for the app after observing many mama fuas on the side of the road in many estates waiting to be hired. I saw an app as an easy way for these women to reach their clients,” she recalls.
Together with her co-founder, Samwel Njiru, she incorporated the idea in March 2021 and launched the product Gwiji in April 2022 after developing a business plan, building the team and securing a developer. Having worked a lot in the slums with many Non-Governmental Organisations also gave her the knowledge on what the women in the slums go through, 90 per cent of which earn their living through casual cleaning.
Exploitation by clients
“From our research we discovered that a lot of mama fuas were exploited by their clients because there were no fixed prices for casual cleaning. Additionally, they have no guarantee of payment for work done because there is no one backing them,” says Elizabeth, who is also a trained architect.
Gwiji is split into two parts; there is the Gwiji Clients (which allows clients to post jobs if they need cleaning services) and then there is Gwiji Cleaners that connects cleaners with cleaning jobs. While the app is available via a normal download on the App Store for iOs and Play Store for Android devices, the cleaners have to register before using it.
“In terms of working, the cleaner sees all the jobs posted within their app, and information such as the client location and amount to be paid. They pick the most suitable based on convenience and their ability to meet client requirements,” adds Elizabeth.
While the idea seemed simple on paper, the founders later discovered that breaking it down to monetisation, the app’s features and wireframes is what brought about the challenges. They discovered that they needed a developer and finding an affordable and competent one, was another hurdle in the process.
“On the other hand, approaching the cleaning ladies was no easy task. They were suspicious of our intentions and some accused us of wanting to export them to Saudi Arabia. To our benefit, however, many of them had smartphones and this was key to our business,” she recalls.
Rolling it out
Eventually, with persistence and resilience, the two were able to find a good developer and secured a few mama fuas whom they registered for their launch. There are currently over 150 vetted and registered cleaners in the platform. In terms of clients, they have amassed more than 450 downloads with an average of six orders per day, with much of the work coming from Nairobi estates such as Lang’ata, Madaraka, Lavington, South B and South C.
However, one of their biggest challenges has been working with a limited budget. “Delivering on the app, covering operational expenses and maintaining our workforce has been an everyday struggle, but we are rejuvenated with every new download,” Elizabeth intimates.
Data protection and security was also a challenge at first, but they have since ensured that their cleaners are vetted before training. She says, “They are then required to provide copies of their identification documents in addition to a letter from their local chief or previous employer, as proof of their identity. On the client’s side, we conduct follow ups once an order is posted to ensure that the work is well done and their property is secure.”
Elizabeth adds that creating consumer awareness has also been challenging due to the fact that theirs is a fairly new concept in the market.
Upping consumer reach
“Presently, we are in the process of recruiting a salesperson to aid in increasing our consumer reach and conversation rate. On digital literacy on the mama fuas’ part, we actually discovered that most of them already had phones that they mostly used for WhatsApp and Facebook. So, taking them through to understand the app is easy. Our biggest challenge has remained getting the right channel to create the awareness. We’ve tried social media advertising, which has been translating into downloads without orders,” she divulges.
In future, they would like to expand their operations across Nairobi, servicing households and apartments, with a vision to later expand to the corporate world.
“With this, we will be able to create steady employment for all registered women working as mama fuas, providing them with sufficient income to support their families. The goal here is women empowerment,” she says in ending.