Richard Seshie

Ashoka Fellow
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Ghana
Fellow since 2013
This description of Richard Seshie's work was prepared when Richard Seshie was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2013 .

Introduction

Most Ghanaians live in rural areas and more than half of these individuals are isolated without ready access to markets, water and fuel. Richard has created a rural transportation system that is designed to meet these needs, improve returns to farmers and create employment opportunities for young people within the transportation system’s infrastructure.

L'idée nouvelle

Seventy percent of Ghana’s population lives in rural areas and the lack of a viable transportation system in these areas makes it difficult for many to access basic amenities such as water, firewood and food from the market. The lack of such a system compounds difficulties for farmers who struggle to get their goods from farms to the primary market. Richard’s transportation solution solves this problem, which he refers to as the first mile challenge. The first mile is the distance between an individual and the first points necessary to supporting their livelihood.

Richard has created a transportation system around the agricultural value chain that simultaneously solves the first mile challenge for farmers while creating employment opportunities for young people in rural areas. This system uses cargo motorbikes that can transport more goods and people across distances than is possible on foot or bicycle. He has created a network of drivers with these motorbikes, located in strategic spots that provide transportation services to the community. These drivers charge a small fee, with prices kept low by high competition amongst motorbike drivers within a geographic area, thereby increasing the quantity of goods that can be taken to market and ultimately, the net return to the farmer. When they are not transporting produce for farmers, these drivers transport people, firewood and water to and from homes at affordable rates.

Although Richard came at this idea from the perspective of farmers (the demand side), he is now also working on the opportunities that the supply side (transportation providers) presents. He is now building out the network of drivers so as to increase employment opportunities in rural areas. In addition, he is also working with the producers of these motorbikes to expand employment opportunities within the production chain of these motorbikes and in terms of maintenance services.

Richard has completed the pilot phase of his model in one region of Northern Ghana and is now ready to take his idea to scale across the country.

Le problème

The average Ghanaian carries about ninety tons of goods per year on his/her back or head between the farmstead and the primary market, forest or river. This can be extenuating for many individuals but most face limited alternative transportation options to get goods to market or firewood and water back home. A farmer must carry a fifty-kilo bag once or twice from his/her farm to the local village market and then return with any unsold produce back to the farm at the end of the day. Physical transportation of goods reduces the amount that can be taken to market at any given time, therefore, capping the potential return to farmers at a low level.

A simple and tested solution is the use of bamboo bikes to transport goods. However, the riders are still left exhausted by the large and frequent loads and there is a limit on the weight that can be pulled by pedaling. Another solution in play is the use of commercial trucks to transport goods. These are either owned by wealthy farmers or by opportunistic middlemen. However, most farmers cannot afford to purchase their own trucks and given the middlemen’s prices, only a small fraction of the final value of goods is returned to the farmer. In addition, these trucks are not available at frequent intervals or at convenient times. However, with few other transportation options, produce is left to waste if farmers cannot get goods to market. This high cost solution also limits the potential revenue to farmers from the sale of their produce.

This transportation issue manifests itself in other ways in rural communities, such as accessing and transporting water and firewood and simple movements from the village to a nearby peri-urban center. Richard realized that the transportation problem represented an untapped opportunity to simultaneously provide much needed services to the community, improve returns to farmers and to address issues of youth idleness and unemployment in rural areas.

La stratégie

Richard began his initial pilot with bamboo cargo bicycles and quickly realized that these bikes were limited in the services they could provide and the distances they could cover with goods. He has since switched over to cargo motorbikes that cover larger distances and carry more goods and people. Richard enters a community by generating rural buy-in. He works with chiefs to ensure community involvement and the community selects the young people who will be drivers. These drivers are trained and stationed at strategic locations in the village but can also be called upon for specific services. These drivers charge small fees to get goods from farms to the rural primary market and/or to get other goods home. Richard has ensured that these prices stay low through market forces- he has concentrated enough drivers within a particular area in order to keep competition high and prices affordable. In this way, he is increasing the amount of goods that farmers can take to market and decreasing the transportation costs associated with this. He clusters five villages into a group and has created a central collection point where farmers bring their produce and buyers come to buy goods. He is currently developing deals to ensure consistent buyers while also thinking through solutions, in partnership with extension services, to ensure consistent quality and quantity of produce from farmers.

Richard has also built out the supply side of this transportation system. He has developed a financing solution for his organization to purchase an initial number of bikes. He will leverage existing grant funding to buy a number of motorbikes and ensure access to an overdraft facility if and when needed. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has provided seed capital of $100 000, forty percent of which will be used to buy bikes and the remaining sixty percent acting as security for the overdraft facility. This facility allows him to continue to introduce new motorbikes into the market as he expands geographically. Richard is also establishing partnerships with local motorbike producers, such as Zoomlion and Motor King, for the production and supply of these bikes. These companies have trained maintenance experts who are both positioned in specific locations and others who are mobile. Their charges have been built into the original prices of the bikes, thereby providing “free” maintenance services to the drivers. He provides the drivers with the bikes collateral-free and they repay him within 12-18 months, at which time they own the bikes. He ploughs back the return from these drivers into a revolving loan fund in order to purchase new bikes for other young people in the future. In this way, Richard is creating opportunities for employment expansion along the motorbike value chain by ensuring increased and consistent demand for their products and services.

La personne

Richard was born in Ivory Coast, he came from a middle class family which migrated from Ivory Coast to Ghana and this was quite difficult for them. The political problems for him were traumatic. He left home to the University and went through a year of hardship this opened him to social entrepreneurship. Richard joined AIESFEC, an organization that empowers young people through international internship and training. While in the University Richard was the secretary general of the students’ union club. He initiated two ventures after he left the University, he started an organization in India called my world my choice, a premier program for youth leadership in sustainability, and it has been replicated in Brazil, Pakistan and Canada. He co-founded the AIESEC Alumni Sustainability Network, a virtually run association which brings together 500 sustainability professionals-having been former members of AIESEC and behind the largest competition in the world rewarding student-led sustainability projects inviting entries from 1100 Universities.
Richard was frustrated with the high prices of fruits and vegetables in Ghana, he realised that most African countries there’s focus on cash crops and neglect for staple foods, this has left the market to be informal and inefficient. Mobility by small holder farmers to take their goods to the markets was extremely intense; as a result he started VIVUUS to solve the first mile mobility problem for the small holder farmers by starting VIVUUS.