Consultant – Journey to Scale: Clean Cooking in Bidibidi, Uganda – PAYGo/PAYC Market Analysis and Design Study At Mercy Corps


Mercy Corps is a leading global organization powered by the belief that a better world is possible. In disaster, in hardship, in more than 40 countries around the world, we partner to put bold solutions into action — helping people triumph over adversity and build stronger communities from within. Now, and for the future.

Uganda is Africa’s largest refugee hosting country and one of the top five worldwide. As of December 2020, Uganda hosted 1.4 million refugees, most of whom have fled South Sudan’s conflict and unrest and settled in Uganda’s West Nile region. The Office of the Prime Minister and the international community have mobilized to meet refugee’s needs around shelter, food, water, and health, while also facilitating access to plots of land for agricultural activities. An important unmet challenge facing refugees and host communities in West Nile is the lack of reliable, affordable, and clean energy sources – for both electricity and cooking.

Worldwide, 2.6 billion people lack access to clean cooking facilities. Women and girls in rural, off-grid areas are proportionately affected by a lack of access to clean cooking facilities, especially in humanitarian settings. The consequences of inaction are vast: inefficient cooking methods contribute to the preventable death of nearly 4 million people each year; Uganda is expected to lose most of its forest cover in less than 25 years; in Bidibidi refugee camp, women are currently spending 2-3 hours collecting fuelwood almost every day; and current consumption of natural resources is causing tension between host and refugee communities. Without access to affordable clean cooking solutions Sustainable Development Goal 7 will not be met. The key barriers to cleaner cooking are: a) scarce contextualized product testing / acceptance, b) poor quality assurance practices and c) market barriers

Mercy Corps is exploring the extent to which Pay as You Cook (PAYC) solutions might help in addressing the need for clean cooking solutions by increasing access to and use of off-grid solar electric cookers among refugee and host community members in the West Nile region, specifically in Bidibidi. Mercy Corps has conducted research and programming on feasibility of lighting/powering PAYG energy in West Nile refugee settlements, and concluded that mobile money access and reach of PAYG agents is a constraining factor towards the expansion of these services within refugee settlements. Another constraining factor may be the ability/willingness of refugees to pay for energy services and seasonality of incomes, as current average energy expenditures are lower than recurring PAYG payments. Now we want to test if these assumptions are applicable also to PAYCook solutions.

Purpose / Project Description:

This research will reveal critical and actionable insights around two constraints (refugee ability/willingness to pay and reach of last mile mobile money agents and PAYC sales agents), with the goal of shaping Mercy Corps’ future market facilitation activities in this space. It will explore how both non-profit actors and the private sector can better support and leverage agents who deliver critical services, including mobile money and solar energy, as PAYC agents, and contribute to deeper understanding of when and how international organizations can support agents to further the goal of inclusive digital services and economies. This research will focus on Bidibidi and Rhino Camp, Uganda while feeding into a larger effort to understand dynamics of supply and demand in crisis affected settings.

Consultant Objectives:

Fill information gaps needed in order to support the entry of private sector actors and agents into refugee settlements in the West Nile Region: (1) willingness to pay for modern cookstoves, (2) structuring, pricing of PAYC products (3) marketing and sales techniques (inclusive of after-sales services), (4) availability of mobile money applications, (5) effectiveness and applicability of carbon credit schemes:

  • Are consumers able and willing to pay for the solar electric cookers through flexible PAYC payment schemes (inclusive of down payment)?
  • How should PAYC products be priced (tenor, pricing, seasonality considerations)
  • What are the most effective sales techniques for clean cooking / solar household systems currently?
  • How can we maximize VSLAs/cooperatives participation in marketing activation campaigns?
  • Can a carbon credit scheme support the outreach of the bottom-of-the-pyramid clients through the reduction in market price?
  • What role would a) fluctuation in carbon credit prices and b) diffusion rate will play in reaching low income user segments?
  • Would PAYC increase affordability and attract clients? What are the most relevant variables that make PAYC a viable model? What are the PAYC consumer segments and how can they be targeted?
  • Aside from PAYC, what mechanisms are successful in terms of attracting the monthly payments?
  • What are the financial and logistic de-risking measures that would take a new private company into a displacement setting?

Other questions that will help framing the study will be identified by the consultant, but should include the following (if not covered in available literature):

How much money do refugees have to spend on cooking (traditional and modern) and how do they manage it?

*What are the key income brackets and groups?
What are the leading sources of income/employment?
How do demographic factors such as age, gender, family size and length of displacement affect income and wealth?
How do people manage income/wealth?
What habits and services exist when it comes to financial behaviors such as remittances, savings, investments and borrowing? **What are families spending on energy, and how much might they be willing to spend on higher quality energy sources?*

What are refugees’ spending priorities and aspirational needs? *
What clean cooking & financial products and services are available to refugees?
What is the access to market like for refugees? How easy or difficult is access to market?
What barriers exist to accessing products and services?
How do people view and understand price and pricing transparency for clean cooking / finance products and services?
How do people prioritize between clean cooking and financial services/products? What other aspirational products do people know about and want?
What clean cooking / financial products and services are particularly in demand?
What is the willingness and ability of refugees to pay for clean cooking and financial products and services?
What is currently limiting their access and use?
Which consumer segments are most likely to purchase PAYC-enabled solar electric cooking products if they were to become available on the market **Which consumer segments are most likely to benefit from increased access to quality clean cooking – what types of systems and why?*

*What are the opportunities for more efficient last mile delivery for maximum sales and post-sale services What are some of the viable selling and distribution points? What are some of the most viable models for different categories of retailers? Which channel is performing profitably, and under what conditions? How might we be able to leverage or amplify existing mechanisms to increase goods and services? What market facilitation activities should Mercy Corps undertake to further develop agent networks in support of PAYC expansion in the settlements?*

Provision of technical advising and recommendations on the way forward in terms of setting up the connections between assembly line, service center and retailer network

Consultant Activities:

Literature review & Tool design (5 days)
The design of the qualitative study will be informed by a literature review. The literature review will explore previous studies and research conducted on refugee settlements to synthesize the behavioral and structural barriers and experiences experienced by individuals within refugee settlements and organisations who work with them. Further, research will be conducted on current practices of last mile distribution of goods and service both within refugee settlements and across other sectors.

The goal of this phase will be to design the qualitative research guide and a brief quantitative survey to answer the core questions outlined above. The qualitative research guides should be flexible enough to be applied in semi-structured interviews, so that the research remains adaptive to emerging themes and findings and is responsive to potential data saturation. This will be complimented with observational guides designed to record information particularly on the availability of traders as well as products and services. The quantitative survey on the other hand should be short and relatively simple, so that it can be administered by field teams irrespective of previous research experience.
Research (9 days)

The goal of this phase will be to collect formative data in Bidibidi settlement. This will consist of two components: (1) a qualitative component which will be administered by the consultant (with the help of on the spot translators, if needed) or their hired collaborator if the consultant is not in the position to travel, and (2) a short, supplementary quantitative survey. The qualitative component will include both in-depth interviews and observational methods with refugees and traders and will be designed with a particular emphasis on gaining in-depth answers to the core questions listed above. The quantitative component will be a short survey designed to capture a select number of data points at a larger scale.

Synthesizing Results and Recommendations (6 days)

During this phase, consultants will synthesize the research findings into a report which will answer the core questions outlines above and highlight recommendations on how to best capitalize on existing structures and networks. This report will include insights on refugee demand, as well as insights into entrepreneur and merchant characteristics and opportunities to leverage existing merchants for delivery of PAYGo services. This phase will include one initial session with the program staff to validate assumptions (half-day).

Consultant Deliverables:

The Consultant will deliver the following:

  • Literature review
  • Qualitative Research Instruments
  • Survey Instrument and data analysis
  • Report on Demand for Aspirational Products, inclusive of Consumer Profiles and Qualitative Vendor Segmentation

Timeframe / Schedule:

  1. Literature review and Qualitative Research Instruments (5 days) – April 30th (Remote)
  2. Survey and data analysis (9 days) – May 15th (On Site)
  3. Report on Demand for Aspirational Products, inclusive of Consumer Profiles and Qualitative Vendor Segmentation + Recommendations on structure and networks (6 days) – June 18th (Remote)

The Consultant will report to:

Sr Advisor, Energy Access – TSU

The Consultant will work closely with:

Program Manager, MEL Uganda, TSU, MC Uganda, solar e-cooker provider

Required Experience & Skills:

  • 5-10 years of experience in relevant technical field (required)

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Achieving our mission begins with how we build our team and work together. Through our commitment to enriching our organization with people of different origins, beliefs, backgrounds, and ways of thinking, we are better able to leverage the collective power of our teams and solve the world’s most complex challenges. We strive for a culture of trust and respect, where everyone contributes their perspectives and authentic selves, reaches their potential as individuals and teams, and collaborates to do the best work of their lives.

We recognize that diversity and inclusion is a journey, and we are committed to learning, listening and evolving to become more diverse, equitable and inclusive than we are today.

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Safeguarding & Ethics Mercy Corps team members are expected to support all efforts toward accountability, specifically to our stakeholders and to international standards guiding international relief and development work, while actively engaging communities as equal partners in the design, monitoring and evaluation of our field projects. Team members are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner and respect local laws, customs and MC’s policies, procedures, and values at all times and in all in-country venues.

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June 2023
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