Morocco's trash spotting app

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The rise of smartphone penetration and the emergence of digital tools is turning crowdsourcing into a popular business model. It enables startups to use a large number of users to help solve a given problem.

Inspired by this concept, M3kod, a web and mobile development agency based in Marrakech, launched the app Ville Propre (‘clean city’ in French). The app aims to transform each smartphone into a reporting, claiming, and geolocating tool to collect urban trash.

Garbage collection goes digital

In Morocco, smartphone penetration is about 124 percent, out of which eight million are browsing the web through their mobile phones. This represents 23 percent of the population who are the potential Ville Propre users.

The application was founded by two engineers-developers, Mouhsin Bour Qaiba and Mostapha El Alaoui, and a designer, Mustapha Amraoui. The app, which is a social network dedicated to the environment, has been available since August 2016 on Android, iOS, and web platforms.

The app allows its users who spot uncollected trash, to report it to public authorities, by taking a picture of it and sharing it on the platform through a software as a service application. Thanks to the geolocation, a path is drawn up to assist concerned authorities. When the waste company removes the trash, it sends a notification to the user to update him. If the trash is not removed, the picture stays on the platform.

To promote this activity, the founders are on an official partnership with the Urban Commune of Marrakech and the Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water and Environment, in addition to 18 institutional and private sector recycling companies.

“We are collaborating with the city hall of Marrakech and Salé, and we have meetings with the mayors of Casablanca and Rabat, as well as with other cities of the Kingdom," Mouhsin Bour Qaiba, cofounder and CEO of M3kod told Wamda.

According to figures provided by the startup, the application has been downloaded over 8,000 times, and has received 3,000 trash pile complaints, 60 percent of which have been solved. The website records 4,000 visitors per month, 80 percent of which are active users.

The three co-founders of M3kod and Clean City, from left to right Mustapha Amraoui, Mostapha El Alaoui and Mouhsin Bour Qaiba. (Images via Clean City)

A second life for waste

Even though trash sorting and recycling is still in its infancy in Morocco, and out of the 5.2 million tons of household waste produced per year, only 10 percent is recycled, the app is bringing its users waste sorting guideline sessions. In partnership with two recycling companies, Agadir-based Ecolo Recyclage, and Casablanca-based Valenvi, Ville Propre is training its users on the usage of colored bags to sort trash.

Meryem Kabbaj, consultant and researcher specialized in social entrepreneurship at Hassan II University in Casablanca, said that Ville Propre needs to expand its community and federate more public service managers. “The ongoing debate in Morocco about Smart City, a governmental plan to make the city smarter, and communal development, are an opportunity to be seized,” she said.

Expanding in the country

Launched in Marrakech, the digital solution is currently operating across various cities in the country. It has rolled out a ‘gamification’ system, with ‘commitment points’ to reward the most cooperative users. To redeem their points, users can choose from a list of gifts offered by the app partners. Gifts include phone credits, restaurant vouchers, discount coupons, and movie tickets.

Visitors at the stand of Clean City, at the Marrakech Grand Prix, one of the partners of the startup.

Monetization, the road to success

Ville Propre has been chosen to participate in a training program called ‘Fbsart from Facebook’ and in an acceleration program brought by the City Bank ‘Growth Accelerator Tech for Integrity Challenge’. It also reached the semifinals of Big Booster Lyon in 2016 and received the same year the first prize of the Moroccan Social Entrepreneurship Summit in the category Environment and Sustainability.

"Ville Propre now faces a double challenge, which consists of meeting the needs of two different targets: citizens and public service managers. Not only must we ensure that these two beneficiaries are satisfied, but we must also find a sustainable business model on the long term,” Kabbaj said.

Built on a freemium model, the young company plans to monetize its activities by charging annual subscriptions to its institutional and corporate partners once it reaches the required critical mass for its viability.

“We are currently focusing on traction. Our sole objective is to increase the number of users. This is the only way that can generate enough value to drive concerned parties to pay for our product," said Bour Qaiba.

To carry out its strategy of acquiring new users, the startup foresees major investments in hiring and marketing, and a search for three million Moroccan dirhams (US$300,000) to finance these operations.

The company has not been yet approached by VCs or any third party investors.  Though Moroccans and Tunisians don't scale on a regional or international level, due to the burden of currency exchange and the limited access to e-payment, Ville Propre has, however, plans to expand in Africa in the future. The company founders met various African public players during tech events who showed their interest for the product.

In Tunisia, Weclean, a project similar to Ville Propre, was launched two years ago. However, it remained an app that denounces the trash mess rather than creating a chain to assist the concerned authorities in taking action. In the same line with Moroccan environmental reforms, Tunisia has launched an ‘environmental police’ to penalize citizens who randomly throw their trash.  

Feature image via Pexels.

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