Every day in Accra, between 120 and 150 waste pickers collect and sort metals, plastics, and cardboard from the over 1500 tons of waste that is dumped daily at the Kpone landfill; one of the two major landfills in Ghana’s capital city.
While their work plays a vital role in helping to protect the environment, mechanisms have not been developed to adequately compensate these ‘informal recyclers’ for the services they provide. Earning an average of $40 per month, most of these waste pickers are unable to make ends meet.
To address this gap, a team of students from the MIT D-Lab and Ashesi’s D:Lab are working to create tools that will not only increase the earnings of the waste pickers, but will also give them access to financial platforms to help grow their income.
“We joined because we are interested in giving people access to basic financial services,” said Dr. Gordon Adomdza, lead faculty at Ashesi’s D:Lab. “The waste pickers represent the bulk of hard working individuals in the informal sector with no interaction with the formal banking system. So we jumped on board alongside the MIT team to understand the financial management needs of the waste pickers.”
The project, themed The Ghana Waste Picker Financial Inclusion Program is funded by the Danone Ecosystem Fund and MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (MISTI), and is in partnership with Fan Milk, WIEGO, and Environment 360.
Since January 2018, the students have been working across Boston, Berekuso and the Kpone landfill, in collaboration with the waste pickers. Through a series of workshops and interviews, their goal is to develop a solution that is not only functional, but also is tailored to the specific financial needs of the waste pickers.
“It’s been a very exciting project,” said Zoe Tagbota ‘20 of the Ashesi D:Lab. “We got to go onto the field to understand how waste pickers actually operate, understand their importance to the society, and through design thinking, learn about different opportunities available to them. In addition, the exchange experience with the MIT team has also been exciting, taking advantage of the opportunity to learn about the how they use their tools in projects they work on.”
With an estimated 1.8 billion worldwide working in unregulated environments, the research and subsequent financial inclusion model that will be co-designed by Accra-based waste pickers in partnership with student teams will offer important insight into appropriate banking mechanisms designed specifically for the informal labor force working in low-income cities worldwide.
“Eventually, the Ashesi D:Lab hopes to partner with relevant corporations and innovators to support the development and implementation of a mobile-money-based financial savings management tool that will also fulfill the needs of others in the informal sector,” said. Dr. Adomdza.