Travel log: A trip to kick-off Sensemaker research in Benin

Valeria Varga of BoPInc wrote a travel log about the SenseMaker research in Benin. Here is her story.

"User-centered Innovation" One of those buzzwords which we tend to use so many times that it can feel like it lost its meaning. For me, it is simply the curiosity to discover: how we can do things better for our clients, for our target groups? This curiosity is what has driven us to kick off the BeniBiz(1) project with a research using SenseMaker(2), to learn about our target groups in the project: BoP consumers and micro-entrepreneurs. With the ambition to create a network of support for micro-entrepreneurs selling nutritious food and care products door-to-door to BoP households, we asked ourselves: what is the current consumer experience like for the future clients of the BeniBiz network? What are the current dynamics driving the business of micro-entrepreneurs in the informal market? After the weeks of study design, noisy online calls with our Beninese partners (do you know the conference call bingo?), getting vaccinated, customizing the app, off we were to join our local partners and find answers to these questions.

My first time in Benin. Bienvenue Madame, Yovo, yovo, Bonsoir(3). The car waiting for us seems just too big, the cows grazing in the outskirts of the city seem just too small. First, I am overwhelmed and fascinated by the new inputs hitting all senses. Then, with the help of my colleague, I start to notice the underlying consistency in the business strategies of the informal market. Yellow is the color of zémidjans, urban moto-taxis: perfect for the bumpy roads, have your coins prepared in your pocket. The bonne dame in front of her street shop welcomes us with a smile: bottled water again? Her husband is making notes in his notebook: he is keeping track of transactions of tontine, the most common form of group savings. Through all the honking, I can distinguish the one by the mobile vendors of a dairy brand, who are pushing their carts on the side of the road, notifying you with their horns that refreshment is near.

"Co-creation"Another buzzword which is at the core of our work at BoPInc. We brought to the table what we have: a technology, a method, an approach which is applicable in various contexts; and our Beninese partners brought their local knowledge, insights and talent to really make things happen together. When I say bringing a technology, imagine me carrying a backpack with a dozen of iPads, with settings which I carefully customized to make its use easy for story-collectors on the training and with their interviewees. When I say local knowledge, imagine the story-collectors(4) as they, using their research experience and natural communication skills, establish trust and understanding with their interviewees while showing us Yovos how we can learn about our target group and our own methodology from accompanying them on the first interviews.

Did it go smoothly like an oiled machine? Oh, no. My WhatsApp conversations with our Beninese colleague on the weekends during the research could tell you about the issues we dealt with. Did we learn about our target group? Yes, enormously. This story, which one of a thousand can give you a hint:

"I am a street vendor who sells creams for body care and a few others. To start this business, I used to buy products on credit at a wholesaler lady. I try to sell to find a good margin and pay back my supplier. This activity just allows me to pay for my needs. My problem is that my supplier delivers me the products at a high price and at the same time my customers are going to pay on credit. I try to keep going while trying to find other suppliers. I gather my profits little by little and when it reaches a sum I will directly buy products elsewhere and at a lower cost than before. (…) Nowadays, everyone would like to buy on credit, even if it is a product of 50 FCFA (…)."

(1) BeniBiz is aiming to develop larger, more sustainable, and gender-balanced youth enterprises, food and agricultural SMEs, and nutritional sales agents in Benin. In partnership with Technoserve Benin, BoPInc is involved in designing and implementing a nutrition sales agent network, empowering micro-entrepreneurs and improving access to nutritious food, health and care products. Read more

(2) The Sensemaker® study is an innovative research method to understand key stakeholders and involve them in sense-making through their narratives. Instead of collecting big data, the method uses and analyses storytelling to make patterns visible in complex environments for more strategic and relevant insights.

(3) A song that children sing to foreigners as they pass by – as an interpretation, “yovo” refers to “white man/woman”, “foreigner”

(4) AGNIBIAN Cholokoumi Sabine, AGOSSADOU Julienne Olawolé, AMADJI Sènami Floriane Aïnassé, ASSOGBA Dona Ruth Bérénice, DONHOUEDE Janine Conforte Fifonssi, Gagnon Armelle Franscine, GANHOU Blandine Gbèssitô, BAPARAPE Faryda, DANGOU Ramiath, HOUETO Gaël Lysias, SODEDJI Kpêdétin Ariel Fréjus, AFFONFERE Marius, MOUNIROU Kamal and DEKPEMADOHA Jean Eudes

Contact us


Fill in the form below and we will contact you as soon as possible. Or give us a call +31 6 3190 2336


Phone number

E-mail address