Jobs are hard to come by in Kenya. The International Labour Organization puts the country’s unemployment rate at 26.21%. Many young people have turned to self-employment to make ends meet. A popular job is working as a boda-boda rider, which involves transporting passengers from one point to another on the back of a motorbike.
But high unemployment also translates to high levels of crime. Boda-boda operators are not spared from the crime wave. Their bikes are often stolen. The police aren’t very helpful. It’s not uncommon for them to ask for a bribe to “facilitate” investigations. Most boda-boda riders and their families live on the daily income they make. They can therefore scarcely afford a bribe nor to stay bikeless for long. That’s where Felix Kimaru comes in. Kimaru has created BTrack Global which helps track stolen bikes in record time.
“What we promise them as BTrack is that if your bike gets stolen at night, by morning at 8 a.m you are back to work. How we do it is each bike is fitted with tracking devices that we have developed. We integrate it into the motorcycle in such a way that even if the thief knows it has our tracking device if they remove it, the bike is immobilised,” explained Kimaru when Justice Hub sat down with him for an interview at this year’s Innovating Justice Forum in The Hague.
As part of our #MyJustice series, Kimaru explains in his own words why his innovation matters.
Justice Hub: What’s the issue you’re tackling?
We try to reduce crime in Kenya. Crime is the number one justice issue in our country. There’s a lot going on – from the terrorist stuff to ordinary guys committing crime. At BTrack we built a device that once installed inside a commercial motorcycle means the owners are able to track it using their phone.
I’ll give you a little bit of history: in Kenya, the public transport system is a little bit of a mess so there’s an advent of commercial motorcycles, called boda-bodas. The boda-bodas are a source of employment to thousands and thousands of people. The government actually encourages importation of the motorcycles because it then provides an opportunity for the youth to generate income and not to engage in criminal activities. We have over 700 thousand of them in the country. It’s easy for them to be stolen, the number plates can easily be swapped and even if it got stolen right now, in 30 minutes if it passed right in front of you, you wouldn’t even notice that it was yours.
So that, by itself, has a huge negative impact on the lives of the riders because the majority of them have saved or sold to buy the motorcycles. They make about twenty dollars a day within the city, while those in upcountry make an average of five dollars a day. The money is usually income to the whole family and not just for themselves. From medical expenses, school fees, clothing to their rent. So when they lose the bike you can imagine it takes them back very far. What we do is promise that by using our solution we are going to get back your source of income within hours. We promise them: within hours you’ll get it back.
Justice Hub: How else would they get their bikes back?
The longer route they’d use is going to the police. But the police in Kenya have no way of tracking the bike. It usually takes long or it’s impossible to find. Another option is insurance, and because of the high risk that is involved with the boda-bodas, the insurance usually takes up to six months to to compensate and on average it doesn’t cover 100% of the bike. So you can imagine what happens to the life of this rider during that period.
What we promise them as BTrack is that if your bike gets stolen at night, by morning at 8 a.m you are back to work.
Justice Hub: How does it wok practically?
Each bike is fitted with tracking devices that we have developed. We integrate it into the motorcycle in such a way that even if the thief knows it has our tracking device and if they remove it, the bike is immobilised.
We have 3000 clients right now. We charge $70 upfront for installations then a subscription fee of 20 dollars every year. So quite affordable. The price represents about 7% of the value of the motorcycle. If they were to pursue insurance, that’s around 15% of the value of the motorcycle, so we are way cheaper than insurance by. We have managed to achieve a 93% recovery rate since we started off.
Justice Hub: What is it that fits into the bike? Can you describe it?
They are GPS based devices, so very tiny in size integrated into the motorcycle. We design them, though production is a bit expensive in Kenya, so we produce them from China. We have an app which every rider gets once they install, we give it to them with their access and get to monitor them wherever they are and even in some cases they even recover the bikes themselves.
Justice Hub: What challenges have you faced?
It’s been a process. We started during the last two years. We didn’t know exactly how to do it. We somehow figured out the majority of the business model and the market stuff. We are in the process of scaling regionally and one of the biggest challenges is unlocking partnerships that will allow for organic growth. Right now we depend on speaking to individual clients. So that’s a bit slow in terms of growth.
So for us to achieve exponential growth, we need partnerships. We are even looking at partnering with insurance firms – who are basically our competitors – to see if we can achieve that.
Justice Hub: What does justice mean to you?
Let me give an example from our riders: if a rider loses a bike and if they get it back or to compensated, that’s justice to me. And the process needs to be simple and accessible to them. I use the word accessible because you need to understand the context. A rider has invested in the bike and even a single day of losing the bike can set them back very far. A justice process has to be easy and accessible for them, understanding the context of the person seeking justice.
BTrack was one of the innovations that took part in the 2019 Innovating Justice Awards organised by The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL). It’s an annual competition to promote justice innovations with submissions from over 1000 innovators. A final 12 innovators were invited to pitch their solution for an urgent access to justice issue at the 9th Innovating Justice Forum at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the Netherlands.