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Texting For Cheaper Marketplace Food With SokoText

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

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SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

An international group of graduate-social entrepreneurs from the London School of Economics (LSE) is pioneering a way to reduce food prices in Kenya using mobile phones.

Answering a call to action to address global food insecurity by the Hult Prize (hultprize.org), the team members looked at how they could make food cheaper for urban slum dwellers.

The Hult Prize, funded by Swedish educational entrepreneur and billionaire, Bertil Hult, is a start-up accelerator for budding young social entrepreneurs emerging from the world’s universities. The winner receives US $1 million and mentorship to make their idea become real.

SokoText (sokotext.com) (soko means market in Swahili) uses SMS (short message service) messages from mobile phones to empower vegetable sellers and kiosk owners in slums when it comes to bargaining the price for wholesale fresh produce. SokoText makes it possible for them to benefit from bulk prices by pooling their orders together every day. Usually vendors lack the funds to buy in bulk and have to make numerous time-consuming trips to the centre of Nairobi to buy stock.

SokoText reduces the price of fresh produce by 20 per cent for kiosk owners by buying the produce earlier in the supply chain. SokoText then delivers the food to a wholesale outlet at the entrance to the slum.

This approach makes available a wider range of produce and reduces the price. And best of all, it will knock down prices for the poorest people and enable them to buy more food and better quality food.

The team behind SokoText come from a variety of countries – Colombia, Canada, Kenya, Britain and Germany.

Hatched at the LSE, the enterprise prototyped its service in Mathare Valley, Nairobi, Kenya for four weeks during the summer of 2013 with 27 users and began the second phase of testing in November 2013, working with a local NGO, Community Transformers (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Community-Transformers-kenya/119937408165671).

According to SokoText, slum dwellers spend on average 60 per cent of their daily budget on food.

Mobile phones can be transformative since they are now a common communications tool, even in slums.

On the SokoText website, respected blogger and commentator on technology in Africa, Erik Hersman (http://whiteafrican.com/about/), calls it “a fantastic low-tech approach that could really scale for decreasing the inefficiencies in urban slum markets.”

SokoText’s 21-year-old co-founder and chief executive, Suraj Gudka, explained the genesis of the project to news and technology in Africa website, 140Friday.com.

“From our research, the Mama Mboga (small-scale vegetable retailers) spend between 150 and 200 Kenyan shillings (US $1.70 and US $2.3) daily, about 25 per cent of her revenue, to buy her stock, and since they do not buy in bulk they [she] get their goods at a higher price.”

Getting the market traders to cooperate is very difficult, Gudka found, because competition is fierce and trust is low. SokoText sees itself as a solution to this situation. By encouraging bulk buying by way of the SMS text service, there is no need to build trust between the traders before the produce is purchased.

“To use our service, the interested retailers would be required to send us an SMS every evening detailing what they need,” said Gudka, “and then we will source the produce and they come pick it up from us the next morning. In this way they do not have to incur the additional costs of transporting their goods and it also saves them time.”

SokoText is being incubated at the Nailab (nailab.co.ke) in Nairobi, a startup accelerator that offers a three to 12 month entrepreneurship program, with a focus on growing innovative technology-driven ideas.

SokoText’s summer pilot test confirmed taking the orders can work but found getting the product to the market in time was difficult.

The next step will be to set up a presence in the Mathare slum.

“We will be selling about seven to 10 different kinds of produce, and from our calculations, according to our projections for how much the Mama Mbogas buy every day, we hope to get  40-50 customers within three months,” Gudka said.

Resources

1) SokoText: The website explains further how the service works. Website: sokotext.com

2) Hult Prize: The Hult Prize Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to launching the world’s next wave of social entrepreneurs. It encourages the world’s brightest business minds to compete in teams to solve the planet’s biggest challenges with innovative ideas for sustainable start-up enterprises. Annual Hult Prize winners can make their ideas reality with the help of US $1 million in seed funding. Website: hultprize.org

3) White African: Where Africa and Technology Collide! Website: http://whiteafrican.com/about/

4) Nailab: Nailab (Nairobi Incubation Lab) is a startup accelerator that offers an entrepreneurship program focusing on growing innovative technology driven ideas. This is done through providing business advice, technical training and support, professional mentoring and coaching, giving access to market and fostering strategic partnerships as well as linking them to investors. Website: nailab.co.ke

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

Published: December 2013

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.  

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Google Books: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=hPNcAwAAQBAJ&dq=development+challenges+december+2013&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Slideshare: http://www.slideshare.net/DavidSouth1/development-challenges-december-2013-issue

Southern Innovator Issue 1: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Q1O54YSE2BgC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 2: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Ty0N969dcssC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 3: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=AQNt4YmhZagC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 4: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=9T_n2tA7l4EC&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Southern Innovator Issue 5: https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=6ILdAgAAQBAJ&dq=southern+innovator&source=gbs_navlinks_s

SokoText co-founder Sofia Zab (left). She oversees SokoText’s marketing strategy and manages SokoText’s technology products.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Southern Innovator Issue 1

Launched in May 2011, the new global magazine Southern Innovator (ISSN 2222-9280) is about the people across the global South shaping our new world, eradicating poverty and working towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). 

Team | Southern Innovator Phase 1 Development (2010 – 2015)

They are the innovators.

Follow the magazine on Twitter @SouthSouth1. 

Southern Innovator Issue 2

Southern Innovator Issue 3

Southern Innovator Issue 4

Southern Innovator Issue 5

If you would like hard copies of the magazine for distribution, then please contact the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation (UNOSSC)(https://www.unsouthsouth.org/2014/12/25/southern-innovator-magazine/).

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Kommunikation total: Der siebte Kontinent

In 1998 Der Spiegel’s “Kommunikation total” issue profiled the global connectivity revolution underway and being accelerated by the Internet boom of the late 1990s. It chose my picture of a satellite dish and a ger in the Gobi Desert to symbolise this historic event.

Scroll through a PDF of the story (my photo is on the last page).


“Die Handy-Gesellschaft war erst der Anfang: Experten sehen in den Sphären des Internet einen neuen Erdteil entstehen. Hier lebt die Info-Elite, umgeben von PC, Pager, Powerbook. Die Multimedia-Industrie wird zur Schlüsselbranche des 21. Jahrhunderts – mit gravierenden Folgen für die Gesellschaft.”

English translation: “Total communication: the seventh continent –
The cell phone society was just the beginning: Experts see a new continent emerging in the spheres of the Internet. The information elite live here, surrounded by PCs, pagers and power books. The multimedia industry is becoming the key industry of the 21st century – with serious consequences for society.” (http://t-off.khd-research.net/Spiegel/10.html)
From The Turns of Translation Studies: New Paradigms Or Shifting Viewpoints? By Mary Snell-Hornby · 2006.
Der Spiegel is a German weekly news magazine and is one of Europe’s largest publications of its kind. It chose my photo taken in the Gobi Desert for its profile of the Internet revolution in 1998.

“The transformation of Mongolia from a largely rural nomadic society of herdsmen to a community dominated by the increasingly ultra-globalized city of Ulan Bator, where almost a third of the population lives, is nothing short of astounding.” The New Mongolia: From Gold Rush to Climate Change, Association for Asian Studies, Volume 18:3 (Winter 2013): Central Asia

From 1997 to 1999, I served as the Communications Coordinator (head of communications) for the United Nations (UN)/United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) mission in Mongolia, founding and directing its UNDP Mongolia Communications Office. 

Copies of Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Jill Lawless are still available in various editions and languages.

Published in 2000 (ECW Press: Toronto), Wild East: Travels in the New Mongolia by Canadian author and foreign correspondent Jill Lawless also selected the ‘ger’ photo for its cover image.

The world has changed considerably since then; and so has Mongolia. The digital revolution has rolled across the planet, the attacks of 9/11 unleashed a wave of violence and wars, and Mongolia even became the fastest-growing economy in the world a few years ago (2012). But back when this book was researched, Mongolia was just coming out of decades of isolation within the Soviet orbit under Communism, and the country experienced in the 1990s “one of the biggest peacetime economic collapses ever” (Mongolia’s Economic Reforms: Background, Content and Prospects, Richard Pomfret, University of Adelaide, 1994). 

“The years 1998 and 1999 have been volatile ones for Mongolia, with revolving door governments, the assassination of a minister, emerging corruption, a banking scandal, in-fighting within the ruling Democratic Coalition, frequent paralysis within the Parliament, and disputes over the Constitution. Economically, the period was unstable and rife with controversies.” Mongolia in 1998 and 1999: Past, Present, and Future at the New Millennium by Sheldon R. Severinghaus, Asian Survey, Vol. 40, No. 1, A Survey of Asia in 1999 (Jan. – Feb., 2000), pp. 130-139 (Publisher: University of California)

That collapse made for some crazy times, as Wild East shows. 

Read a small sample of David South’s new media journalism and reporting from the 1990s here: From Special Report: NMM (New Media Markets) Spotlight On The Emergence Of Satellite Porn Channels In The UK

Channel Regulation: Swedes Will Fight Children’s Advertising All The Way

Two trends came together at the end of the 1990s and the start of the 2000s: the digital revolution and the mapping of the human genome. Both have given birth to whole new industries. Read more here: The Dawn Of The Genetics Revolution | 2001 – 2003

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2021

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Kenya Reaches Mobile Phone Banking Landmark

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

Financial transactions and banking with mobile phones have been a Kenyan success story.

Now, one service, M-Shwari, has reached a significant milestone in the history of m-banking (mobile phone banking): it was able to record a billion Kenyan shillings (US $11,926,100) in savings deposits in a month after its launch in November 2012 and reached deposits of Kenyan shillings 2.8 billion (US $33 million) by February of 2013. This outstripped the Kenyan shillings 378 million (US $4 million) in loans lent by the service, reports Daily Nation.

M-Shwari is a mobile phone banking product that allows people to save and borrow money by phone and earn some interest too. The service offers small emergency loans to customers, offering a financial lifeline to people who would have been frozen out of financial services in the past.

There is no need to have any contact with a bank or bother with paperwork. And loans are instant because they are small.

Safaricom Chief Executive Officer Bob Collymore told the Daily Nation “Trends show that it has become more of a savings service than a lending service. This is what we intended since the beginning.”

As of February 1.6 million customers had used the service.

On top of this success, the pioneering M-PESA (http://www.safaricom.co.ke/personal/m-pesa/m-pesa-services-tariffs/relax-you-have-got-m-pesa) mobile phone banking platform developed in Kenya by Safaricom is set to roll out across India and help bring banking services to the country’s 700 million “unbanked.”

Both these developments are solid proof that innovation aimed at drawing in the poor into the mainstream economy not only works, it is profitable and exportable.

M-Shwari (http://www.safaricom.co.ke/personal/m-pesa/m-shwari/m-shwari-faqs) works like this: a customer can save as little as one Kenyan shilling to receive an interest rate of up to 5 per cent. If they want a loan, then they can borrow from 100 Kenyan shillings (US $1.19) to a maximum of 20,000 Kenyan shillings (US $238) for a processing fee of 7.5 per cent which will need to be paid back after 30 days.

By offering greater access to loans, M-Shwari s increasing competition in the banking sector and giving customers a choice.

It joins an ongoing revolution in access to credit for the poor. Powerful mobile phones enable individual depositors and businesspeople to organize their financial affairs and business needs on the phone. This is a revolutionary development in many places where people previously had to contend with poor access to financial services – or no access at all.

M-Shwari and products like it allow people to borrow, save and conduct transactions with family, friends, business partners and customers over their mobile phones.

M-Shwari is a collaboration between Kenyan telecoms company Safaricom and the Commercial Bank of Africa. It is being hailed as an example of how banks and telecommunications companies can cooperate to offer innovative financial products to the country.

For the unbanked in India, the initiative between Vodafone India (https://www.vodafone.in/pages/index.aspx) and ICICI Bank, India’s largest private bank, has started to roll out the Kenyan M-PESA mobile phone banking platform in India as of April 2013. They are hoping to open up access to banking to 700 million Indians who currently do not have bank accounts or access to banking facilities. The rollout starts in the country’s eastern regions of Kolkata and West Bengal (CNN).

It looks like access to banking services for the poor in the global South will soon undergo radical change with these large-scale initiatives.

Resources

1) Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 1: Mobile Phones and Information Technology: Southern Innovator’s first issue broke new ground in its portrayal of a global South awash in innovators transforming how people use information technology and mobile phones. Website:http://www.scribd.com/doc/95410448/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-1-Mobile-Phones-and-Information-Technology

2) iHub Nairobi: Nairobi’s Innovation Hub for the technology community is an open space for the technologists, investors, tech companies and hackers in the area. This space is a tech community facility with a focus on young entrepreneurs, web and mobile phone programmers, designers and researchers. Website: ihub.co.ke/

3) Hubs in Africa: A crowdsourced map of the growing number of African information technology hubs. Website:https://africahubs.crowdmap.com/main

4) Appfrica: Founded in 2008 in Kampala, Uganda, Appfrica is an innovative global consultancy specializing in market research studies, custom technology solutions and investment in emerging markets. Website:http://appfrica.com/

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London Edit

31 July 2013

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David South Consulting first launched in Toronto, Canada in 1991. In 2010 it had a brand re-launch, with a new logo and website developed in Reykjavik, Iceland using 100% renewable energy.