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Texting For Cheaper Marketplace Food With SokoText

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

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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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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Baker Cookstoves – Designing for the African Customer

By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions

New UNOSSC banner Dev Cha 2013

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY 

An innovative social enterprise is using design to create an energy-efficient cookstove for Kenya. By turning to an experienced Swedish architecture and design firm, the people behind the Baker cookstove wanted to make sure the stove’s design was as efficient as possible and relevant to the customers’ needs, while also making sure it is visually appealing and something a person would proudly want in their home.

The Baker cookstove (bakerproduct.com) has been designed to be a high-quality and desirable product that also accomplishes the goal of saving money for the user. This unique product is being developed and made at the company’s factory in Nairobi, Kenya.

Baker’s owner is Top Third Ventures Global (topthirdventures.com), a social-impact company registered in Kenya and founded in 2011 by American Lucas Belenky and Björn Hammar, a Swedish/Finnish entrepreneur. Their goal is to make sure that everyone in the developing world has access to an affordable, high-quality efficient cookstove.

While cooking is a daily necessity for billions of people, it is also costly and polluting. By switching to energy-efficient cookstoves, families can reduce the cost of cooking daily meals and, if the stove is designed right, cut the amount of pollution generated. One of the great obstacles to the take-up of energy-efficient cookstoves to date has been the absence of sustainable business models to sell and distribute them.

The Baker cookstove, designed as an aspirational product and backed up with a seven-year guarantee, hopes to change this dynamic. If things go to plan, the company hopes to significantly scale up its production based on customers wanting to have a Baker cookstove proudly on display in their home.

The Baker cookstove is the product of a deliberate attempt to use design and a well-thought-out production life cycle to create an item that is eye-catching, effective, and manufactured consistently to a high standard.

Designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune (http://www.ckr.se/), a Swedish architecture and design firm, the Baker cookstove is a sleek, round, modern stove and comes in eye-catching colors such as orange. It could easily fit in with other kitchen products in a high-end design shop. And that is the point: they want people to want the Baker cookstove.

Quality is key, and engineering and design teams constantly monitor the product and make adjustments to the cookstove as they receive feedback from customers.

The Baker cookstove is benefiting from new financing being made available through carbon credits, which its founders believe will bring big changes to the energy-efficient cookstove market over the next 10 years.

Baker’s chief executive, Lucas Belenky, told Southern Innovator magazine – this newsletter’s sister publication – about the thinking behind the Baker cookstove.

SI: What role does design play in the Baker cookstove social enterprise? At what stage did Top Third Ventures start to think through the production life cycle for the Baker cookstove? What did you feel was missing in the other cookstove models currently available on the market?

The Baker cookstove is the cornerstone of the social enterprise. Top Third Ventures is at its core a product company. There are different aspects to the business model to make it work (i.e. carbon credits and big data) but everything depends on the success of the Baker product. We started thinking through the production life cycle from the day the company was founded in late 2011. The Baker is designed for usability, aspirational value, and performance, prioritized in that order. The most important thing is that the Baker is easy to use and does not require its users to change their daily routines or cooking habits. Cooking cultures vary greatly across the developing world so it is important to understand exactly who your customer is and focus on meeting their requirements. When you have a product that is easy to use it needs to be desirable as well. Beyond the service provided, the product should make the customer feel good about themselves. Finally, the Baker cooks the same food with half the fuel and much less smoke.

The priorities seem reversed for other cookstove models on the market. Efficiency comes first, then the aesthetic design, and cultural conformity is last. Hyper-efficient cookstoves are great for health and the environment on paper but the benefits are not realized because widespread adoption isn’t achieved. Most products are imposed through a top-down approach instead of starting with the customer and designing the stove around them.

SI: Why did you choose to have the Baker cookstove designed by Claesson Koivisto Rune, a Swedish architecture and design firm? What were some of the challenges encountered when designing the product and the production life cycle? What advice do you have for other social enterprises looking to offer an appealing product to low-income households?

We wanted the Baker cookstove to be an aspirational product that you use as much because of the performance (less fuel and less smoke) as because it is beautiful. Claesson Koivisto Rune believed in our vision at a very early stage and I doubt we could have gotten where we are today without them. Challenges around the design mainly involve keeping the costs down. Our customers do not have a lot of disposable income so balancing affordability with performance and world-class design is tough.

For other entrepreneurs selling to low-income households my advice is identify your customer, listen to them, and never stop listening. This is obvious to most businesses but for social enterprises sometimes the grant organizations or other dispersers of donor funding become the customer without you noticing.

Finally, often just because the consumer is in a developing country, enterprises neglect aesthetic appeal and branding. Do not do this. Your consumer behaves for the most part like their counterpart in the developed world. They want products that look nice and make them feel good.

SI: What role is information technology playing in the Baker cookstove’s development? How do mobile phones help with reaching customers in Africa? How does offering software products such as Top3Tracker help Baker cookstoves?

Information technology has a huge impact in decentralized areas because it enables cheap flow of information. For Top Third Ventures it allows us to track our sales in real-time, communicate with current and future customers instantly, and gain valuable insights about how to improve the sales pitch and marketing strategy. The Baker cookstoves also depends on carbon finance, which requires a dialogue with current customers to ensure the usage of the cookstove is accurately measured. Information technology such as our Top3 Tracker significantly reduces the cost of accessing carbon finance.

SI: It is said an innovator is somebody who disrupts existing products and ways of doing things. How is Top Third Ventures innovating and disrupting the current approach to energy-efficient cookstove distribution?

We hope to change the way products for low-income households are designed, marketed, and sold. Top Third Ventures’ Baker cookstove embodies our conviction that these products should be customer-centric, have aspirational value, and conform to local cultures. The success of our product will show that consumers in the developing world want the same thing as their counterparts in developed countries.

Top Third is a partner of the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves (cleancookstoves.org).

Resources

1) Baker cookstove: The website details how the cookstove was developed. Website: bakerproduct.com

2) Top Third Ventures: The company designs, manufactures, and sells its own unique efficient cookstoves made to fit the local cultures and traditions of their customers, supported by a strong brand and world-class customer communication. In addition, Top Third Ventures works with existing manufacturers and distributors to secure carbon financing for their activities through their programmatic CDM activity and electronic data management system. Website: topthirdventures.com

3) Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves: The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves calls for 100 million homes to adopt clean and efficient stoves and fuels by 2020. Website: cleancookstoves.org

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

By David South

Financial Times New Media Markets (NMM) (London, UK), November 30, 1995

The Swedish government is set to clamp down on satellite channels which carry advertising aimed at children and will tell channels to drop such advertising or face legal action. 

The centre-left government’s threat of tough action follows Sweden’s winning extra powers last week through an amendment to the European directive on transfrontier broadcasting agreed by European culture ministers (NMM 13:42). 

The main focus of the Swedish government’s wrath is the TV3 channel, owned by Kinnevik, which uplinks to the Astra 1a and Sirius satellites from the UK. TV3 based itself in the UK in order to benefit from the Independent Television Commission’s more liberal rules on advertising. 

TV3’s main commercial television rival, TV4, has long protested to the government about what it sees as unfair competition from TV3 and other foreign-based channels. 

The government will initially go after TV3 and the Luxembourg-based cable and satellite channel Femmen. The Ministry of Cultural Affairs said that pro-European satellite channels such as TNT/Cartoon Network and the Children’s Channel were lesser priorities, but could face action in the future. 

TNT/Cartoon Network has a Swedish soundtrack and many Children’s Channel programmes are subtitled in Swedish on cable systems.

The Ministry of Cultural Affairs plans a two-pronged attack to remove the advertising it finds offensive and which is banned under Swedish broadcasting law: advertising aimed at children under 12 and carried in breaks around children’s programming. 

First, the consumer-protection agency the Konsument Ombudsmanen will take action against advertising agencies which produce children’s advertising. Monica Bengtsson, a legal adviser to the Ministry of Culture, said that agencies will be warned once and then fined if they violate the rules a second time. 

If this fails – and some observers believe that it will, because advertisers could move their accounts to non-Swedish agencies – the Ombudsmanen would then try the riskier move of taking channels to court to stop the ads. 

The Ombudsmanen is not expected to act until it hears the results of the case it has already taken to the European Court of Justice against Italian children’s magazine publishers De Agostini for allegedly placing commercials targetting children under the age of 12 on both TV4 and TV3. Judgement is expected in mid-1996. 

The Swedish government is also banking on public opinion to help pressure satellite channels to stop showing children’s advertising. The political climate in Sweden is strongly in favour of strict controls on advertising aimed at children. Swedish prime minister, Ingvar Carlsson, made cracking down on such advertising a key part of his opening speech to the present session of the Swedish parliament. 

The amended directive (which still needs the approval of the European Parliament) allows a member state to ban children’s advertisements under its own rules even if the channel satisfies the rules of the country from which it is broadcast. 

The Swedish government believes that the combination of the amended directive provisions and its ban on children’s advertising is all it needs to prevent the adverts. 

Per Bystedt, vice-president of TV3, insisted this week that the channel is UK-licensed and therefore does not fall under Swedish law: “We are following the Independent Television Commission’s rules.”

New definitions on which countries are responsible for regulating channels, adopted by the European culture ministers last week, could lead to TV3 being regulated in Sweden rather than the more liberal UK if it is deemed that the channel is really established there. However, the Swedish government has investigated the extent to which TV3 is based in the UK and, according to Bystedt, has declared that it is satisfied that the company is British. 

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

© David South Consulting 2021