SOKO- using mobile to trade fairly + directly with producers

By Melissa | Women
Posted May 11, 2013

Fair trade is a term often uttered when it comes to coffee and chocolate, and increasingly more so when it comes to jewelry and accessories. This business model is meant to protect the little guy against the unstable market by guaranteeing a fixed price. In doing so, fair trade has the power to combat poverty, climate change and the economic crisis by offering fair wages and sustainable livelihoods to small scale producers. With a multitude of events taking place all over the world this week in honour of World Fair Trade Day today- always the second Saturday in May – we thought it apt to introduce a new model that is sure to change the way we consume and even see our mobile devices.

Over time we have developed a reliance, a dependence on our cell phones. We use them to instagram what we eat, to text, to tweet but do we really think about how this technology can be used for the better? The founders of Soko the “first international peer-to-peer marketplace” that directly connects artisans in the developing world to consumers all over the world did.

Their mission is to “create an inclusive, international direct trade platform so that small-scale producers in the developing world can participate in the global marketplace.” As crafting is so deeply rooted in the African culture and community it makes sense that jewelry be the category of choice when it came to introducing this innovative business model which just officially launched it’s private beta last month.

This e-commerce platform is the first of its kind and allows artisans in Kenya to sell their hand-made, one-of-a kind creations using locally sourced, regional materials online by using a mobile device. In accessing this patented technology via a SMS query system tool or an Android app, these artisans can create and manage their own storefronts without internet, a computer or even a bank account. The now entrepreneurs are able to upload product information and images, and see when an item has been purchased so that they can take it to the local kiosk for payment and shipment to the buyer who receives it in 7-10 days.

SOKO has embraced the pervasive mobile phone to disrupt the existing the complex, toxic, and unethical multi staged supply chain for global goods that requires mass production and cheap inputs to sustain profits. SOKO revolutionizes international trade by coordinating existing communication and social infrastructure in an innovative way to create a new model of trading fairly and directly with small scale producers around the world. “

In 2011, Soko- meaning marketplace in Swahili- was created by 3 women, Ella Peinovich, Gwendolyn Floyd, and Catherine Mahugu, for women to help fashion a better world. Most women in Kenya make a very limited income by selling their crafts and handmade goods in the inconsistent market or via extortionate middlemen. By eliminating the middleman, vendors earn more (they set the asking price) and consumers pay less (a mathematical equation that works out to be: what the vendor asks + shipping costs and the cost to use the platform = roughly 3x cost of production). A savings to the consumer who typically pays 15x the cost of production. A win-win for maker and consumer.

Africa is just the beginning, Soko is “currently developing relationships and pilots in other developing markets” and hopes to become “a global platform for artisans worldwide”. Here is to Soko, a direct trade system that has changed the online marketplace that is e-commerce and for bringing us all a little closer together.

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