Enterprising Connections

(Last Updated On: March 15, 2014)

for INGSasaAfrica brings e-commerce platform to Kenyan marketplace

What is “SasaAfrica?” It is an innovative business that links mobile phone and mobile money transfer technologies to an e-commerce platform to empower women in Nairobi, Kenya to sell their crafts in the global marketplace.

Sasa, a Swahili word for “Now” conveys the shared vision of business partners, Ella Peinovich, Gwendolyn Floyd and Catherine Mahugu, three young women from diverse cultural backgrounds, who share a passion and urgency for reducing the economic discrimination and disparity that exists for women in developing countries.

At the heart of their business is an innovative technology that earned the trio $25,000 in funding in the 2012 Rice University Business Plan Competition.

It’s exciting to attract teams like SasaAfrica to the Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC),” said Lea Aden Lueck, director of the Rice Business Plan Competition.

The women of SasaAfrica put together a viable plan for a sustainable, for-profit, social venture business. Their unique concept and business savvy incorporated the necessary elements to create a successful venture, and that plan garnered the approval of the judges.

The company won the Social Impact Venture Award ($10,000), the Edward H. Molter Memorial Prize for Best Presentation ($10,000) and the Courageous Women Entrepreneurs Award  ($5,000).

The competition features businesses that aim to create new jobs, change the way things are done and shake up the world.

“These women will do just that,” said Lueck.

SasaAfrica owners launched a pilot of their technology in the summer of 2011.

Floyd, a Houston native and graduate of Episcopal High School in Bellaire and her business partners are excited with the success of the launch.

She and Peinovich, a recent graduate of M.I.T., met in Boston while both were teaching a course on “Social Impact and Design,.”  The pair crossed paths again, by chance,  while working on separate social projects in Nairobi, and joined forces.

Mahugu, a senior at the University of Nairobi, met the pair at a technology workshop and embraced their social vision, which was inspired from Peinovich’s work in the slums of Nairobi.

“I was impressed by the passion and energy they had in making Sasa a reality.  Through that first encounter I was more than willing to offer and assist in achieving the SasaAfrica dream,” says Mahugu.

According to the company’s research, there are 4.5 billion people in the world who have mobile phones, but only 2 billion people have access to the Internet.

“Poor people don’t have access to the Internet and they are excluded from participating in thr global economy and the innovation and economic opportunity the Internet brings,” says Floyd.

“We call it the digital divide, and we really want to disrupt that,” says Floyd.

The company has had a dramatic impact on the life of Janet, a native Kenyan who participated in the company’s pilot launch.

Before taking part in the pilot, she would haul her handmade necklaces, bangles and earrings to the Maasai open air market in Kenya and rent stall space in hopes of selling her wares.

She desired to sell her products outside of the local economy, but traditional export methods required mass production of her product and involved exorbitant export costs and involved complex supply chains that benefitted the middleman.

Using SasaAfrica’s e-commerce platform, she does not have to have a bank account or have access to the Internet to sell her goods.

She simply registers as a SasaAfrica vendor, picks up her cell phone and takes a picture of one of her pieces of jewelry and an online storefront is automatically created on SasaAfrica’s  e-commerce site.

When one of her products is sold, she receives a text message and is paid via mobile money.

The money she makes is used to pay for her children’s school fees, rent, basic amenities and to support the father of her children. The remaining money is used to fund her business.

“For me, SasaAfrica is a life-changing experience. I no longer need to suffer from body fatique from carrying my goods to and from the market each day.  I can now sell my goods from the comfort and safety of my home,” shares Janet.

“The more successfully we operate as a business, the more we fulfill our mission to alleviate poverty and contribute to social development,” says Mahugu.Not only is the company economically empowering women in developing countries, but enhancing their safety and well being.

“There are a lot of risks associated with selling on the streets from sexual violence to exposure to all kinds of diseases and pollution.

“Now they can work and produce from the safety of their homes, taking care of their children and make 20 times the amount of income they would have made otherwise, so it is really exciting,” says Floyd.

The company looks forward to impacting the lives of more women in developing countries and in impoverished areas of the U.S.

“We have won a couple of competitions and we are looking for angel investors to build the entire integrated platform,” says Floyd.

The company has raised $50,000 from various competitions and is just beginning to make its social impact.

“We need about $200,000 more to roll out the platform completely in order to have a huge impact on the lives of many more women, and, that is our goal,” says Floyd.

For more information, visit www.sasaafrica.com.