Gwendolyn Floyd is the co-creator of Soko, a high impact mobile marketplace that connects artisans in the developing world to customers everywhere. Soko, with an early focus on Kenyan producers, last year received a $200,000 award through the Vodafone Americas Foundation Wireless Innovation Project (WIP), and sells goods directly to consumers, as well as through retailers such as Nordstrom and Forever 21.
Soko works with over 1,000 artisan businesses in Africa, 74% of which are female-run. The entrepreneurs there can now sell their products to over 30 countries. It works by connecting customers to artisans around the world through a mobile marketplace – even if those artisans have only a mobile phone, and even if they lack a computer or bank account, as can be common in a number of developing countries.
Floyd, an entrepreneur also involved in a number of other social and cultural projects, tells me mobile tech was essential in solving this challenge for Africa’s artisans, given how widespread cellphones are in the continent. Working with artisans is a crucial effort in the developing world, given that their activity is the second largest employer in such countries.
With artisans in those locations effectively trapped by “poor infrastructure, lack of market access, and lack of information about consumer preferences”, she says, the ever present mobile tech allows a chance to improve how they connect to customers.
The efficiency of Soko’s mobile tools allows the businesses to compete on price and time to market, she states, while reducing inventory investments and ensuring that artisans retain between 25-35% of revenue.
Floyd says the results are quickly measurable. “Within 2 months of joining Soko, artisans increase their income by a factor of four times, enabling them to better provide for their families and grow their businesses, hiring employees to create positive change in their lives and their communities’ lives.”
June Sugiyama, director, Vodafone Americas Foundation, said Soko was given the award last year because it “thinks outside the box, and is truly passionate about innovating for the artisans’ needs, providing tools to help with inventory, financial management, and manage staff – enabling more earnings to be passed on to the artisan.”