A simple technology is making life easier for green grocers in Nairobi slums
In Mathare, an informal settlement that is home to nearly 200,000 people, more than half the population lives on a tight budget. Prices are the determinants of the dwellers’ food choice. In the urban slums, vegetable sellers and kiosk owners are the gate keepers to what people eat. These micro-entrepreneurs, most of them women, however, face one challenge-they cannot access wholesale pricing.
This is mainly because they lack sufficient capital to buy goods in bulk causing them to spend 25 per cent of their daily income transporting goods to and from the markets. But a new technology promises to solve their problem. Combining soko (market) with the power of mobile phones, SokoText, a social enterprise and brain child of Suraj Gudka creates a link between the mama mboga and the market.
“We work with mama mboga who are based in the slums. We help them to order their daily stock of fresh produce using an SMS based system, which aggregates all their orders and turn them into one big order. We then source the goods in bulk prices and sell them from a central place in the area. All these, at a small fee. This means that they don’t have to go to the market everyday, hence saving a lot of time, money and energy. They take their order at a lower cost because we get the goods on wholesale,” Gudka says.
According to Gudka, mama mboga spends a lot of time and money on a daily basis just to get their stocks. But the enterprise seeks to solve this problem and make the system more efficient.SokoText does this using SMS service. Mama mboga can pre-order their stock for the next day by sending an SMS containing the order. They then source the fresh produce from local markets and sometimes directly from farmers.
Because SokoText deals with large volumes, they are able to take advantage of bulk prices and transport costs are lower. “Once we have sourced the fresh produce, we transport it to distribution centres that are located in strategic areas in slums. Thereafter an SMS is sent to the mama mboga asking them to collect and pay for their order. This way we save them time and money,” the economics graduate says.
This idea was formed when Gudka was studying at the London School of Economics (LSE). He decided to enter a student competition last year: The prestigious Hult Prize. Together with his four colleagues, the idea was born. The goal of the 2013 competition was to develop a business venture that would address food insecurity in urban slums.
As the only Kenyan in the group, Gudka convinced his colleagues to pilot the idea in Nairobi, and Mathares specifically. Although they did not win, Gudka decided he would pursue the idea further and he gave up on his accounting career to concentrate on it. Just like any other business ventures, SokoText has an eye on profit but the main aim is to inspire social change.