Shopping for all: Mobile technology as social enterprise

Social Enterprise

Shopping for all: Mobile technology as social enterprise

Women and children beading in Uganda. Photo: Cassandra Nelson/Mercy Corps.

In October, artisans in Africa gained a direct link to shoppers around the world through a mobile shopping app launched by Soko.

Soko, the online shopping site founded by Ella Peinovich, Gwendolyn Floyd, and Catherine Mahugu, connects artisans and shoppers around the world through mobile technology. Using the Soko application on a mobile device, designers and artisans don’t need bank accounts or computers to upload and sell their jewelry online.

“At Soko we believe that the global marketplace should be accessible to all artisans in the digital age,” Floyd said in a statement. “Artisans everywhere deserve equitable access to the means to support their craft… while consumers consistently demand access to world goods”.

In addition to building relationships between consumers and artisans, Soko provides merchants with tools and strategies to form profitable and sustainable businesses.

Initially introduced in Kenya, the free app is available to any artisan in a developing market with mobile coverage and banking systems. Artisans can create profiles and upload images and details of products to reach international consumers.

Soko functions similarly to Etsy, an online marketplace in which vendors selling vintage or handmade pieces can select the payment method offered to consumers. Soko accepts credit card payments from shoppers, and transfers the payment into mobile money payment for the vendor.

Although many social enterprises have incorporated mobile technology into their business, the practice is not yet completely mainstream. Several apps specifically designed to support social enterprise endeavors have hit the scene.

  • Social Impact uses the GPS feature in a mobile device to display more than 500 retail social enterprises in the United States, Europe and Asia. The app includes nearby restaurants, coffee shops, catering services, bakeries, ice cream stores, artisan stores, and other businesses and companies.
  • Social Enterprise Toolbox is available in e-book or iPhone mobile app format and provides a guide for business leaders at any stage of running their social enterprises. The guide addresses customer relations, products and services, market research, impact measurement, and business growth.
  • Yammer is a social network accessible through a mobile app for global companies to communicate and collaborate. Social enterprises also can develop their own apps to integrate with Yammer’s other social networking services.
  • Although not exclusively a mobile application, Custom-Clouds, a for-profit social enterprise established by Mercy Corps, the eBay Foundation and Thoughtworks, provides affordable basic web services, including mobile website design and training, to businesses in Indonesia.

The market for mobile technology in social enterprise is growing. More and more companies like Soko are seizing opportunities to build business through mobile apps, ultimately benefiting their cause.

“We want to truly empower [artisans] by providing, through simple mobile technology, the practical industry knowledge required to flourish as artisans and.. participate in the global marketplace, becoming a driver of social and economic development in their community,” Floyd said.

Watch Soko's story: 

 

ShopSoko from SasaAfrica on Vimeo.

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