Trustee Shop Soko: Mobile Technology Bridges Access To Markets For Kenyan Artisans


I have a rather bold, turquoise and brass necklace I wear regularly in Nairobi. I sometimes get asked where it’s from and say it’s made by artisans we work with through Kiva Zip.

I was waiting on the back of my boda driver’s motorbike at a petrol station in Kibera when Veronica approached us. She walked me over to her working area, a place she calls  “a society of artisans,” where over 150 artisans work daily on designs that end up in local markets, in a kiosk at Jomo Kenyatta Airport for a last minute purchase or maybe if things align correctly in a store near you.


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Photo by Praise Santos

I greeted Veronica’s two craftsmen who were finely sawing and shaping the small, white camel bone pieces that comprised the bracelet she worked on in that day's workshop. She explained to me that each camel bone costs 80 Ksh (roughly $.90USD). “They are sanded in 5 stages and after you’ve finished sanding you bleach them with hydrogen peroxide to get the pure white look,” she says.


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Photo by Praise Santos

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Veronica sources these materials from local butchers. After the crafting process is complete each piece feels and looks unique, a distinction only handmade designs can achieve. After working in crafts for 7 years, Veronica opened her business, AfrikanLive, in August 2013. AfrikanLive is a small design and production organization dedicated to crafting designs made of cow and camel bone, cow horn and Maasai beads.


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Originally from Siaya county in the Kisumu region of Kenya, Veronica is the 6th born in a family of 7 children. “I was introduced to Kiva by Shop Soko,” she says. “They are also my biggest clients so far.”


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Photo by Praise Santos
The biggest challenge for her business is finding a good market or access to markets for the products she makes.


Women in Africa produce 60-80% of the continent’s goods; yet they earn only 10% of the income. Kiva Zip Trustee Shop Soko bridges this gap by connecting Kenyan artisans directly to consumers all over the world via web and mobile platforms. Soko is in many ways an African mobile marketplace.


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Soko operates as an e-commerce platform that connects mobile-enabled artisans in Kenya directly to web-based consumers all over the world. Imagine an Etsy platform for artisans who normally do not have access to the Internet and Soko bridges that gap. They help artisans like Veronica gain access to new markets around the world and provide mentorship on design and business skills. Artisans are able to upload a vendor profile, product images and descriptions to the website using SMS or their mobile platform, allowing them to trade even in areas without Internet services.

Veronica used her first Kiva loan to buy a smartphone to allow her to take photos of the products she makes. She sends these mobile photos directly to Shop Soko so they can assess the product designs. She has also been able to set up a Facebook Page and LinkedIn account to gain recognition as a designer and network with international designers to sell products.

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kibera-8856Photo by Praise Santos

With so many middlemen in the craft supply chain, this new marketplace revolutionizes international trade, cutting out the middlemen to create economic opportunity, increased profits for artisans and reduce logistical costs by over 70%.

Veronica recently applied for a 2nd Zip loan. She plans to buy a bench cutter machine which is used to cut designs, bones and other materials. It will enable her to make more accurate and varied designs to differentiate her products.

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She aspires to get a bigger workshop to hold client meetings and show product samples.  “That’s always the wish. To have a business grow from where you are to a bigger enterprise,” she says.


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Watch our interview with Veronica at her workshop here:
Veronica Workshop Interview


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Posted by Tiffany Vlaanderen, Kiva Zip Fellow, Kenya

May 26, 2014

Tiffany currently serves as a Fellow for the Kiva Zip Kenya team in Nairobi, a platform that allows people to lend to entrepreneurs directly in Kenya via mobile technology. She's interested in learning how we can work with individuals and communities to create economic opportunities for themselves.

Before becoming a fellow Tiffany worked at Kiva headquarters on the Marketing & Communications team and ate her way through countless Nopalito excursions in San Francisco. Before joining Kiva, she played tag with hundreds of Japanese elementary and junior high students daily and more formally served as their foreign English teacher in a small seaside, agricultural town in Kumamoto prefecture. She also wrote for Forbes Indonesia which truly taught her that you could love what you do on a daily basis -- it’s a feeling she's continually fighting for.

She has an insatiable appetite when it comes to food, sharing stories and challenging her perspective. Her hometown is a neighborhood full of endless dim sum & tacos in a pocket of Los Angeles. She enjoys capturing moments with her iPhone, spending time with warm people and listening to Drake narrate her life daily.

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