In conversation with Sylvia Munai, junior project manager at Sauti East Africa, an organisation based in Kenya that provides women-led businesses with market-related information to help them make better business decisions.
Can you just tell us more about your organisation and the work that you do?
Sauti East Africa is a social impact organisation that is focused on understanding the different organisations out there and is more oriented towards the community and improving their lives. Sauti is quite unique as we deal with traders. In East Africa, the majority of small skill traders are women, about 70% of the women who do small-scale trading, especially across borders such as moving goods from Kenya to Uganda, Kenya to Tanzania, are women trading in the East Africa region. The women trade in small commodities, largely agricultural commodities, and they move along the borders.
The platform was created because we realised when women trade from country to country they are not aware of the documentation they need because when you’re moving goods from one country to another, no matter how small the goods are, you need documentation such as that which proves the food has been checked by plant health directorates. The Sauti platform simplifies the information for women to be able to understand it easier because this information can get quite complicated, especially at the national level. We simplify the information as much as possible for the women to have an easier understanding of what the content entails.
We also use a mobile application to disseminate information, Sauti uses mobile phones to disseminate information to the women traders. The mobile platform uses USSD and SMS technology. We largely started with USSD as a mass technology, it is an interface where women can get the tailored information they’re looking for. For example, if a woman is trading in maize and wants to know how much it is in a specific region they can easily go to our platform and dial a code, which is the USSD code. Once the code is dialled, the user is able to see the market prices of maize in the different towns within that country. Sauti is in Kenya, Tanzania Uganda, Rwanda and each country has specific USSD codes unique to them.
Sauti is freely available and can be accessed by dialling *716# in Kenya; *801*35# in Rwanda; *284*111# in Uganda; *149*46*1# in Tanzania, and +254 20 389 3576 on WhatsApp.
How does Sauti use technology and data-solutions to help women-led businesses?
Mobile technologies are the main technologies we use to create social impact and we have a WhatsApp platform. We also have a dashboard, where we collect data for every woman who uses our platform and we are able to capture their user behaviour and what their interests are. On our platform, we have various types of information, we have information ranging from market prices, exchange rates, health, legal aid, agriculture, and information on Covid-19. We are able to see how women are using our platforms and we are able to see what is more important to them in terms of the information that they’re searching for.
What are some of the challenges that Sauti faces?
The biggest challenge when working with the women is that some of them, especially in the rural areas, have low literacy levels. Even if these women have access to information on our platform, they are still unable to read. We have been trying to find ways we can help them and one of the strategies we are trying to incorporate is to have more youth. By educating the youth, they can then go to their parents, their aunties and teach them more because youth tend to take up technology quite fast and they have a sharp understanding. The biggest challenge has been low literacy levels, for example, there will be a woman who wants to understand and know better but she’s unable to read. So we’re just trying to figure out how to help these women to help learn and be more inclusive.
In September we will be hosting a forum Civic Tech Innovation Forum and the theme will be DIY Africa. What does DIY Africa mean to you?
Now that women have access to platforms such as the USSD they are able to educate themselves, learn and make better business decisions. When you stop being ignorant, because I think sometimes we are ignorant of the things that are available to us and we miss out on opportunities.
It’s up to us to be proactive and try to learn as much as possible and see areas where we can take advantage of and be better traders and farmers from the information that is there. We don’t have to wait for outside help. We really have everything in Africa that we need to be better. So I think it’s up to individuals to just take initiative, which may not be so easy. Just be proactive and find these channels because they’re available to us at whatever level you are at and find ways you can advance yourself or plant yourself in communities that have the same goals and visions as you.