Sasa - e-commerce. everywhere. for everyone.

Sasa - e-commerce. everywhere. for everyone.

KenyaCambridge, United States
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$100,000 - $250,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Sasa is a peer-to-peer e-commerce platform that connects offline artisans in the developing world to online consumers using a simple mobile phone.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Women in Africa produce 60-80% of the continent’s goods. They earn only 10% of incomes. Women face economic discrimination that leads to disproportionate representation in the informal economy, leaving them unable to access financial services such as banks, loans, or credit, and vulnerable to the dangers and limitations of the cash economy. Millions of women across Africa attempt to earn a living by supplementing meager incomes by making and selling crafts - a skill that roots them deeply in culture and community. However, due to a costly export supply chain, their crafts are limited to the local economy with inconsistent demand.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Sasa empowers craftswomen to participate in the global marketplace. Sasa is an e-commerce platform that connects offline artisans in the developing world to online consumers using a simple mobile phone. With our patented SMS-based business tools and financial services, vendors create personal online storefronts using our mobile phone business tools. Global consumers can then buy directly from the vendors on Sasa ’s e-commerce website, revolutionizing the supply chain into a P2P exchange. Sasa’s innovative financial services facilitate direct international payment and transaction, bringing artisans to the web economy. Sasa transforms the ubiquitous mobile phone into a tool that expands access to economic opportunity for women, giving them a greater share of the profits of the global craft industry.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Our innovation leverages existing communications technology and infrastructure to pioneer a completely new marketplace. This new marketplace revolutionizes the way money and goods are exchanged during international trade, creating economic opportunity and increased profits for vendors, savings for consumers, and profit for Sasa. Using Sasa artisans are able to independently create sustainable micro-enterprises using mobile phones, mobile money transfers, and reliable delivery services. Sasa’s innovative technology consists of patent-pending, SMS-driven mobile phone business tools for vendors to automatically upload vendor profiles and products to a P2P e-commerce website for online consumers. Sasa connects artisans to global e-commerce, even if they do not have access to the Internet, a computer, or a bank account. Sasa's patented technology offers three main innovations: 1. Using Sasa, vendors, with no need for Internet or a bank account, can create and manage their online vendor profiles via their personal mobile phones. 2. Sasa facilitates payment, transferring international credit card payments into mobile money. 3. Innovative tracking tools ensure efficient and secure delivery within the P2P order fulfillment process. These innovations enable, for the first time ever, direct trade between economies and geographies that have never been connected through commerce before.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Design-manufacture collaboratives, fair trade importers and Ebay World of Goods/Etsy, all provide access to US consumers to quality imported handmade goods. Sasa ’s scalable technology provides first-ever direct access to an enormous and entirely new market of micro manufacturers. Sasa will maintain our competitive advantage with retention strategies and evolving and innovating our services and technology. Our proprietary technology developed by our team at MIT positions us as 1) the only organization to provide an accessible international sales and financial services to artisans and as 2) a service provider to the organizations that would traditionally be viewed as competition.

Founding Story

Sasa was born after years working in slums around the world, witnessing the disconnection between the incredible cultural value of developing world artisans work and the limited monetary value they could earn from it. In the existing costly and complex export supply chain, vendors receive just a fraction of the potential profit that could be earned if the tools and opportunity existed for women to competitively enter the global marketplace as independent entrepreneurs. They have the desire and skills to participate in the global marketplace, but lack the business and financial tools. What they do have access to are mobile phones and mobile literacy skills. We have developed tools for trade that leverage ubiquitous communication technology so that anyone with a simple mobile phone can participate in international trade.
About You
About You
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About Your Organization
Organization Name


Organization Country

, MA, Cambridge

Country where this project is creating social impact
How long has your organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Has the organization received awards or honors? Please tell us about them

-Best Buy Innovators award, $50,000 and professional marketing consultation.
-Technology Prize for Global Social Entrepreneurship at UW GSEC sponsored by Microsoft of $10,000; in addition, $60,000 annual support in server space and operational software
-Social Impact Venture Award of $10,000 from Sheafor–Lindsay,
-the Rice Alliance Business Plan Competition award of $10,000 sponsored by Miller, Egan, Molter & Nelson LLP
-Business Development Support for the value of $15,000 from FLS Associates
-National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance (NCIIA),
-Cambridge's Women's Travel Scholarships, Center for Women and Entrepreneurship in Boston.

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How long have you been in operation?

Operating for 1‐5 years

Which of the following best describes the barrier(s) your innovation addresses? Choose up to two

Access, Cost, Transparency, Equity.

Social Impact
Please describe the goal of your initiative; outline what you are trying to achieve

Sasa creates technology tools that empower artisans in the developing world to create and grow micro-enterprises, helping them transition from the informal cash economy to the formal sector. Sasa has created the link to achieve full financial inclusion by providing access to affordable, secure, and comprehensive business tools and financial services that provide financial records, micro-finance, savings, and transaction and e-commerce tools. Sasa cuts out the middleman, ensuring that the majority of the profits stay with the vendor and within her community. Sasa vendors will be able to save money securely, borrow money affordably, and make payments knowledgeably.

Which barrier(s) to financial inclusion does your solution seek to address? (select all applicable)

Physical and other accessibility obstacles that prevent communities from reaching financial services, The lack of affordable financial products tailored to the needs of underserved and excluded communities,, Powerful incentives for financial service providers to move up-market, Other (Please describe below).

If you selected 'other' above, please specify which other barriers to financial inclusion you solution seeks to address:

Tools that enable anyone, anywhere to conduct international sales and transactions.

For which underserved or excluded communities will your solution create access to valuable, affordable, secure and comprehensive financial services?

Eighty-four percent of women in Sub-Saharan Africa work in the informal economy, excluding them from financial rights and representation. Most of these women end up in self-employment, earning subsistence incomes with little or no growth opportunity. Many turn to craft production which provides an entry-point into the economy for under-resourced groups. Simple tools that would multiply their income with little to no upfront investment would be immediately welcomed. Moreover, our tools empower women to grow their businesses as formal entrepreneurs, gaining access to financial tools and literacy through the use of the platform. Vendors can leverage traceable income earned on the Sasa platform to access loans, open a bank account, and formally register as an independent entity.

Could your solution work in other geographies or regions? If so, where?

Sasa can be successfully implemented anywhere that has pervasive mobile phone penetration, mobile money, and reliable shipping infrastructure. In Africa alone, this accounts for more than 15 countries, with mobile money rapidly coming online in further African and developing countries worldwide.
Our telecommunications partner, Bharti Airtel, and their mobile money service, Airtel Money are excited to promote us as a value added service in the 17 countries in Africa in which they currently operate as well as India. We are also actively developing relationships with further telecommunications companies to enable our services to be accessible to emerging economy artisans worldwide.
We will pilot in Mexico Jan 2013, launch across East Africa Summer 2013, and plan to expand to countries in Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America.

If your solution is dramatically successful, how will things be different in 10 years?

Sasa will revolutionize the global market place, connecting offline economies to the web economy through mobile technology, bringing millions of people access to the formal market place and proliferating access to secure and effective financial services. In addition, we will have facilitated the education of millions of women in financial literacy and business skills. In ten years, Sasa hopes to transform the face of international trade to one that is more inclusive, equitable, and women-driven. Currently, the majority of wealth in developing countries is concentrated in very few hands. We hope, through access to tools to earn and manage income, to massively decentralize and distribute this wealth, enriching countries at the community level and empowering women to have influence in their communites and countries.

What will have had to have changed to make this happen?

In order for Sasa to successfully create and implement, at a global scale, an inclusive and profitable international direct trade platform, certain assumptions must be true:
● women want to be economically empowered
● craftswomen will adopt the Sasa platform into their market practices
● international consumers will be compelled to buy their products
● vendors will successfully earn and manage sustainable income
● both vendors and international consumers will trust the Sasa technology
● existing infrastructures will be consistent and expand with demand

From applied research and our pilot, these assumptions are sound. However, to truly scale, we need the collaboration of governments, financial institutions, and international trade standards, which is why we are building government and institutional awareness and partnership from the get-go.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

Accessible tools for female entrepreneurs to support, grow, and formalize the MSME’s of Sub-Saharan Africa is necessary to disrupt the pattern of poverty amongst women. Our mission is to increase access to economic opportunity for women in the developing world to improve their livelihoods. If these women are provided the tools to build micro-enterprises and access global consumers, they will be economically empowered. Growing financial stability enables them to exit the informal marketplace, establish the location, security, and terms of their trade, and contributes to sustainable community development. We are dedicated to educating, training and empowering women through our business and financial services. We have registered and trained over 250 women and girls to use mobile technology to access international markets and build micro-enterprises.

What is your projected impact over the next five years?

When a vendor uses Sasa, every transaction is recorded for easy accounting and management solutions and her income is traceable. We deduct income tax for the government directly from sales and provide an opt-in option for insurance deduction, helping her move towards becoming a recorded entrepreneur with the ability to prove income for accessing financial rights and representation. Over the next 5 years, our projected impact is to support the creation of 47,800 registered microenterprises, earning $8,357,029 of traceable incomes.

Using Sasa, women vendors in developing countries will learn better communication skills, technology mastery, and business practices while reducing their exposure to health risks associated with outdoor vending by 37% over the next five years.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

One of our challenges is establishing a growth model that allows for measured, sustainable growth. We have developed an innovative social logistics and growth strategy that will help support an incremental & socially-driven growth model, encourages a supportive network of vendors along the way.
Our vendor growth strategy is twofold:
-Our agent model incentivizes experienced vendors to recruit high potential vendors to mentor and introduce to the platform until they are qualified and comfortable as independent vendors.
-E-commerce education program is used by existing community groups and women’s collectives to introduce the Sasa platform, financial and business best practices.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Over the next six months Sasa will see the launch, optimization, and innovation of our platform, serving over 1500 artisans

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

September, 2012 beta launch with Aitrel and GSMA’s mwomen in Nairobi, Kenya.

Task 2

October, 2012 public worldwide web launch with DEMO Africa representing artisans across Kenya.

Task 3

December, 2012 launch next generation communication, financial, and income tracking tools.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Sasa will expand its geographic and operational partnerships to move into new countries, support a massively expanded user group

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Launch Sasa with further telecommunications service providers to support maximum access to all mobile phone subscribers.

Task 2

January 2012, pilot research in Mexico. February 2013, expand East African operations to Uganda and Tanzania.

Task 3

July 2013, start West African operations in Ghana

Tell us about your partnerships

We have forged strong partnerships with banks, telecommunication companies, and community groups that will make Sasa a sustainable success. Safaricom, Airtel, and the Central Bank of Kenya are just some of the institutional partners committed to seeing Sasa succeed. In addition, we are building partnership with two international NGOs, International Center for Research on Women and MADRE, to measure social impact, grow vendor and consumer networks and leverage Sasa’s impact. In Mexico, we are partnering the Lab for Social transformation to research technology, consumer, and vendor opportunties

Are you currently targeting other specific populations, locations, or markets for your innovation? If so, where and why?

We are currently targeting Uganda, Tanzania and Ghana for near term scale-up in Africa. Through our partnership with Bharti Airtel, we will expand to 17 countries in Africa. We are researching the conditions in Mexico and plan to pilot in January, 2013. We will partake in the Unreasonable Institute’s Unreasonable at Sea, which will take Sasa around the world, Spring 2013, over a period of three months to build local resources and partnerships necessary to scale internationally.

What type of operating environment and internal organizational factors make your innovation successful?

Our company culture is built around our social mission of economically empowering women. Even though we are a for profit enterprise, expected to break even before the end of 2012, our operational, strategic, and technical decisions are made with a deliberate commitment to both our social and financial bottom lines.

This commitment is understood by all of our stakeholders, leading to trusting and collaborative relationships with vendor communities as well as transparent, productive agreements with our partners, funders, and service providers that prioritize our social impact on par with our profit generation.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

I have learned vital lessons of success and failure from my previous companies and initiatives and am always excited to share these with other innovators. I believe collaboration and support amongst a strong community of changemakers is vital for the success and sustainability of an idea.