• Summary: Identify growth opportunities for Soko, a technology enterprise based in Nairobi, by evaluating the social impact it is having on its producers.  
  • My role: Lead researcher, insights, author.
  • Target users: Artisans in Nairobi using Soko's mobile phone platform.
  • Impact: Over the following year, Soko's monthly orders increased by 1300%. I authored a chapter in the academic anthology "Women's Entrepreneurship in Global Contexts" based on this research and presented the findings at the International Symposium on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Stockholm.

 

 

Soko is a social enterprise based in Nairobi that connects Kenyan artisans with global consumers using mobile technology. 

I worked with Soko in their very early days, when the new company was unsure of the social impact it was having on the artisans using the platform. I helped them understand what kind of producers were using the platform, and who among them was having the most success so that Soko could have a roadmap for growth moving forward.

The recommendations from this research resulted in Soko's monthly orders increasing by 1300% over the following year. The research insights are also featured as a chapter in the academic anthology "Women's Entrepreneurship in Global Contexts."


The challenge 

Evaluate the social impact Soko has on its producers, and identify opportunities for future growth.

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Research approach

My research reached 90% of Soko's artisans and compared them against a control group. I used the following methods:

  • Participant observation: I visited artisans in their workshops, markets, and homes.
  • Mobile phone surveys: I partnered with a local startup to send SMS-based survey questions since the majority of the artisans didn't have access to smart phones.
  • Interviews: I conducted interviews with 36 artisans across Nairobi.
  • Focus groups: I held focus groups in conjunction with Soko's regularly scheduled training sessions.

Clusters

I conducted cluster analysis in order to group the 40 producers into personas who represented different types of Soko artisans.

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Agnes

Agnes is 22 and works part-time on her craft business. She mostly sells her pieces online on Facebook and through friends of friends. 

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Perpetua

Perpetua focuses on her craft business full-time. She sells her pieces at Masai Markets, the traditional marketplaces throughout Nairobi. 

Alex

Alex is not very engaged with Soko. He hasn't attended any of the trainings they offer, nor has he uploaded any new products onto the platform for the past few months. 

Insights

  • Support fewer artisans more deeply: Perpetua represented the cluster of artisans that were the most successful on Soko’s platform. These producers had extensive prior experience in the craft industry, but were relying on Soko as their only means for exporting products abroad. The research illuminated that Soko should focus their energy on supporting and recruiting artisans with this profile. In order for new artisans joining the platform to succeed, Soko needed to provide training and personalized feedback on their designs up front.
  • Shift to a bulk order model: By working with the artisans that are most likely to be successful and produce consistently high quality products, Soko had the opportunity to shift to selling products in bulk direct to other brands.
  • Focus marketing on the experience: Soko's marketing approach needed to mimic the environments where people typically buy art and craft products, like exhibitions and shows. Their site could create an experiential feeling through higher quality product photos and mechanisms for buyers and sellers to interact together.
  • Create ripple effect impact: While in its early stages, Soko was having significant positive social, economic, and technological impact on its artisans. Because the majority of the successful artisans employed people in their workshops, their work created ripple effects throughout their communities. If Soko scaled up their sales through bulk orders, it had the potential to create much larger impact.

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Impact

  • Over the following year, Soko's monthly orders increased by 1300% by shifting to a bulk order business model and recruiting artisans that we identified to be most likely to succeed on the platform. 
  • I presented the insights from this research at the International Symposium on Women’s Entrepreneurship in Stockholm.
  • I wrote a chapter in the peer-reviewed academic anthology Women's Entrepreneurship in Global Contexts about the research and its methodology. 
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