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Soko Jewelry Interview | Employing Artisans in Less Developed Countries

We wanted to profile a socially conscious series of brands that are truly making a social impact across the globe.


We wanted to do these socially conscious brands justice by helping spread their message to you. As a result, we've compiled "mini-interviews" from each socially conscious brand to give you an idea of just how impactful our purchasing decisions as consumers can be. A socially conscious brand that we had the privilege to talk to is Soko, a brand that employs artisans to made handmade jewelry. They developed a mobile platform for artisans in less developed countries.

How Soko Uses Their Mobile Platform to Employ Artisans Developing Countries

Soko connects consumers to artisans in underserved communities through a mobile platform. A mobile platform makes employing artisans in developing countries possible anywhere in the world. In Africa, the main source of technology is a cell phone. While most people in less developed countries don’t have computers, many of them do have cell phones. Soko saw this as an opportunity to connect online consumers with artisans who made handcrafted jewelry in less developed countries.

Let’s hear how they come up with the idea to develop a mobile platform and why it’s so important to purchase from a social good e-commerce store.

How did you come up with the word “Soko”?

Soko means marketplace in Swahili, the national language of Kenya.

What’s Soko’s mission?

At Soko, our mission is to create an online marketplace so that small­-scale producers in the developing world can participate in global trade.

What makes Soko so unique as an e-commerce site?

Soko has developed the first e-­commerce marketplace that enables talented artisans to post and sell their products online, even if they do not have access to a computer or a bank account. Our innovation leverages existing communication technology and provide a completely new marketplace. This new marketplace grants artisans direct access to the web economy. International consumers have direct access to a new marketplace of high quality, handmade goods.

How did Soko start?

We co-founded Soko in 2011 after recognizing a global need, as well as global economic opportunity to disrupt the patterns of poverty found across the less developed world’s creative economy. Working in bottom of the pyramid communities around the world, we were inspired to develop a solution to answer the disconnect between the incredible cultural value of the goods artisans make and the disproportionality small amount of money they can earn from these goods.

Let’s talk about Soko’s mobile platform. How has it brought economic opportunity to less developed countries?

By leveraging technology and existing infrastructure in an innovative way, we could create a platform to enable any talented artisan to participate in international trade. The Soko solution transforms the ubiquitous mobile phone into a tool that expands access to economic opportunity for artisans in underserved communities, disrupting the traditional export supply chain to revolutionize the way money and goods are transacted into a peer-to-peer exchange. We've been working on Soko for 2.5 years. We spent the first year developing our first prototypes and have since then have been rolling out successively improving iterations with our artisan and online consumer communities!

What does the craft artisan industry look like in the developing world?

Behind agriculture, the artisan craft industry is the second largest employer in the developing world. This industry creates jobs, fosters economic communities, sustains traditions and heritage and is an important component of healthy and sustainable development. This sector is labor intensive and involves a significant number of poor people, especially women, and those less able to enter gainful employment. Despite the developing world’s share of production, individual craftspeople have no direct access to this worldwide consumer demand.

What does employment look like in developing countries?

A large percentage of the population in Sub-­Saharan Africa is self-­employed in the informal economy. They turn to the production of crafts and handmade goods, a skill that roots them deeply in culture and community. Handmade goods help them supplement their meager incomes. However, the sale of their crafts are limited to the local economy with it’s inconsistent demand. Meanwhile, international consumers pay on average up to 10 times the cost of production. Vendors receive just a fraction of the potential profit that could be earned if the tools and opportunity existed for artisans to competitively enter the global marketplace as independent entrepreneurs.

There are hundreds of millions of small-­scale producers making valuable goods in emerging economies around the world. However, these producers cannot access the worldwide consumer demand for their unique and low cost products because they, like over 70% of the world’s population, are living and working on the other side of the digital divide, unable to benefit from the innovation and economic opportunity the Internet provides.

Where do you see Soko in 10 years?

Success for Soko would see us reaching global scale to impact the lives of tens of thousands of small-scale producers. This competitive, successful marketplace would provide livelihood and entrepreneurial growth opportunities in emerging economies. It would protect cultural heritage and promote environmentally friendly, small scale production as a viable and profitable model of trading.  fairly between technologically and geographically distant communities as well.

How do you measure success at Soko?

Success would mean that Soko successfully changes the dialogue around international trade, proving that mobile technology and agile, innovative business models can disrupt traditional “ways of doing business” in the developing world to create life changing opportunity for stakeholders that have been excluded from economic participation in national and global economies until now. Success would mean globalizing (and normalizing!) a model of international direct trade that is fair, transparent, environmentally friendly, and massively distributed.  

About Soko

Soko leverages technology to connect online consumers to global makers and handcrafted jewelry from the developing world. In Africa, the dominant source of technology is the mobile phone, and while most may not have computers, many do have phones. Soko transforms the mobile phone into a tool that expands access to economic opportunity for artisans in underserved communities. The mobile platform also enables Soko to cut the traditional middleman to reduce logistical costs and therefore increase profits for the artisans.  Soko’s impact has been tremendous, and their blog is a must read for anyone interested in obtaining a glimpse into the culture of these artisans. All Soko products are crafted by these artisans and are mailed directly from Soko’s offices in Nairobi, Kenya. Impressively, the average order arrives in 7-10 business days, and Soko is able to offer extremely low international shipping rates ($5-$14 depending on the order size, and free for orders above $150).
Photo Credits: Soko Website



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