Tech firm gives women entrepreneurs lifeline through e-commerce platform

A technology firm has launched a new digital commerce marketplace that allows over 500 women entrepreneurs in the informal sector in Kisumu County to sell their products online.

The LakeHub organization in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has rolled out the Chichwa E-commerce platform for local women’s SMEs to expand their market base by tapping into the ever growing digital space.

The project that is being funded by the Russian Embassy is leveraging on technology to create opportunities for SMEs to seamlessly transact businesses with online and offline customers across the Lakeside County.

During the rollout, LakeHub CEO James Odede said with the e-commerce platform, consumers could shop online without physically visiting the markets.

“Chichwa is making shopping easier and faster. Buyers and sellers do not need to visit the market physically as has been the case for years. Once a customer within Kisumu orders for goods, the items will be dispatched and payment for the product and delivery charges is done upon the delivery,” said Odede.

Odede further divulged that the innovative firm exploits technology with the aim of helping women in the informal sector transition to selling their wares via formal online platforms, where they could access wider markets and reduce the gender disparity in the e-commerce industry.

The director of programmes at Lakehub Dorcas Owino opines that Kenya has one of the highest internet penetration rates in Africa, a milestone that can be utilised through the adoption of e-commerce to help women traders access a bigger customer base and enjoy the freedom of working from home.

The platform will enable women entrepreneurs in the informal sector in Kisumu County to create online shops, list their products and increase their profit margins to grow sustainable businesses.

According to Chichwa E-commerce team lead Purity Akoth, the platform is currently available digitally through the website www.chichwa.co.ke with plans underway to develop an App available in the Play Store and Apple Store.

“It is programmed that when a seller gets an order, she receives a text message on her phone, therefore, even those without smartphones are not locked out of this project,” explained Akoth.

The new e-commerce platform is a digital ecosystem that comprises four different business sectors such as fresh produce, second-hand clothes, Juakali and food vendors.

To shop on the platform, both the seller and the buyer need to sign up in the system by registering and their details verified to curb fraud, spam and online abuse.

The organization is piloting the initiative in ten local markets within Kisumu County before rolling it out to other markets across the country by November this year to ensure no woman is left behind in the digital space.

Apart from recruiting more online traders, the digital initiative will also provide an opportunity for more diverse products and services that serve a wider market and respond to more customer needs.

Market training has been conducted for the participating women vendors on how to make, receive and dispatch orders using the platform.

“Since Covid-19 hit, sales have gone down, especially for women vendors in informal businesses, the training and onboarding of new members on Chichwa system has scaled up their customer reach and profits. The market response is also growing and online sales have picked,” said Akoth.

Mourine Achieng, a second hand clothes trader at the Kibuye market applauded the initiative saying that “many women in the market own smartphones thus don’t need any extra form of investment to sell their clothes online. Besides, as a trader, I have realized that online selling is flexible, and saves time and resources.”

Susan Okello, a fresh produce vendor at the Kibuye market was among the first lucky traders to receive an order through the platform.

  

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