Sokowatch, the innovative East African e-commerce platform, was named as the winner of the recently concluded Visa Everywhere Initiative – Pandemic Challenge in the USA. This year’s initiative was specifically developed to find an immediate solution to help rebuild small businesses heavily impacted by COVID-19.

The Visa Everywhere Initiative (VEI) is a global innovation program by Visa that calls for startups and fintech companies to step up and provide solutions to tomorrow’s commerce and payment challenges. The initiative also tasks these businesses to improve their own product propositions and offer insightful solutions for Visa’s expansive network of partners.

With the pandemic leading to the loss of income and jobs for millions of people in Africa, Sokowatch is using its existing technology systems and network of shopkeepers to distribute e-vouchers to ensure that people living in informal settlements in East Africa continue to have access to essential goods. The e-vouchers, which are received by SMS and redeemed at a local registered shop, have benefited over 10,000 people to-date.

Sokowatch’s participation in the 2020 challenge speaks to the huge opportunity to support communities digitally in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania. The company uses data tracking analysis to gain insight into the shopping trends of the communities and provide competitive prices from manufacturers. The data also ensures the Sokowatch warehouses are stocked with goods based on demand such as volumes of rice, flour, oil and soap.  The in-depth knowledge of the ecosystems it operates in has made smart financing during such precarious times possible.

Sokowatch, which uses tech-enabled solutions to improve supply chain inefficiencies and transform access to essential goods, currently has a network of over 16,000 shops in nine major cities across East Africa. With the informal retail market making up 90% of African consumer purchases, the threat of shop closures due to the global pandemic could have potentially limited the supply of essential goods and food for millions of low-income families. 

For shop owners, the pandemic created the daunting prospect of a complete loss of income, but in a move against the grain of the lending market during COVID-19, Sokowatch extended credit lines to allow informal retailers to place larger orders of goods. Through Sokowatch’s credit scheme, informal retailers have been able to maintain business continuity and see a 20-25% increase in sales as well as establish a stronger position to serve the low income families that heavily rely on them.