Using a simple mobile phone, SasaAfrica allows craftswomen to create an online storefront able to facilitate credit card purchases, which is then transferred into mobile money, and sent directly to the vendors.
By Joëlle Payet (Marketing & Communications, BiD Network)

Co-founded by MIT graduate Ella Peinovich, SasaAfrica is a revolutionary e-commerce platform that aims to empower and enrich female entrepreneurs in emerging economies through allowing them access to an online global marketplace.

While designing and providing low-cost sanitation to the informal settlements surrounding Nairobi, Ella Peinovich was startled by the impressive cultural wares produced by local craftswomen, but more shocking was the low economic value placed on their produce. With the aim of providing these women with a sustainable solution and having extensive experience in systems design and social entrepreneurship, Ella and her partners developed SasaAfrica.

SasaAfrica, a rapidly growing artisan network – with an average of 250 vendors joining every fortnight – is a women-owned and operated social enterprise focused on empowering women entrepreneurs. Using a simple mobile phone, SasaAfrica allows craftswomen to create an online storefront able to facilitate credit card purchases, which is then transferred into mobile money, and sent directly to the vendors.

This e-commerce platform, removes the middle man, facilitating a peer to peer exchange that allows the women in emerging markets to get more for their crafts and consumers to get handmade, one-of-a-kind, products at a cheaper price. In the end everyone’s a winner.

The technology was first tested among a selection of 20 Kenyan women, the positive reception was overwhelming. It became quickly apparent that a socially driven growth model is critical to the successful adoption of the technology platform into the day-to-day operations of craftswomen. SasaAfrica offers innovative tools that assist trade, and incite sustainability, as use of the platform encourages growth in a number of support sectors, with countless new micro-enterprises emerging.

When asked what motivates her, Ella replied; “Living and working within Nairobi, I witness the amazing strength and resilience of women in the community as leaders, mothers, and producers of amazing crafts. These women have passed on these traditions, values and techniques over generations; it is communally working and creating that binds them together and where many decisions are made for their community. These women are truly inspirational and our aim at SasaAfrica is to create a global community of women connecting through commerce.”

Women produce approximately 60% to 80% of all the goods that emerge from Africa, yet retain only 10% of the income from their sale. Economic discrimination, in the way of uneven access to financial services, greatly diminishes their potential economic impact. Millions of women use making and selling crafts as a means to supplement their household income, yet a costly export supply chain diminishes their potential earnings. SasaAfrica aims to shorten the distance between vendors in developing nations and the global marketplace with their pioneering mobile commerce platform.

Should SasaAfrica be successful in seeking investment through BiD Networks Women in Business Challenge, an injection of capital would enable technological innovation and the production of the next generation of the e-commerce platform. In addition, investment would encourage growth as SasaAfrica plan to enter new markets and grow substantially.


Ella states that, “At SasaAfrica we have a saying: When you empower a woman, you empower a nation. We truly believe that women are the key to unlocking economic prosperity for many developing nations.”

Through encouraging female entrepreneurship, SasaAfrica can make a meaningful contribution to poverty reduction. The SasaAfrica e-commerce site is live, and it is possible to purchase goods prior to the public launch in October, just request access here. See their ethos, ideas and ambitions:

For more information about SasaAfrica and the Women in Business Challenge, click here.

The Women in Business Challenge is run by BiD Network, ICCO and ING.

Missed the previous stories of this series? Click here to meet Nigerian Fashion guru Kiki Kamanu, Ghanaian owner of Nuba Foods Kosi Yankey, Kenyan owner of Solafrique Lois Gicheru and Argentinian doctor in biotechnology and co-founder of BIOPRO Stela Maris da Silva.

Since 2009, the Women in Business Challenge has provided support, coaching, visibility and finance to over 600 entrepreneurial women in emerging economies. This year, five outstanding applicants were selected from almost 300, on account of their potential for growth and the overall quality of their business plans. In the final stage, these finalists will receive coaching from professionals before having the opportunity to meet face-to-face with high end investors at the Growing SMEs event at The Hague in November.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Joëlle Payet is Marketing and Communications Coordinator at BiD Network, contributing to sustainable economic growth by stimulating entrepreneurship in emerging markets. With over 42,000 members and 10,000 business plans, is the world’s largest online community for emerging market SMEs, coaches and investors. Since 2005, BiD Network has launched 670 businesses, created more than 4700 direct jobs and mobilized $15 million from investors.