Interview

Mobile phone platform fills SMEs trade information gaps

It collects up-to-date reports from 77 markets in the region

 

Sauti Partnerships director David Orega

SUNDAY February 10, 2019 

Sauti is a mobile-based platform aimed at empowering entrepreneurs to trade legally, safely and profitably across East African borders. Sauti Partnerships director David Orega sheds light on the platform in this interview with Joe Lihundi.

What is Sauti?

Sauti means voice in Swahili. The Sauti Trade and Market Information platform is a mobile-based tool for simplifying access to information on trading procedures and voicing incidents of corruption and harassment. It innovates on the ubiquity of East Africa’s mobile traction to provide an SMS-based market and trade platform to citizens across the region.

Traders can use our number to find out what documentation, taxes and tariffs are applicable to their products, and receive regular updates on changes to border procedures. Through our anonymous reporting mechanism, we crowd-source data to map incidents of harassment and corruption at border crossings across East Africa.

How does the platform operate?

Sauti syncs most up-to-date and official information from 77 markets across six East African Community (EAC) partner states to provide traders. Sauti members of staff verify the information, simplify the language and translate it to increase its accessibility by all East Africans.

How many subscribers does Sauti have so far?

We currently have over 3,800 active users of the Sauti mobile platform drawn across Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. About 70 per cent of them are women.

What specific cross-border hiccups do they often face?

Cross border trade is normally associated with information gaps. Traders do not always have access to the pre-requisite information to enable them make informed business decisions especially when they are to transact business outside their countries.

These gaps make them flout rules which exposes them to situations where they have to pay bribes either money or otherwise. Additionally, lack of information on prices and exchange rates expose them to dishonest middlemen and money changers who take advantage of them, hence thinning their profit margins.

And while there are a lot of laws that have been made to simplify movement of goods and people easy across the region, small-scale traders are normally not aware, hence can never take advantage of the Simplified Trade Regimes or enjoy the benefits of complying with the requisite border procedures or even understanding the taxes applicable to their commodities.

While some of the information is available, the channels used for disseminating them are inaccessible to small-scale cross-border traders, who often than not only have simple feature phones. Even for those who own smart phones, limited understanding of the functionality of the phones and the business environment in which they work in cannot allow them to take advantage of the phone features that can help them access information other than call and SMS functions.

How do you go about resolving the hiccups?

Sauti leverages mobile technology to deliver trade and market information to small-scale cross-border traders to empower them to trade legally, safely and more profitably across the EAC borders. The information include procedures for importing and exporting, taxes applicable on imports, requisite documents, real time exchange rates and commodity prices for the major markets across the EAC.

This information has been officially sourced and verified by the relevant agencies before it is disseminated and is made accessible on all types of phones by dialing a USSD code. To ensure that language is not a barrier to accessing the information, we have simplified the information and translated it to languages mostly spoken in the various countries.

The information is helping traders to make conscious and informed cross border business decisions. To access the Sauti Platform in Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, traders dial *483*35#, *780*35# and*270*35#, respectively.

What else has Sauti achieved?

Sixty eight per cent of traders have been able to identify new products to trade in and 90 per cent have identified new markets. Baseline data indicates that prior to using Sauti, traders were spending between $3.50 and $13 on calls to other traders or brokers in a bid to access trade and market information.

They also spent between 50 minutes and five hours on travelling to markets to access market information. By using Sauti, cross-border traders are spending as much as $0.50 per week in network access fees to access trade and market information and no longer need to travel to markets to verify market information.

Seventy per cent of surveyed users said since using Sauti, they were aware of the requirements for clearing their goods through the gazetted border, while 57 per cent were aware of taxes applicable to their consignments.

BIO

David Orega has over three years of experience managing field operations in East Africa. Most recently, working in a senior field management post at Busara Centre for Behavioural Economics. He holds a BSc in Information Sciences from Moi University, Kenya.

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