Sauti Africa is mobile-based tool helping to empower cross-border traders to exercise their rights as citizens of the EAC enabling them to trade legally, safely and profitably across borders. Crossover Kenya had a Q&A session with them to find out more about the company and what drives them.
Crossover Kenya: How would you describe Sauti Africa?
Sauti Africa: Trade plays a significant role in the world economy. In Africa alone, 43% of the citizenry are involved in trade. Informal intra EAC trade alone contributes about 2 billion USD per annum to the region’s economy and this trade is carried out by approximately 16 million people. Studies indicate that 70% of the informal intra EAC traders are women. However, most of these traders to do not understand their rights and obligations as citizens of the EAC including the benefits of preferential trade tariffs and conformity with what are however complex border procedures. This information asymmetry particularly makes them vulnerable to harassment which could sometimes be sexual, corruption and impounding of goods.
Sauti therefore leverages on USSD mobile technology to provide trade information including border procedures, taxes applicable to imports and exports, documentation required. Through our platform, we also offer commodity prices for over 77 most commonly traded commodities in over 100 markets within the 6 EAC countries. We also provide real time exchange rates for different currencies.
Through our platform, traders can anonymously report incidences they experience at the border for evidence based advocacy. This we hope can lead to more transparency in cross border trade.
Crossover Kenya: How does your platform work? How does one register? Is there a fee?
Sauti Africa: Sauti can be accessed in Kenya and Uganda by dialing *483*35# (Kenya) and *270*35# (Uganda). There are no USSD charges for Safaricom and Airtel Uganda subscribers.
All the information in the Sauti platform is free except commodity prices and exchange rates. Border procedures, taxes on imports and exports, relevant documentation and agencies, reporting etc are all available for free. To access commodity prices and exchange rates, one is required to pay Ksh 10, 50 and 150 for unlimited daily, weekly and monthly access respectively after the expiry of a two weeks free access period.
Crossover Kenya: Where or who do the complaints and anonymous reports get sent?
Sauti Africa: The incidence reports we receive through our platform are shared with the relevant government and customs agencies for action. We also share the same analysed reports with the Civil Society Organizations for evidence based advocacy and hopefully would help inform policy decisions in the future
Crossover Kenya: How are you using the data you collect from users of your platform?
Sauti Africa: Other than the incident reports, we also conduct short surveys to get trade related data through our platform which forms the basis of our data analytics which is one of the services that we offer. We can also help entities who are interested in collecting data on trade by sending out surveys through our platform
Crossover Kenya: Do you have plans to expand to other parts of Africa?
Sauti Africa: We are currently servicing Kenya and Uganda but hope to expand to other EAC countries by 2019.
Crossover Kenya: Do you have partnerships or collaborations with government or other agencies to address the reported issues and problems?
Sauti Africa: We have formed formidable partnerships with government ministries in charge of the EAC Affairs and Trade from both countries, Revenue Authorities and the customs agencies have also been very supportive to us. We are still pursuing more partnerships to enable us realize our goals
Crossover Kenya: Do you have plans to create another mobile based platform to address another problem in society?
Sauti Africa: We are currently diversifying our solution to include a web portal (http://sautiafrica.org/sauti-platform/) which is currently live and an app which we are still developing and hope to finish soon. This we hope will enable people to have different alternatives for accessing us.
In regard to whether we will create another application to solve another societal problem, we are committed to using innovative ways to bring change to the society and make a contribution in some ways however little.
Crossover Kenya: From your experience, what advice can you give budding innovators?
Sauti Africa: An idea and a solution could never be complete and innovators should not be scared to implement a solution even if it is not wholly complete. As you implement it, new ideas of how to make it better will always come up. Solutions should also be user driven which means user feedback in building a product is paramount otherwise you may end up building a great product that doesn’t address the needs of your users.