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A Mobile Platform Connects Artisans with Global Shoppers

"Buy a necklace from a local artisan—give her business for a day.""Buy a necklace from that same artisan via her mobile vendor platform—support her as she scales her business globally."

"Buy a necklace from a local artisan—give her business for a day."


"Buy a necklace from that same artisan via her mobile vendor platform—support her as she scales her business globally."

So goes the ethos of Soko, an emerging social enterprise that enables individual jewelry makers to use their mobile phones to sell directly to anyone worldwide. Imagine Etsy sans internet, bank accounts, or easy shipping options. Founded by three women with expertise in technology and systems design, Soko (which means marketplace in Swahili), is based in Nairobi, with many artisans residing in Kibera, the largest informal settlement in Africa, scrutinized more for its open sewage systems than for its open technology platforms.

The story of Soko is one that not only helps shift the perception of a stigmatized slum, but also rewrites the business narratives of artisans based there. Take Veronicah, a Soko designer based in Kibera who collects discarded horns and bones from local butchers to craft elegantly beaded bracelets and necklaces. Since joining the Soko network 18 months ago, new revenue from global clientele has allowed her to devote herself full time to her craft and hire three to five employees. Through Soko, she was able to connect with other Soko artisans and mentors who helped her source materials and reduce her production time. When I interviewed her, she reflected on how her success had made her a role model, "Other women look up to me and desire to own their own businesses too."

Through her involvement in Soko, Veronicah has come to embody the type of economic and social transformation at the core of the company’s mission. Now she is hiring people, expanding her operations, selling to international consumers, saving money, and developing literacy in mobile technologies and business.

In addition to its mobile infrastructure, Soko runs on human factors—strong local social networks are put in place to enable each artisan to flourish. At support depots, community liasons offer artisans feedback on their designs, training in product photography, and tips on international trends. The company also links artisans with mobile money kiosks to process their payments, and a scooter network to pick up their products for shipping. Successful artisans can become mentors who recruit and advise high potential artisans, and support their adoption of the mobile platform until they are confident enough to use it independently. In exchange, mentors receive a percentage of that artisan’s final sales (deducted from Soko’s rather than the artisan’s margin). Kiosk agents receive small fees for stocking packaging and promotional materials, and for carrying out product validation and quality control. Kiva, a person-to-person micro lending platform, links artisans to loans so that they can purchase the supplies they need to scale their businesses – from bead polishing machines to smart phones. Through this holistic human infrastructure, artisans get access to the resources they need to sell their goods online in retail bulk prices, and to ship internationally.

Overall, Soko stands out as a critical cog in the international development ecosystem— a compliment to conventional investment initiatives. It can be replicated anywhere there are talented makers, mobile phones and local networks of knowledge and support to be catalyzed. It begs the question, is this the future of social entrepreneurship?

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This article was produced in partnership with the United Nations to launch the biggest-ever global conversation on the role of cooperation in building the future we want.

When half of the world's population doesn't share the same opportunity or rights as the other half, the whole world suffers. Like a bird whose wings require equal strength to fly, humanity will never soar to its full potential until we achieve gender equality.

That's why the United Nations made one of its Sustainable Development Goals to "Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls." That goal includes providing women and girls equal access to education and health care, as well as addressing gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.

While there is still much work to be done, history shows us that we are capable of making big leaps forward on this issue. Check out some of the milestones humanity has already reached on the path to true equality.

Historic Leaps Toward Gender Equality

1848 The Seneca Falls Convention in New York, organized by Elizabeth Lady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, is the first U.S. women's convention to discuss the oppression of women in sociopolitical, economic, and religious life.

1893 New Zealand becomes the first self-governing nation to grant national voting rights to women.

1903 Marie Curie becomes the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She is also the only woman to win multiple Nobel Prizes, for Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911.

1920 The 19th Amendment is passed in the U.S. giving women the right to vote in all 50 U.S. states.

1973 The U.S. Open becomes the first major sports tournament of its kind to offer equal pay to women, after tennis star Billie Jean King threatened to boycott.

1975 The first World Conference on Women is held in Mexico, where a 10-year World Plan of Action for the Advancement of Women is formed. The first International Women's Day is commemorated by the UN in the same year.

1979 The UN General Assembly adopts the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), also known as the "Women's Bill of Rights." It is the most comprehensive international document protecting the rights of women, and the second most ratified UN human rights treaty after the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

1980 Vigdis Finnbogadottir of Iceland becomes the first woman to be elected head of state in a national election.

1993 The UN General Assembly adopts the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the first international instrument to explicitly define forms of violence against women and lay out a framework for global action.

2010 The UN General Assembly creates the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) to speed progress on meeting the needs of women and girls around the world.

2018 The UN and European Union join forces on the Spotlight Initiative, a global, multi-year initiative focused on eliminating all forms of violence against women and girls.

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As the UN celebrates its 75th anniversary, it is redoubling its commitment to reach all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, including gender equality. But it will take action and effort from everyone to ensure that women and girls are free from discrimination and violence. Learn more about what is being done to address gender equality and see how you can get involved here.

And join the global conversation about the role of international cooperation in building the future by taking the UN75 survey here.

Let's make sure we all have a say in the future we want to see.

Communities
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Perez claims he was responding to insults hurled at him by the officers. The police say that Perez was picking a fight. The altercation left Perez with a broken nose, scrapes, swelling, and bruises from his hips to his shoulder.

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