In 2017, Shani Senbetta found herself navigating through a bustling marketplace in Ethiopia. She was working with the World Bank to raise awareness about the importance of solar lighting. To Shani’s surprise, she didn’t have to lecture consumers on the benefits of solar — they already knew how revolutionary the products were. But customer excitement quickly turned to disappointment. “They were actually quite mad at us because we didn’t have the products to sell. That’s when I began to realize that there was a huge need for solving an access problem to quality products,” Shani said.
Weaving in and out of several market stalls, she noticed that most were occupied by informal shops that sold low-quality goods at exorbitant prices due to limited stocks and high transportation costs. To Shani, the lack of access to quality products was clear, but she wanted to go one step further to address another problem in the market: limited income opportunities for women. Two challenges were tackled with a dynamic solution: Kidame Mart.
Kidame Mart is a social enterprise creating income generating opportunities for 2,000 women from communities all over Ethiopia. These women train to become sales agents: selling high-impact goods — products that improve one’s standard of living — directly to consumers.
In a country where 80 percent of the population lives in rural, or ‘last-mile’ communities, gaining access to quality goods is normally expensive — and at times impossible — due to lack of paved roads. By empowering women to become sales agents, Kidame Mart allows isolated communities to access essential products such as laundry detergent, antibacterial soap, and nutritional items like iodized salt. This supply chain is also unlocking an entirely new market for their network of suppliers who would otherwise be unable to reach these customers.
Three years later, Kidame Mart continues to surpass milestones, but not without the growing pains faced by many social enterprises looking for ways to scale their impact sustainably. With Kidame Mart’s Senior Project Manager, Kiersten DeHaven, Shani and team joined the Acumen-IKEA Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator alongside 19 East African social enterprises, to gain hands-on guidance from Acumen & IKEA advisors in building a long-term, scalable business model.
One of the biggest challenges Kidame Mart hoped to address in the Accelerator was how to best support their sales agents in growing their individual businesses. With insight from IKEA coaches, Shani and Kiersten rolled up their sleeves to examine their value proposition more closely, asking themselves, ‘what was it about their service that encouraged customers to keep coming back?’
They identified that one of the biggest benefits for sales agents was having access to finance or credit so they could purchase product stock and grow their income.
In the coaching session, we realized that with this value proposition, we were relying on third parties to make it happen. It dawned on us that if this is one of the most important value propositions to our customer, we should own it.
– Shani Senbetta, Founder & CEO, Kidame Mart
They decided that perhaps their initial model — delivering the products on consignment, where women pay after they sell the products — would work better than their current strategy of relying on microfinance institutions and banks to extend the credit. “We started to question if we stopped extending credit for the wrong reasons and re-evaluated our options in a more expansive way,” said Shani.
Today, their team is looking at options that would allow them to extend credit again without becoming cash-constrained, such as seeking a partner to improve their performance management systems — incentivizing sales agents to collect payments from customers on time.
Like many social enterprises operating with lean teams and budgets, returning to the drawing board to re-examine value propositions, customer insights, and how your partnerships can best support your business are crucial. “This Accelerator has forced us to get out of the day-to-day grind and to think more long-term about our business development and the narrative around those plans, which has helped us apply for funding at a time where funding is very competitive,” said Kiersten.
With just a few weeks left in the Accelerator, Kidame Mart continues to masterfully juggle these important lessons while working to propel their impact to reach more communities across Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is one of the most exciting places to be in the world right now. There are just so many reasons why there's endless potential here.