Esoko’s Demand-Driven Success in Bringing ICTs to Africa

Across the board, most development practitioners would argue the bottom-up approach is more successful than the top-down approach in regards to development projects. The main reason for this is sustainability. The following blog outlines Esoko, an organization that brings the “market” to Africa. They focus on tools for market and agricultural information via mobiles and ICT. Their success is largely due to the fact the organization is demand-driven as “60% of Africans earn their living from working in agriculture, a sector so underserved in terms of technology solutions”. Additionally, Esoko uses the bottoms-up approach. The idea was not pushed onto the people, rather the idea sprung from the people and their needs. Mark Davies, the founder of Esoko, saw the benefits of putting street markets into the viral atmosphere. Esoko hires locally, employing mostly Ghanaians and West Africans.

The organization uses the increase in mobiles and ICTs’ in Africa to their advantage. The services and apps Esoko provides are SMS messaging, market price alerts, inventory reporting, SMS bids and offerings and maps. The model they use “starts with government or donor funding and then transitions into a business; a franchise that can grow into a sustainable company”. They have started working in Ghana where local businesses are using Esoko. As of right now there are franchises and resellers in Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique and Malawi. Many other African countries are using Esoko via government funding (North Sudan and Nigeria), while even more are funded via donors (Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Tanzania, Madagascar, Uganda, Malawi, etc.).

In regards to monitoring and evaluating, “In November 2010 a survey of 62 farmers in Northern Ghana who have been receiving price alerts for one year confirmed that they have benefited from the service, with an average improvement of 40% on reported deals and revenue.” As stated before, their success is due mainly because of their bottoms-up, grass-roots approach. Why do practitioners continue to push top-down approaches onto governments and other NGOs  when bottoms-up projects tend to be the most successful?

2 responses to “Esoko’s Demand-Driven Success in Bringing ICTs to Africa

  • tanvishah1

    I agree with you on the bottom-up approach, but I think the reason development initiatives are still primarily top-down is because donors want to see progress, and M&E is not always easily done at the grassroots level. The problem, though, is that it is hard for grassroots organizations to be self-funded, and for them to receive external funding, there is often a “middle-man” organization that communicates between the donor and the grassroots movement. This organization has to make sure the interests of the donor are represented, but also that the grassroots movement is able to achieve its objectives. It seems that an unequal amount of attention goes to the donor’s interests over those of the movement. I think for grassroots movements to really succeed, they need to be self-funded and not rely on foreign funding.

  • mattbrandeburg

    The previous commentor said it all very well, but one angle not taken was the bottom-up critique of lack of legitimacy some grassroot movements may have–especially in countries replete with ethnic or religious strife. Further, the grassroots concensus in one community may not scale to the level of say national concensus. Having a well-known and easily accountable top-down oriented agency can be more successful perhaps in these casses.

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