Ifrah Arab, at only twenty years old, mastered the business of last mile distribution in a remote part of Northeastern Kenya. Essential items were not reaching people because of poor infrastructure and high prices, risking health and well being in vulnerable communities. Possessing a social conscience as well as entrepreneurial flair, Ms. Arab approached major retailers to partner with them in reaching these communities. She aimed to solve two problems at once – getting critical supplies to villages and, empowering unemployed and underemployed women as “micro-entrepreneurs”, acting as the go to between retailers and communities. Ms. Arab’s business, SuperMom, was born. Women earn 20% of all products sold. Supermom’s model is also highly sustainable, with the business recovering 100 percent of the product costs and reducing the annual cost to less than US$2 per person reached.
Supermom only partners with companies that improve health and save money. Typically these products were previously too expensive and of low quality. “We promote impactful products,” added Ms. Arab. She notes that the model is a true win-win, providing women with income and allowing companies to sell in inaccessible, yet lucrative markets.
The economic challenges facing vulnerable communities require fresh ways of thinking how to solve them. Ms. Arab has contributed, at such a young age, to this thinking. She has an acute awareness of women’s roles in building stronger economies. Men are still systematically built up to earn household income. Ms. Arab notes, “Often, women are prevented from working by their husbands and fathers, fueling the vicious cycle of dependence on their male counterparts.” In the Northeastern province of Kenya, where Ms. Arab hails from, 54% of the women are unemployed and this number increases to 70% among married women. “Sadly, if women are employable, opportunities are rare.”
A report by McKinsey shows that if women participated in the economy identically to men, US$28-trillion, (26%) would be added to annual global gross domestic product by 2025. This impact is roughly equivalent to the size of the combined US and Chinese economies today.
SuperMom employs 20 women as their last distribution agents, and while small, it serves an example of what’s possible in supporting female entrepreneurship in the most challenging of environments. But even all-women micro initiatives have significant knock-on effects. In fact, as the World Bank and numerous other studies show, poverty decreases when more women and girls work. “And women are often more likely to spend money on things that benefit children, improving their chances of achieving health and prosperity.” Ms. Arab notes that SuperMoms additional income is enough to send up to three children to school and, allows families to have a buffer of money for unexpected costs.
Ms Arab says she still has a long way to go in achieving her dream of training over 2000 women micro-entrepreneurs. Yet, she is slowly breaking the misconception that young women can not break the barriers of entry to business.
Ms Arab was selected as a 2016 Anzisha Prize fellow. Since then, she has participated in a Get in the Ring Foundation’s event, competing against an opponent, with 30 seconds to sell a business plan and strategy. Ms Arab beat three other young entrepreneurs, winning US$1000.
Applications for the prestigious Anzisha Prize are open. We are especially inviting women to apply. Learn more about applying for Anzisha Prize at www.anzishaprize.org/apply.