Innovation Prize for Africa recognises Lakheni

A South African initiative that uses group buying power to lower food prices for needy communities, using a mobile app, has been nominated for the continental prize.

Lakheni founders Nokwethu Khojane and Lauren Drake. (Image: Lakheni)

Sulaiman Philip

Nokwethu Khojane and her business partner, Lauren Drake, saw a need and found a solution: their social enterprise, Lakheni, uses the buying power of whole communities to lower the price of staple food. It also provides a means for day care centres to generate income.

A poverty tax is imposed on people who live a long way from grocery stores. The added cost of travel eats into money that poor families should spend on groceries. In response, Khojane and Drake founded Lakheni, a group buying club that combines orders from a community, and uses the buying power of the group to get better prices.

“At the bottom of the pyramid, distribution is very inefficient because of the small amounts that individuals buy. But there’s value when you start aggregating that demand, because the numbers are there — they’re just fragmented,” Khojane told Fast Company magazine.

How it works

Lakheni takes bulk orders for staples such as maize, sugar and oil every month through local day care centres. Customers deposit their payments into a bank account that Lakheni uses to order in bulk from suppliers.

The Lakheni model allows creches like Mzamo Educare to make extra money by administering group buying in their area. (Image: Lakheni)

Orders are delivered to the day care centres, which earn a fee for processing the communities’ orders, or to spaza shops, which also benefit from Lakheni’s bulk ordering. Using the system saves customers about 30%, including the savings on transport.

When they began, Khojane, Drake and the centres they signed up took orders using a pencil and notepad. Now they have developed a mobile app that can be used to take orders and handle payments.

Innovation Prize for Africa

Nokwethu’s innovation — using a mobile app to increase the buying power of families in poorer communities — earned her a nomination for the Innovation Prize for Africa. While Lakheni has concentrated on groceries, the prize money would help it to develop the app further. The partners are looking at ways to include financial services as well.

For the past five years, the Africa Innovation Foundation (AIF) has supported African innovators through the Innovation Prize for Africa. This year, Khojane and the Lakheni app have been nominated alongside nine other African innovators.

They were whittled down from 2,530 innovators in 48 African countries. Nominees include innovators from Zimbabwe, Liberia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Kenya. The nominated innovations show that Africa can drive its own growth and prosperity.

Walter Fust, chairman of the AIF board, said: “Given the instrumental role African women play in transforming Africa, it is thrilling to see more women among the 10 nominees with game-changing innovations. By providing platforms to recognise innovation excellence in Africa and mobilising for African innovators, we continue to live up to our credo of engaging, inspiring and transforming.”

Over the five years of its existence, the Innovation Prize for Africa has generated $22-million in investment to previous winners and nominees. Pauline Mujawarmariya, the competition director, said: “[The Innovation Prize for Africa] has been growing stronger each year and not only the number of applicants continues to increase, but the quality of applications too.”

This was “a strong indication of the creative potential that exists in Africa”.

Other shortlisted nominees

Peris Bosire, Kenya: FarmDrive

The Kenyan financial technology company developed a mobile app that collects data and provides an alternative risk assessment model for small farmers.

Omolabake Adenle, Nigeria: Voice Recognition and Speech Synthesis Software for African Languages

Adenle’s software understands and digitises spoken African languages, presenting them as a text. It allows Africans to interact more easily with hardware and call centres, using their local languages.

Nzola Swasisa, Democratic Republic of Congo: Lokole

Lokole creates a shareable local network that makes it up to 1,000 times cheaper to access emails and social media by sharing the costs.

Badr Idriss, Morocco: Atlan Space

Atlan Space software is used to manage drones that are, for now, used to monitor illegal fishing and deep sea dumping off the coast of Africa.

Aly El-Shafei, Egypt: Smart Electro-Mechanical Actuator Journal Integrated Bearing

The patented Smart Electro-Mechanical Actuator Journal Integrated Bearing, or SEMAJIB, is an oil filled bearing that allows it to change characteristics as it operates. The SEMAJIB enables one bearing to be used across multiple systems.

Dougbeh-Chris Nyan, Liberia: New Technology for Rapid Detection of Many Infections Using Only One Test

Nyan developed one simple test to detect seven different infections from one sample within 40 minutes. The diagnostic tool is simple to use and inexpensive to produce.

Olanisun Olufemi Adewole, Nigeria: Sweat TB Test

The Sweat TB Test is a non-invasive rapid diagnostic skin test to detect tuberculosis. It is simple enough to use in rural areas where the largest number of new infections occur. It tests for specific markers in saliva and produces results within 10 minutes.

Gift Gana, Zimbabwe: Dr. CADx

Designed for use in areas with poor internet connectivity and intermittent power, the Dr CADx is a software solution that helps doctors and healthcare workers read medical images more accurately.

Philippa Ngaju Makobore, Uganda: Electronically Controlled Gravity Feed Infusion Set

The Electronically Controlled Gravity Feed Infusion Set, or ECGF, is a medical device designed to accurately administer intravenous fluids and drugs by controlling the rate of fluid flow based on feedback from a drop sensor.

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