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How technology is changing the landscape for businesses in Kenya

02 Oct 2020Digital Society

Pauline Kinja has big ambitions for Palde Farm Fresh, her grocery and home-delivery business based in Nairobi, Kenya. Investments in mobile and broadband connectivity from Safaricom – a Vodafone company – have enabled Pauline to grow her business during the coronavirus crisis and she expects this to continue beyond the pandemic.

“Technology has opened up real opportunities for us,” Pauline says, speaking over mobile video call from her home in Nairobi. “We’re delivering food by courier to around 300 customers a month now, some as far away as Mombasa – around 480km – with orders being placed through WhatsApp and paid for through M-Pesa. Our online business is growing fast and we’re not turning back.”

Pauline Kinja, founder of Palde Farm Fresh

Pauline was forced to temporarily close her previous business, a successful catering company, when the coronavirus crisis put an end to corporate events and social gatherings.  But Pauline was fast to adapt, initially selling fresh produce from the boot of her car before opening her first physical grocery shop in the Lang’ata suburb of Nairobi within a month. She was able to offer her previous employees new jobs and they now work together selling meat, fruit and vegetables from local farms.

Palde Farm Fresh in Nairobi, Kenya

Many of Pauline’s customers live near her grocery store, but technology has enabled her to promote her business and reach a variety of new customers online. Safaricom brought home fibre broadband and 4G connectivity to Pauline’s neighbourhood in 2019, which has enabled her to manage her business from home. And smartphone use in Kenya is rising – devices are become cheaper and more accessible – which makes it easier for Pauline to communicate with suppliers in nearby towns, reach customers and receive payments digitally through M-Pesa, Africa’s fastest growing mobile money service. 

“Technology has transformed the way people do business in Kenya,” Pauline says.  “M-Pesa has enabled a cashless society here. It means I can pay farmers or receive payments from customers through a smartphone app.

“The new 4G network means farmers and other suppliers here can access the internet here wherever they are. That means they can send us instant updates about their produce, and we can place orders over mobile.

“And most of our customer orders come through WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger.  Every evening we share pictures on the platforms of what we’ll have in stock the following day. Every morning we wake up to orders.”

Pauline has set her sights firmly on expanding Palde Farm Fresh over the next few years, and while physical shop branches form part of that plan, it is the digital element and online delivery arm of her businesses which she expects to grow most quickly.

“Covid-19 came as a lesson to businesses and consumers in Kenya. During the lockdown here, consumers turned to online shopping and delivery, but those services have remained popular ever since. Customers in Kenya are willing to pay extra for the convenience of home delivery. Businesses that are willing to adapt can use technology to meet that demand – technology has provided us with connectivity and speed.

Palde is delivering food by courier to around 300 customers a month

“We are planning to open more Palde branches, but I would also like to expand our delivery services too, within Kenya and possibly even outside the country. We already have customers in the USA, UK and UAE – Kenyan nationals living abroad and placing orders on behalf of their families back home, ordering on WhatsApp and paying by M-Pesa. There is space to grow here.”

Outside her work for Palde, Pauline has taken up business mentoring and currently has 50 students – two of whom live in Dubai – under her wing.  She hosts regular video calls where she offers advice for starting and improving small businesses in the grocery and retail sector.