Women of Exception: "Have the idea and start.”

Date: Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Awa Caba, is an engineer in computer science from Senegal. As soon as she finished her University studies, she started her own startup called Sooretul which stands for ‘it is not so far’ which strives to connect women producers with consumers that live in an urban area.

awa caba
Awa Caba co-founder of Sooretul Photo: UN Women/ Alpha Ba

What made you want to become an entrepreneur?

When I was young, I liked going to the field with my parents. I would spend every weekend in the field with my father who works in the agronomy sector. After my High school degree, I joined Ecole Supérieure Polytechnique de Dakar where I studied Computer Science. I began to discover how we can do everything we want and solve problems by creating applications. In 2011, my classmates and I decided to participate in the Imagine Cup Competition, a competition organized by Microsoft for students. We decided to create an application based in the cloud called PAGEL that stands for Pêche, Agriculture et Elevage, a web application to help producers, farmers, fisherman and people who work with livestock. We represented West and Central Africa in New York for the final Imagine Cup. When we came back we discovered that we have a huge potential to create our own business. After my engineering Computer Science degree, I decided to start my own business in 2014.

How is your business impacting lives in your community?

We discovered that in Senegal, a lot of women who work in agribusiness don’t have access to the market as most of them live in the rural areas. They don’t have access to the bank or their own shops in the capital city of Dakar and they don’t have access to the Internet to promote their products. Based on our study we concluded that having an e-commerce platform to enable them to sell their products was a good idea to create a visibility strategy for them in Senegal but also all around the world. We officially launched the web platform with five small and medium businesses led by women with over 100 products that we featured on the platform. In 2018, we have 17 small and medium businesses led by women on the platform and over 400 products in 10 categories. On our platform we sell cereals, jams, syrups, cosmetics and dried seafood. We have customers in Dakar and all around the world who order online, and we deliver the products at home or customers could visit us at our warehouse.

What are some of the challenges you faced?

The first challenge that we faced at the beginning was that people really didn’t understand that as women we wanted to work in agriculture and in IT. It was unbelievable. Both for women and for men because they don’t really know more about technology. They don’t know how to use technology to promote their products so for them buying cereals or couscous online was not realistic. We tried to convince them and for the consumers it was not simple because local products are not well known in Senegal. We consume a lot of imported products and this encourages us to use the platform to sensitize people to know more about local products produced by Senegalese women and how they can cook it.

The fact that we were young, people didn’t believe that we can create our own startup and since we are engineers in computer science most of our parents wanted us to work for big IT companies and have “good jobs”. We had to convince our parents that it is our passion and that it is what we really must do to develop our country.

The greatest challenge has been having access to financing. We have participated in many competitions, won some grants that helped us to start the business, but it was not simple to have access to such opportunities. Also, not having enough information on how to create our own businesses or how to deal with taxes and all administrative processes set us back.

What advice would you give young girls that want to be entrepreneurs?

Women and girls should know that it is easy to have an idea and start a business. Most women have ideas, but they are sometimes afraid to start their own business because they are thinking about a lot of challenges, social barriers or economic barriers and then they just give up. Just have the idea and start. And after you start stay focused. It is important to stay focused on what you want to do and to your vision. As women entrepreneurs we must make a lot of sacrifices and patience comes with it.

Has UN Women supported you in your business?

UN Women has helped me in different ways like organizing tasting events in various organizations including UN Women. This was a way for employees to discover the products we were selling, and we gained many clients there. Oulimata Sarr, the Deputy Director of UN Women WCARO is a wonderful woman, who gives us advice and exposes us to opportunities which we sign up for. She helps women entrepreneurs to stay focused and to bring our ideas to the next level.

What is your greatest accomplishment as a woman entrepreneur in the agribusiness field?

As a woman in the field of agriculture and ICT, I am glad that for four years, I focused on setting the business up. I have been able to have over 250 women who are on different platforms, associations and women cooperatives all selling their products on the platform. The greatest impact is seeing that the women now have better, high quality packaging and branding for their products. The use of the social network to share their products and activities has improved across time from the trainings we usually host.

I’m most proud to know that every month the women receive because we sold their products. I hope that in a few years this can be a huge business and not only in Senegal but all-around Africa. I hope to touch every woman who works in agribusiness and enable them to sell the products.