By Keitumetse Diseko

BrownSense was founded by Mzuzukile Soni in January 2016 as a secret Facebook group with the aim of giving Black entrepreneurs access to markets. Since then, the community has seen tremendous growth to over 198 100 members who refer to themselves as Brownies, who hail from all provinces in South Africa, around the African continent and the Diaspora.

Brownies identify with the rallying call of BrownSense to #CirculateTheRand within the Black community in order to increase meaningful economic participation among previously marginalised groups in South Africa.

We want to see the domino effect that will ensure the development of sustain-able Black businesses that contribute to the development of an inclusive and thriving African economy. After we started The BrownSense Market in 2016 in Johannesburg and Cape Town, it became clear to us that these platforms were integral to the gathering of data and insights on the needs of African entrepreneurs and startups.

Through a partnership with ICT-Works PTY Ltd, a women-led organisation that provides innovative technology solu- tions to the public and private sectors, our e-commerce platform, BrownSense.Africa was built and even- tually launched on 25 May 2020, during the lockdown that resulted from the Coronavirus pandemic.

BrownSense.Africa is the Pan-African eCommerce platform where B2C and B2B meet, enabling those who identify with our mission to #CirculateTheRand to buy and sell from pre-qualified, vet- ted Black businesses. That we launched this endeavour on Africa Day was no coincidence: BrownSense.Africa answers the call that so many African leaders of previous generations have made for a continent united in a vision for a future of shared prosperity. In building the BrownSense.Africa platform, we sought to provide entrepreneurs at all levels with the tools and ecosystem to enable them to scale their business through access to diverse markets domestically, and through the facilitation of trade across the continent.

Trade liberalization and e-Commerce Intra-African trade penetration is historically incredibly low – around 2% during 2015-2017 according to UNCTAD. According to the Trade Law Centre (TRALAC), in 2018, only 15% of Africa’s exports were intra-Africa, with the bulk of that trade being exports among African countries belonging to the same regional economic communities (REC). Factors contributing to the regionalised trade in Africa include preferential tariffs, geographic proximity and lack of infrastructure to sup- port cross REC trade. Intra-Africa trade lib- eralisation is gathering momentum through the African Union’s African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which presents a plethora of opportunities for small busi- ness in industries across the continent. There is no better time to consider growing enterprises beyond borders.

E-commerce penetration on the continent is low – some stats claim it’s just 1% of the total retail market. This is due to a number of factors, including a lack of infrastructure, traditionally expensive intra-African travel costs, expensive data in some parts, and of course challenges in the last-mile delivery space. All these problems are actually solutions waiting to be found, engineered and delivered to the youngest pop- ulation in the world, for us, by us. It is therefore no surprise that the doyen of Asian e-commerce Jack Ma gets excited when considering the potential posed by e-commerce on the African continent, rou- tinely visits the continent and has gone on to implement a number of initiatives supporting African SMMEs in the space. BrownSense.Africa is positioning itself as an industry leader in the African B2C and B2B e-commerce, with our phase 1 focus- ing on SADC, and then with other regions to follow.Our domestic and pan-African partnerships will allow us to deliver a seamless experience: our local tech-en- abled warehousing partners provide unmatched picking and packing services, while pan-African partners such as Nigerian fintech startup Paystack are agile enough to build payment solutions that will eventually allow us to serve the needs of customers in different geographic regions.

BrownSense.Africa will deliver an end-to-end solution that supports SMMEs, promotes trust and transparency through our BrownSense Verified seal, provides opportunities for cross-border networking for sales and the services sector and encourages value chain development in various countries. Key to this has been nurturing a community that is deliberate in its approach to building a conscious and localised consumerism on the African continent. As we say at BrownSense, “The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born”, as we quote the legendary Ghanaian novelist, Ayi Kwei Armah.

Brownsense’s brand custodian: Keitumetse Diseko

Keitumetse Diseko is the Chief Marketing Officer at BrownSense Group, a platform dedicated to creating access to markets for black entrepreneurs, where she is responsible for strategy, marketing and insights.

In her private capacity, Keitumetse is an entrepreneur and in her company Orlando Home & Soap Co, she manufactures African-rooted natural soaps, body care and affordable luxury home care products.

Keitumetse is a passionate pan-African whose love for developing the African continent and its people permeates her every endeavour. She sits on a number boards for community-based organisations and cooperatives.

Keitumetse cut her teeth in the African music television industry as an intern, and then producer for an international music television company. She later took her experience to the NGO sector, where she worked in the PR and fundraising space for a youth-centered arts organisation in Johannesburg.

She has an academic background in media and development studies, and is alumna of Fudan University in Shanghai, where she studied Chinese language and culture. Keitumetse is a Mandarin speaker with vast consulting experience in South Africa-Sino relations in the international trade marketing, cultural diplomacy, communication and education fields.

Her work experience in China encompassed creating market access opportunities for South African SMMEs in the agricultural and agricultural fields, arts as well as brand positioning in various China markets. As a consultant, she has structured community development projects in Port Elizabeth in the food security space.

She continues to consult in the Afro-Sino trade, cultural and education sphere. Her work and story have been featured in Asian and South African publications. She has addressed Unilever executives on food security, inclusivity in their food supply chain, and taken part in an entrepreneurship panel hosted by the company.

Keitumetse is passionate about playing her part in the creation of a South African economy in which all citizens thrive, and strongly believes that this can only be possible if the previously disadvantaged have access to funding, education, and entrepreneurial development coupled with access to markets.