As part of SAP’s commitment to help build more sustainable economies, four years ago PlaNet Finance and SAP AG came together to form the StarShea Network. Now the non-profit collective has transitioned to an incorporated, stand-alone business. Started in 2009 to help 1,500 women in rural Northern Ghana manage and grow their shea nut business, the newly named StarShea Ltd. has grown to a network of more than 10,000 women and emerged as one of the worldwide market leaders of organically produced and fairly traded hand-crafted shea butter.
Women shea nut farmers and butter producers often get a low rate of return on their product. Harvesting and processing shea nuts is arduous and a lack of information on commodity markets, limited financing options and poor supply chain traceability means producers are subject to market instability and limited ability to negotiate on price. To address these challenges, SAP and PlaNet Finance teamed up to create the StarShea Network by providing a combination of mobile technology, education and microfinance.
Now the non-profit network has become an independent social business with many customers, including multi-national corporations. StarShea Ltd. is modeled on the social business principles of Professor Muhammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work creating a social bank in Bangladesh. Some preliminary business results include:
- With 62 metric tons of shea butter sold in its first year, StarShea Ltd. is one of the top four exporters in Ghana
- Star Shea Ltd. has engaged in collaboration with one the leading suppliers of fats and oils to the global food industry
The SAP solution helps create a reliable supply chain, which generates for both buyers and farmers the security of being able to buy predictable amounts of produce at a stable quality and fair price. A mobile app developed and donated by SAP scans and traces each sack of shea nuts and each box of shea butter, which provides the product traceability demanded by global export markets. In addition, SAP software can send price and market information straight to the buyers’ mobile phone. PlaNet Finance partners have provided microloans to the network to give the women financial support so they can sell the shea nuts when the price is best, rather than when they need the money.
These initiatives have supported the women in creating an independent, sustainable business. Although SAP continues to support the business with an interest-free loan, StarShea Ltd. is no longer dependent on donations and is targeting profitability within the next few years. Organic certification was achieved earlier this year and Fair Trade certification is in process. With software and skill-based volunteers donated by SAP, StarShea Ltd. exemplifies how SAP helps the world run better.
The women are not the only beneficiaries of the partnership. SAP has also profited through its work with the network, exploring innovation opportunities through cloud and mobile technologies for high-growth emerging markets. The software solutions are potentially valuable for 500 million small holder farmers with challenges similar to the shea farmers in Northern Ghana.
In addition to supporting the innovation strategy, SAP benefits from higher employee engagement and people development. With six consecutive half-year fellowships and more than 2,000 volunteer hours, the program has provided SAP employees with invaluable skills and experience.