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Women-founded enterprise invests in new technologies and shares benefits with customers

Published on December 13, 2018

Sophy Nantongo's goal is the same now as when she started African Queen in 1993 with $3,000 in her pocket – distribute consumer goods, such as food and beverages, personal care (hair and skin), stationery and home care to an underserved but expansive consumer market. Now, in 2018, thanks to her ingenuity and hard work, and a capital infusion supported by the USAID Hub, Ms. Nantongo is delivering globally recognized brands using sales force automation technology, a new fleet of trucks, and a 235-person logistics team.

In 2014, Ms. Nantongo began exploring ways to transform her import and distribution company from a small, local operation in Uganda to a national and eventually regional player. To acquire the capital needed to support her vision, the USAID Hub provided due diligence support. The Hub’s investment team completed an analysis of African Queen’s internal processes and growth strategy. These analyses included recommendations for restructuring the company’s operating procedures and management and governance structures to support the company’s transition. With this roadmap, African Queen’s investor agreed to the deal, and the transaction closed in 2016.

Ms. Nantongo has since invested in new technologies to improve African Queen’s operations. One new technology, sales force automation, has allowed the company to map distribution routes with customer locations, demographics and purchasing behavior. This data is used to determine efficient distribution schedules and to analyze retail trends to target customers for cross-selling. African Queen attracts new customers by sharing its market data and using its efficiency gains to offer better prices for its customers.

The company has also started offering credit to reliable retail customers through its new use of mobile payments. Not only do mobile payments make their transactions more secure, but they allow the company to use its digital transaction history to identify customers who are suitable for credit-line offers. By transferring its benefits from new technologies to its customers, African Queen is enabling East African businesses of all sizes to grow and thrive.

“[The USAID Hub] made recommendations on how the company could leverage ICT and automation in inbound and outbound logistics to increase efficiency and thereby improve overall profitability. Most of the recommendations made have been implemented and we have seen better margins through improved operational efficiency. We are also able to reach a broader set of customers in rural and underserved areas,” said the managing director of the investing company.

Since receiving the investment, African Queen has added over 20 employees and almost doubled its fleet of vehicles. The quality of life for rural employees has improved through the use of new electronic tools that capture orders remotely, eliminating the need for employees to commute to headquarters or depots on a daily basis.

African Queen represents one of the 38 transactions that the USAID Hub has helped close over the past four years. These deals have generated $143.2 million in new private sector investment and 1,522 new jobs, including employment for 1,131 women and youth. To read more about the Hub’s investment facilitation and its effects on access to finance, food security, stronger value chains and intra-regional trade, visit our photo story here.

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