Free trade deals with Africa mean that global imports are widely available today in any well-stocked African market: you’ll find clothes from China, rice from Vietnam, instant coffee and milk powder from Switzerland and tomatoes from Italy. But the problem is what these imports are endangering – the survival of native industries and the development of new ones.

All of these products could, in theory, have been created in Africa. But despite an abundance of raw materials, many countries here simply can’t offer competitive products on the world market. Poor infrastructure makes production more expensive, so imports are often the cheapest option. On top of that, regular power cuts create delays as companies have to interrupt production and poor roads make transportation expensive.

Photo: Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock, Inc

But one man who refuses to accept the status quo is Berlin-based entrepreneur Jochen Baumeister, who founded the Urban Change Lab in 2015. The online platform’s mission is simple – to allow people to commission bespoke, hand-crafted items directly from artisans across Africa, and establish a rapport with them in the process.

“Our customers aren’t just buying a product, they’re buying a unique experience,” says Baumeister. “They love the fact that the platform, from initial concept to finished article, provides constant communication with the craftspeople. This also helps if the process is delayed by power failures or the like.”

“Fairtrade 2.0”, as Baumeister calls it, is a two-way street. Customers receive a beautiful product while also contributing directly to economic development in Africa through improved pay and working conditions. Everyone on the platform has a profile where their past projects are clearly presented, so others can be inspired to buy the product you commissioned. In this way, a single idea can end up sustaining the basic livelihood of an entire family.

The Urban Change Lab looks after shipping and customs for the finished works, and arranges payments via Azimo. Baumeister recently switched to the online money transfer service and says he’s very pleased with the results: “Thanks to Azimo, I can send money to Kenya using Safaricom’s M-Pesa money transfer service, which saves me and the payee a great deal of time and fees – they can immediately access the money via their M-Pesa account. Sending this way with Azimo is so simple and fees are well below other providers I’ve used in the past.”

M-Pesa means that people can be paid by mobile phone – even in the most remote corners of the country – and this has had a hugely positive effect on economic development across Africa. Today, 80% of payments to Kenya with Azimo are sent via the M-Pesa mobile wallet – primarily by Kenyans who work abroad and transfer money back home to support their families. Many of these families don’t have a bank account because no proper banking infrastructure has ever been set up, especially in rural areas.

Bringing financial inclusion to the world’s two billion ‘unbanked’ is crucial in the fight to end global poverty and Azimo now has more than half a million customers on its platform, enabling people to send money to over 190 countries for less.

Brilliant rates, super-low fees and lightning-fast service mean less hassle, less cost, and more money to spend on you and your loved ones. So click here to make a transfer today and remember – when you sign up with Azimo, your first transfer’s free!