Diana Jue & Jackie Stenson
Brings life-improving technologies to low-income rural populations.
South Asia and Central Asia
Before meeting in fall 2011, Diana Jue and Jackie Stenson followed separate yet parallel paths. Diana grew up in Los Angeles and studied urban planning and economics at MIT. Jackie was raised in Connecticut and studied mechanical engineering at Harvard. They were both interested in international development and both went travelling after university – Diana to South Asia and China and Jackie to Sub-Saharan Africa. From these travels, the two young women drew the same conclusion: they never saw anyone owning or using any of the innovative products designed for low-income rural populations.
‘In Asia, my team promoted solar cookers in Tibetan villages,’ says Diana. ‘It taught me the huge difficulties involved in distributing these products to the people who most need them.’ ‘When you actually go to the villages in Africa,’ says Jackie, ‘no-one has any idea these kinds of products exist, how to get one or how to fix it.’
From brainstorm to brainchild
Both young women were fired by the same goal: to bring social-impact technology to the populations who need it. Back in the US, their two paths were destined to cross, via an introduction from a lecturer at MIT. ‘We had lunch then went straight off and brainstormed about Essmart for three hours,’ the girls chime as one.
One year later, Essmart Global, ‘a world distribution company for a catalogue of life-improving goods,’ was up and running. ‘We build up the catalogue and connect it to places where villagers shop,’ says Jackie. The co-founders chose India to launch in for a number of reasons.
The country presents an extensive network of local and village shops, and ‘many of the technologies we want to spread are already present in Indian cities, thus avoiding the need to import,’ says Diana. ‘They simply face distribution issues, however. Now we bridge the gap in the supply chain.’
We bridge the gap in the supply chain.
The catalogue currently features 66 essential goods, which range from a mobile phone-operated water pump to solar lanterns and fuel-efficient cookers. They are currently distributed from six centres in Tamil Nadu, where the company is based, to approximately 450 village shops. These display them in an Essmart-branded section which stands as a guarantee of quality and efficiency. Essmart Global employs 40 people full time, mostly as sales reps. It is proud of its after-sales service and will replace any faulty item. ‘One of the reasons people are buying from Essmart is because we mitigate the risk for them by providing these services,’ says Diana. For more complicated items in the catalogue, they are encouraging stores to become contracted repair centres. Orders are managed through a logistics software that allows reps to take orders and track the supply chain via their mobile phone.
Essmart’s India office is the first step in what it plans to turn into a global network. Diana has been in India for two years and Jackie, who stayed in the US to raise seed funding, moved there this year. The co-founders estimate that since distribution first started in August 2012, ‘4,000 people have been reached, and revenue has been growing at a monthly rate of 28% in the past six months.’