Moctar Cisse seems to be always working. He could barely stop looking at his computer while we were talking about Yes We Sell, a startup he created in January 2016. He is one of the many young and talented Senegalese entrepreneurs, but he stands out because of the core of his company: the rehabilitation of prisoners through the promotion of their work.
Though created recently, the website www.yeswesell.org is quite successful and has been written about extensively. Yes We Sell is an e-business platform showcasing goods manufactured exclusively by inmates. The goods range from clothes and accessories in African prints to art. 90% of the revenue per sold item are for the manufacturer, and 10% is kept by the company to support the platform.
What makes Yes We Sell a “social startup” is the intention behind it. Moctar’s father worked for the penitentiary administration for about three decades. “I started visiting prisons when I was about 15 years old. I saw the living conditions of prisoners and I asked my father what was the daily budget for each of them. It was about 300 FCFA (0,46 euros) at that time. Despite the efforts made, the situation is still critical”, says the young entrepreneur.
Senegal is a country where culture plays an important role. Prison art from all the prisons of the country is showcased in Dakar, at the art gallery La Reinsertion (The Rehabilitation) created in June 2013, but not much is sold. Moctar, who never stopped thinking about a way to help inmates improve their conditions, created Yes We Sell to provide a greater visibility to prison art.
The purpose of Yes We Sell is twofold. It enables prisoners to make money for themselves, to improve their living conditions in prison where some goods are sold, and for their family. It is also a way to improve their self-esteem. Some inmates are sentenced to a very long period of imprisonment and it affects the way they feel about themselves.”
The items showcased on the platform are popular in Senegal, but also internationally, which motivates the young entrepreneur to go further. “I am working on a sewing training programme for inmates to boost the productivity. The only problem I am facing now is funding, but I am planning a crowdfunding campaign”. And the young entrepreneur will not stop there. “My short term goal besides the crowdfunding campaign is for Yes We Sell to start showcasing items manufactured by disabled people. I want them to be able to provide for themselves and their families through modern technology. On the long run, I want Prison art from all over Africa to be seen through the platform”.
But who is Moctar Cisse, the young man behind such a great achievement? Moctar has a rather atypical path. The full-time entrepreneur studied physics in school, but self-educated himself in a different domain.
“The first time I saw computer code, I was in high school. It was at a friend’s place. He was coding and I was fascinated by what he was doing, so I decided to learn how to do it too. While searching the Internet to find a way to achieve my goal, I stumbled on the website Le site du zero which is now Open Classroom. I was going to school during the day, and at night I was self-educating myself to computer code through that website.”
When I asked him how old he was when he created his first website from scratch, he seemed disappointed in himself: “I was quite old, I was 18!” Thanks to self-education, Moctar has three startups. The first one is Booguy, specialized in software and high-tech products. Then, there is Jotaliko, an application designed to sensitize people living in remote areas on possible threats in their local languages. “The idea came to me after the Ebola outburst. People living in remote areas were more exposed because virtually no one told them what was going on. Jotaliko is to help these people, and all those in the same situation.”
Jotaliko was finalist at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2015. Moctar was the only representative of French-speaking African countries. The same year, it was a finalist at the 2IE in Burkina Faso and won the Prix Coup de Coeur. Yes We sell is the last born.
I asked Moctar to tell me his definition of entrepreneurship: “Entrepreneurship is identifying a problem and finding the easiest actionable solution to it. It is a different approach to business, to solving problems. Entrepreneurs give people what they dream about, but do not know it yet. We have a lot of great entrepreneurs here in Senegal who found actionable solutions to problems no one knew could be solved, gaps no one knew could be filled. It is the case with Aboubacar Sonko and his platform Mlouma, which connects farmers and buyers; Mapenda Diop and Expat Dakar, the first advertisement platform in Senegal, or Maguatte Wade and Adina World Beat Beverages selling drinks from sustainable ingredients obtained through fair trade and sourced from small-scale farmers.”
Moctar Cisse still has a lot to do to be proud of himself. “I am ready to work harder for each of my startups to be self-sustaining. For now, Booguy is the one making the most money and sustaining the two others. But I will work harder and harder for Jotaliko and Yes We Sell to be autonomous.”
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