Serge Raemaekers

Abalobi

Abalobi was co-founded by Serge Raemakers, Abongile Ngqongwa and Nicolaas Waldeck in 2015, with the aim to improve fisheries management, the lives of small-scale fishers and to create a social enterprise agency for them.

Abalobi is a mobile app suite and non-profit programme which is aimed at social justice and poverty alleviation in the small-scale fisheries chain. We took some time to chat to one of the founders, Serge Raemaekers to gain more insight.

The Abalobi app is currently used by 271 small-scale fishers along the South African coast and will soon be introduced to small- scale fishers in the Seychelles. When Abalobi was introduced, the majority of the users were very nervous about depending on an app to manage or possible income as this was something completely new to them. However, Abalobi had the answer to this.

“Through a co-design process and on-going training, the fishers have become accustomed to the app and have become more independent, operating this app with enthusiasm and confidence,” says Serge.

Abalobi is first and foremost a personal log book for fishers, allowing them to document their daily activities and highlighting areas where they can improve or better manage their finances. They are able to record their catch, income and expenses as well consulting their log book to evaluate their economic problems or potential. Through use of the Abalobi MARKETPLACE app, they also build traceable value chains,  connecting them with end- markets directly, consumers, retailers and restaurants directly, in a more economically empowered way.

Abalobi was founded 3,5 years ago, and the NP) is planning to grow to another scale over the next three years.

“Imagine a scenario where you go to a seafood restaurant and order a seafood meal. You are now able to scan a QR code that will give you the opportunity to see where your food is coming from, who caught the fish and will tell you a story about your food. This connects the consumer to the fishers and vice versa,” says Serge.

He goes on to explain that the biggest accomplishment since Abalobi was founded is seeing the sense of pride and independence that all fishers have gained.

“This is something extraordinary to watch, the fishers are completely in charge of their careers and their income. They are able to provide for themselves and families and step by step improve their living conditions”, says Serge.

Even though Abalobi has developed, growing its userbase over the years, the road to where they are now wasn’t an easy one. The biggest challenge for them when they started was acquiring financial assistance. Serge shares that everyone wants a piece of what is essentially a community-driven programme. They believed in their vision and kept writing proposals.

Last year was one of the greatest years for Abalobi as they won the development award at the SAB Foundation Social Innovation and Disability Empowerment Awards. After winning they noticed that their organization was perceived as being more credible, and people started recognising them. They subsequently obtained more grant funding from elsewhere to scale their operations and impact.

Through this funding they were also able to buy a bakkie which is allowing them to travel more and access more fishing communities. They have also been able to invest in more branding and marketing and this has contributed to them being more visible and recognised in the fishing sector.

Serge encourages everyone who has a dream of starting their own business to go for it, but cautions them not to expect everything to go as planned. His top tips for any startups are:

  • Perseverance, don’t give up regardless challenges.
  • Find a narrative, have a story to tell.
  • Appeal to the larger audience.
  • Be genuine, stand out from others.
  • Attend many social entrepreneur workshops and events.
  • Don’t take rejection personally, rather see it as a learning curve.
  • Keep pushing until something comes up.