Posts Tagged ‘Africa’

Bedah Mengo charts an increasingly common path business owners in Kenya are taking to not only supplement their incomes, but also increase foot traffic – a move that adds another revenue stream while boosting in-store sales. Here’s a typical story of a business owner in the East African nation’s capitol:

Bob Mutie, who runs a cybercafe in Komarock estate, Nairobi , is among hundreds of traders in the capital doubling up as mobile money agents.

Mutie became a money transfer agent about eight months ago after running his core business for about two-and-a-half years.

‘Cybercafe is my main trade but I thought I should expand my business and try to boost revenue by becoming a money transfer agent,’ Mutie said on Wednesday.

He recounted he applied to a leading telecommunication company to become their agent, paid the requisite deposit of about 720 U.S. dollars and he was given the approval.

‘I made a little partition in the cybercafe and put a sign outside the shop that I was offering mobile money services. This did not cost me much,’ he said.

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“Africa Is Not a House”

A quick housekeeping note: We’ve been traveling, hence the blog neglect.

Now, onto the post…

A friend of ours has a saying he tells people. It’s a simple saying—a metaphor, really—and he deploys it whenever someone hears he’s from Africa—Nigeria, to be specific—and responds with some variant of the following: Oh, you must know so-and-so from [insert African nation here]. When our friend hears this, he likes to smile and explain to that person simply yet forcefully: “Africa is not a house.”

Put another way: “Africa is not a country.” And here’s the map to “prove” it. One of the more interesting things about the map: It shows how individual income levels evolved over time in various countries on the continent. Fascinating stuff.

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Buried in a status report about the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) cashless initiative in Lagos is this nugget:

[CBN Governor Mallam Lamido] Sanusi said 15 mobile payment operators had been licensed in Nigeria and that as a result, 80 million mobile-owning Nigerians would benefit from financial inclusion and a cashless existence.

While there is reportedly dissatisfaction with the CBN’s overall effort to adapt an all-electronic payment system, harnessing the ever-growing number of mobile phone users in Nigeria will help ease the tension.

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Ilan Oosting urges mobile money platforms to remember the important role feature phones play—a song SlimTrader has been singing since our inception:

The current scenario has solutions aimed at smartphone users, who frankly are the minority by far. Yes, there are reports that close to 50 percent or more of the mobile subscribers in countries like the United States, Singapore, Canada and Hong Kong are now using smartphones. But if you start looking at a global scale, only 12 percent of the world’s mobile subscribers use a smartphone.

Yes, folks, no matter what the latest Android, iOS or Windows Phone sales figures tell you, we still live pretty much in a feature phone world! At the rate we are going, we are leaving out almost 90 percent of mobile users, not a good start when you are trying to drive consumer adoption on something as huge and important as payments.

The world’s developing nations will be where mobile payments will make the largest impact. The lack of infrastructure, financial services and regulatory hurdles in these nations make them an ideal springboard for mobile payments. These countries also have very low smartphone penetration rates, some going far below 10 percent of the mobile subscriber base.

Oosting goes on to praise one of our mobile money partners, M-PESA, which has achieved tremendous market penetration due its innovations in the feature phone arena.

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The most important ways of measuring the seismic cultural and economic shifts associated with the rapid spread of mobile technology in Africa are often incalculable. Even rogue economists and statisticians armed with adventurous research methods and fancy algorithms will have a difficult time quantifying, say, reduced stress levels of people completing a task in 10 minutes instead of 10 hours. So, when trying to impress upon skeptics the game-changing power of mobile technology on the continent, it often helps to let the numbers speak for themselves.

Enter M-PESA. One of our key mobile money partners, the Kenya-based company recently reported numbers so big even we had to do a double take. No further commentary is required. So, without further adieu, here are a few key stats from the 2011-2012 financial year:

43 percent increase in revenues

12,000 agents added for a total of 50,000 employees

15 million registered users

 For more details on M-PESA’s astonishing growth, visit here. And a hearty congrats from all of us at SlimTrader.

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First, some housekeeping: After a long layoff, we’re reconstituting the blog. And we couldn’t have selected a better time. We have many exciting developments to share with you. So, please, check back here weekly for updates.

Let’s pick up where we left off. The Notore pilot program received a lot of interest from our retailers, aka, Village Promoters (VPs). You’ll recall that they are the key links in the supply chain, because the VPs deal directly with the farmers teaching them about better farming methods and about using fertilizer to increase their crop yields. Based on the feedback we received from them, and in consultation with Notore, we settled on the framework for a more efficient method to deliver the fertilizer to farmers.

While we’re still working out the details and the implementation process, here’s the gist of the revamped approach. Notore will provide Village Promoters with a mobile phone equipped with a specially designed Java application. This application will allow VPs to use their mobile phone to record a farmer’s order. It’s an important development. Previously, the VPs would have to buy fertilizer from Notore’s distributors in advance, necessitating that the VPs not only have cash and ample storage space, but also maintain a storefront.

Since transportation from the rural areas, where most farmers live, is spotty at best, trade suffered. Farmers don’t want to make an arduous, resource-consuming journey to the VPs if it isn’t guaranteed the product will be there in the quantity needed. Another problem: because the VPs were disconnected from the farmers, they were forced into a passive rather than an active role.

But our solution solves all these problems. Now, the VPs visit the farmers in person and take the orders -all with their mobile phones and our Java application. Once Notore’s distributors deliver the fertilizer, the farmers simply pick it up. As noted, this is all still in the planning phase, but we hope to launch it soon.

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David Rowan, editor of Wired‘s UK version, takes a tour of Africa and is stunned by the rapid proliferation of technologies the West takes for granted but have only recently taken hold on the continent:

You need only to look at the map of huge broadband fibre-optic cables currently being laid on both east and west coasts, from Djibouti to Dakar, to understand how quickly and ambitiously an entire continent is being connected. It’s like being back in 1995 again, and realising there might just be a market for an online bookshop or auction website.

Don’t take my word for it: David Cameron is so keen to give British entrepreneurs a foothold that he recently took a delegation of CEOs to Nigeria and South Africa to highlight “one of the greatest economic opportunities on the planet”.

The trip - featuring the bosses of firms such as Barclays and the Royal Mint, Vodafone and Virgin Atlantic - was hailed by Downing Street as “an historic visit to a continent with a trillion-dollar economy and the potential, according to the IMF, to grow faster than Brazil over the next five years”.

Much of that growth will come from startups that bring the mobile internet to businesses and consumers who have until now been offline. That’s why Cameron’s team invited along the British founders of red-hot mobile-money business Monitise, a clever text-messaging system called Frontline SMS - and your own Digital Life columnist with his trusty notebook.

Rowan goes on to discuss the importance of e-commerce and the role our startup, SlimTrader, is playing in Africa’s economic development.

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The Economist cheers Africa’s economic surge:

AFRICA has made a phenomenal leap in the last decade. Its economy is growing faster than that of any other continent. Foreign investment is at an all-time high; Senegal has lower borrowing costs than Ireland. The idea of a black African billionaire—once outlandish except for kleptocratic dictators—is commonplace now. At the same time an expanding African middle class (similar in size to those in India and China) is sucking in consumer goods. Poverty, famine and disease are still a problem but less so than in the late 20th century, not least thanks to advances in combating HIV and malaria.

The anonymous blogger further highlights the increasingly important role technology is playing in the continent’s boom: “Africa has 400m mobile phone users—more than America. Such tools boost local economies, especially through mobile banking and the distribution of agricultural information.” As Matt Ridely argues, “pessimism about Africa is overdone and trade is transforming Africa for the better.” In other words: business is getting done on the continent—and lives are changing. We’re both excited and proud to be a part of it.

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The market in Bali County.

SlimTrader has entered the next phase of our Notore pilot program in the Northern Nigerian State of Taraba. We’ve been working with retailers, aka Village Promoters (VPs), for some time in order to upload their complete inventory, including quantity and price, into our database. Now that this stage is complete, we’re focusing on reaching out to the VPs’ customers, i.e., farmers.

This is how the service works: A farmer sends us an SMS requesting a specific amount of Notore fertilizer. Then we reply, via SMS, with a list of local VPs who have what the farmer is looking for and at what prices. From there, the farmer determines which VP has the right amount at the right price, then makes the purchase by sending another SMS message. He/she can either pay via one of our mobile money partners from his/her cell phone right then and there, or when he/she arrives to pick up the fertilizer.

In order to explain the service and to spread word of its availability, our outreach team journeyed to the market in the county of Bali and chatted with farmers directly. This is an important part of the process. It’s how we understand, at a very low-temperature level, the needs of farmers, which allows us to refine our approach to providing the Notore products they need to increase outputs and, thus, better their lives.

Some food for thought (no pun intended) gleaned from our market trip:

- While excited about the program, farmers are also hesitant, as it’s a new way to shop for goods. It’s a common, completely understandable reaction which is quickly overcome once farmers see how simple our system is.

- Most farmers have cell phones, so it won’t be difficult to train them on using our service.

- Notore fertilizer dealers are often difficult to visit in person. Thus, searching the dealers’ inventory via mobile phones prior to traveling is a major plus for farmers.

- The price of a text message is a concern, but we’re working to offer a cheaper plan.

To view more photos from our trip the market in Bali county, please visit our Facebook page.

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That’s how SlimTrader’s MoBiashara service works for our client, Aero, Nigeria’s largest discount airline. As you see, it’s an efficient, a convenient, and a simple way to book a flight. All you need is a phone and a destination, and we take care of the rest.

But what about other transportation sectors? What about people who can’t afford to fly? Can SlimTrader adjust MoBiashara to fit these needs?

The answer: Yes. The beauty of our service is that it can be tailored to fit any transportation company’s needs, as well as any consumer’s, regardless of his or her economic status. The latter point is an important one, because so many Africans cannot get accurate, current information on their long-haul transportation options. This leads to long searches and wasted money. Why? Because for BOP consumers time is, literally, money.

Herein lies SlimTrader’s reason for being: to bring progress and promise to every African citizen.

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