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Development in Africa: Women’s liberation that arrived on mobile | Planeta Futuro

Topyster Muga, Director of Airtel Money in Kenya and IT Woman 2015 in Sub-Saharan AfricaJoan Tusell

Topyster Muga is Kenyan, director of Airtel Money in Kenya and IT Woman of the Year 2015 in sub-Saharan Africa. She gave a talk at the 2nd International Meeting of Women Entrepreneurs Gran Canaria Summit 2016, an initiative of the San Francisco International Women Entrepreneurs Forum (SFIWEF) that was held on the island for the second consecutive year. Her talk focused on the almost infinite possibilities of mobile money. She came to the meeting proposed by KenTech, a firm specializing in the development of software and platforms which was one of the sponsors and co-organizers of the forum. KenTech has discovered a goldmine in the East African market, where SportPesa is one of its main clients.

“A silent revolution began in Kenya nine years ago: mobile money,” said Nadejda Georgieva Bozukova, director of KenTech in Spain, during the meeting. “A technological innovation that we are just starting to hear about in Europe and the United States. We can use our smartphones to pay with them, but these payments are usually linked to an internet connection, a bank card or a bank account; in Kenya, you don’t need any of that. This is turning this East African country into a giant laboratory that defines the future of money,” she added.

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Topyster Muga explained in his turn to speak that a simple code and the simplest mobile phone are now used to make safe and practically instantaneous money transfers in the most remote corners of Africa. Something that began, in the case of many countries, with envelopes full of banknotes that travelled in the pockets of a bus driver between the countryside and the city. Today it has taken a qualitative and quantitative leap through a technology that manages to overcome gaps such as remoteness or the low rate of banking penetration in most African contexts.

Figures

Evolution is very fast. Also surprising.

Today, a Kenyan can use his or her mobile phone to send money to a relative, but also to pay bills, apply for a loan, save up for an investment or a purchase, and even bet on the Champions League. By the way, mobile sports betting generated $20 million last year in Kenya alone, and one and a half million Kenyans use this service every month.

Topyster Muga goes beyond the technological revolution itself and talks about the liberating role of mobile phones for African women. Sitting in a corner of the Casa África courtyard, with a baobab tree at her back and clouds covering the midday sky, she explains how it provides Kenyan women with an unusual freedom and empowers them by providing them with privacy, security and possibilities.

“We are partners with a financial institution and what they are doing now is granting loans to small vendors,” she says. “They come to us, we connect them to a mobile money system and they can, by simply dialing a code and a number, ask for a quick loan, receive the money and buy, for example, tomatoes. They go to the market, sell them, make a profit and are able to repay that loan as they see fit: in a week, two weeks, a month. With the profit they make, they can repay their loan and also grow their business. It is a practical product to enable women to do more.”

Airtel’s executive said at the forum that 33 million mobile money transactions are made daily in 93 countries, through 271 services. Mobile money already doubles the transactions processed by PayPal worldwide and there are 411 million registered mobile money accounts worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa is the region on the planet with the greatest deployment of this technology. By far. In Kenya alone, 40,000 businesses accept face-to-face mobile payments and 3,000 organisations do so remotely.

The numbers and possibilities are dizzying.

The World Bank reports that there are 650 million mobile phone users in Africa: more than in Europe and the United States. Less than a quarter of the African population has a bank account, while a fifth of mobile connections in the region are linked to electronic wallets. Social networks have become the latest frontier of this revolution: Western Union, MoneyGram and the large money transfer and remittance companies are jumping on the bandwagon of mobile transformation and partnering with the instant messaging service WeChat or Facebook Messenger to facilitate instant transfers with these applications. Even Snapchat has its Snapcash.

Changes are happening at full speed.

The British company WorldRemit has created a multi-service card in 41 African countries that offers bank transfers, cash withdrawals in cash at partner stores, credit in mobile wallets or telephone minutes. The French company PayTop facilitates currency exchange and is rushing to work with the CFA franc, since Africa is its first client. Mergims, an application created by a Rwandan, specializes in paying services, bills and taxes in the African country, but wants to expand across the continent. Afrimarket has been operating in the Ivory Coast since 2015, linking its services to e-commerce and Orange Money. Among other things.

We see changes in access to health and school expenses, because women can take out loans or save Topyster Muga

Topyster Muga says that services like Airtel Money do not compete with banks: they are complementary. Mobile money has its niche in the micro and local areas, such as microcredits, microprojects and small daily transactions, and in terms of families and the flourishing and preservation of the small economy, the most widespread and vital in African contexts. Again, above all, women.

“We see changes in access to health and school fees because women can take out loans or save money through their phones for their children or whatever they want,” she says. “For example, in Kenya, many people pay their tuition fees in January and we see women who start saving in their mobile accounts before January comes. Before mobile money existed, we used to see a lot of women, especially in patriarchal societies, living in a situation where the man was the one who managed the household money. Now, because everyone has a mobile phone, women are empowered. They can have their own mobile account, put money in it and the husband can’t take it out if he doesn’t give him access to that account. This has allowed women to undertake many projects.”

Forward-looking

Topyster Muga looks young, but she has already been recognised by the African tech community as an IT Woman for the Airtel Money Pesa Card, a Visa card linked to the Airtel Money account. She was also involved in the formation of the Kenyan mobile money association and won a Nelson Mandela scholarship to pursue an MBA at the European Institute of Business Administration in France. Before taking up her current position at Airtel, she launched M-Pesa in several emerging markets with the Vodafone group. Not only in Africa, but also in Eastern European countries such as Romania. She has been working in the mobile money sector since 2005. A competitive and changing environment, which is in full swing in Africa and which provides enormous benefits. Surrounded by other entrepreneurs and pioneers, she does not see herself as an oddity.

It’s been nine years since a silent revolution began in Kenya: mobile money Nadejda Georgieva Bozukova, director in Spain of KenTech

“Like the rest of the world, there is still a gap when it comes to women in technology in Africa,” she concedes, noting that the Kenyan government has provided scholarships to female students to take technology courses and encouraged this type of training in universities while encouraging women to participate in it.

“In Kenya, men used to say that they could only marry a nurse or a teacher, but that they would not marry a woman in technology,” she laughs. “But now most men are happy to marry such a woman and support her career aspirations. There is a social acceptance that women can be good at technology. And there is support from the government, which leads many women to choose these types of careers.”

Topyster Muga works in innovation in a leading sector in the world and is part of the elite in one of the countries that is advancing most rapidly towards the future. She is a woman, she knows that the technological revolution is at the service of women and above all, that it is the work of women’s hands.

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