Monday, May 30, 2011

Hellenah Mwansa: Champion Agent

My job involves selecting and training 20-something Zambians to start their own money transfer franchises in different towns all across the country. We call them our Champion Agents.

Hellenah Mwansa is one of these young agents I’m very proud of. She finished our training course in April and we promptly sent her up to Ndola, 400km north of Lusaka where she had been living, with instructions to find a location, set up a portable booth that she’d pick up at a town along the way, and start transacting.

But just two weeks into her new job she fell sick. Malaria, most likely. While she went to a health clinic and began treatment almost immediately, she was still almost completely incapacitated. Bedridden for a week, maybe more. During all of this all she asked me for was $10 to buy the vitamins and fruit juice the health clinic recommended she take.

Yet this past week when I drove up to visit her and a few of our other agents, she was cheerful, smiling, and had her shop back on track. She had arranged a deal with the manager of the YMCA to rent some space from her for her shop; had hired a girl, Linda, as her store assistant; and was out for the better part of the day handing out flyers to potential customers around town.

Almost all of our new agents are 20-somethings like Hellenah. They are who our company (Mobile Transactions Zambia; MTZ) will rely on to be the backbone of our network of financial transactions in Zambia.

Graham Lettner,
Agent Manager.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Passion, Pride, Pace and Professionalism

It’s quite strange to think that less than 30 days ago I was working in a small town in Wales called Bedwas managing a large scale Welsh Government project subsidising Leadership and Management training for Small and Medium Sized businesses.Since first stepping into the old, cramped Cairo Road office I have been struck by the pace, enthusiasm and stretch of the work of Mobile Transactions. 16 working days into my short experience I have already developed and agreed a project plan aiming to pay 22,000 East Zambian Farmers with e-vouchers, braved the bus to Chipata and negotiated with almost 20 Zambian businesses.

There’s been a great deal that I have had to learn. As Brad puts it, there are no safety nets working for a start up business. Most tasks need to be undertaken independently – the processes and expert services of my corporate background simply do not exist. When I walk into a room with Zambia’s primary retailers of school books, or one of the biggest fertiliser importers, I have to rely on my own preparation and ability to present a competent and coherent proposition.

The opportunity is hugely rewarding for me and I don’t think I’m alone. I have seen all of MTZ’s people pushing themselves out of their comfort zone to develop new systems, strike new payments deals and forge a strong and stable agent network. When I return to work for Government, I hope that I will adopt this brave spirit and demand even greater hunger and accountability to do the work we do from those around me.

So what’s useful from the Welsh Government that MTZ can adopt? 16 days in, it’s a completely impossible assessment to try to make. However one issue might be that MTZ’s strengths could also be it’s weaknesses as it moves forward. Always stretching ourselves should not lead to over promising. A fast pace must not mean sacrificing support, when that is needed. Enthusiasm must not lead to burning out.

That’s why Mike’s plan for the company and the ambition to develop a coherent structure for MTZ’s work is absolutely crucial. Good governance and support structures shouldn’t stifle and can provide a framework that means that a business isn’t always out of its comfort zone. This means discipline, and will usually mean some changes. The best ideas come from all parts of businesses so there must be a space for people to share and debate them confidently and openly.

The Civil Service’s motto in the UK is Passion, Pride, Pace and Professionalism. MTZ absolutely embody these qualities. The challenge now is to enshrine these in a framework for a very bright future.

By The Welsh Civil Servant,

Tom Taylor.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Playing both sides

I was in Kenya earlier this month attending a Grassroots Business Fund regional workshop. While I was there, I took a couple extra days to skulk around Kibera market and travel out to Kisumu on Lake Victoria all in the name of seeing M-PESA agents as work. Being the most successful mobile banking market in the world, there was lots to learn from them.

In Kisumu I met Victor, PEP Intermedius’ agent manager, who graciously spent the entire morning fielding my questions and querying me with some of his own. Their operation is more fluid and established than ours, and the number of agents PEP manages (150, just 1% of all agents in Kenya) is equal to the total number of agents we have across Zambia.

What shows just how different the Kenyan mobile payments market is to Zambia’s is that PEP is just one of dozens of companies that manage agents for M-PESA. Here in Zambia, there’s only us. We manage 100% of all the agents in Zambia. In effect, we’re both PEP and M-PESA at the same time: we manage the agents and we run the mobile payments system.

It makes for a lot of work, and unfortunately less single-mindedness in our business goals, but it also offers a lot of opportunity. Instead of a tug-of-war between M-PESA and the companies managing agents, we can try to find a optimal balance between our mobile payments business system and our on-the-ground agent network. Hopefully it’s something that we’ll be able to use to our continuing advantage as the Zambian market develops.