Sunday, October 21, 2012

Inhabiting Planet Zoona

An organization is a collection of people working together towards a shared goal.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? But building an effective organization with capable, motivated people working together in unison is incredibly hard.

This has been our biggest challenge at Zoona since closing our Series A investment in February this year. Since then, we have grown from 28 to 49 people across our Lusaka and Cape Town offices. This has come with its growing pains, as the new mix with the old and everyone is forced to adapt to a rapid pace of change.

But it has also come with a tremendous input of energy. To name but a few of our newest inhabitants of Planet Zoona:

  • Lelemba is our very own Financial DIVA. A Zambian now living in Cape Town, Lelemba has jumped into the Financial Controller role feet first. She is always on the lookout for opportunities to leverage her background in financial education to empower our Zambian staff and maximize employee experience for everyone.
  • John is our new System Architect. He practices mixed martial arts in between work and family time, and isn’t afraid to hand out push-ups if any of our IT developers go over their 30 second allocation in their daily stand-up meeting! We’re still waiting to see what he’ll do if someone doesn’t document their code properly.
  • Marian is our Consumer Payments Manager. Having moved to Zambia from Cape Town, she is applying her extensive mobile media and consumer experience to drive transaction growth through our agent channel. She also lives on a game farm outside of Lusaka with wild animals.
  • Randall is a Jamaican living in Zambia who has made it his personal mission to vault our Enterprise Payments product line to the top of our revenue mix. He’s so focused on this goal that it’s not uncommon to receive work emails at 3am from him while he’s on leave (shh just don’t tell his wife!).
  • Oliver is our new Zambia Operations Manager. He After his first day of work I asked how he was doing and he simply said: “I have to be here.” Since then, he’s “been here” 110% and has now added Customer Care to his list of management responsibilities.

I could go on and on about what I believe is a truly special team we are assembling at Zoona. What has inspired me about this group is how motivated everyone is to play a leading role in Africa’s economic rise. Everyone is genuinely bought in to our vision of a Cashless Africa, and we aren’t going to quit until we get there.

This post was written by Mike Quinn, CEO at Zoona

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Introducing Zoona!

Following the close of our recent investment, we asked our staff and customers what they thought of our name and brand. Here is what we heard:
  • "I thought your name was MTZL; or was it MTZ?" 
  • "I just call you 'Mobile' because 'Transactions' is too hard to say" 
  • "Are you the green guys?" Sometimes being a successful business means listening to feedback, even when it means changing your name! 
We are therefore rebranding under the name of Zoona (pronounced Z-oh-na), which means, "It's real" in Nyanja, one of Zambia's major languages. We have a brand new logo in our unique bright green representing growth for Africa, our customers, and ourselves. And we are more committed than ever to make transacting in Africa Easy Quick Safe for our customers.

But a brand is much more than a name and logo. As my mother once told me, "It's what's inside that really counts." The true Zoona brand is represented by the following core beliefs that guide our actions and keep us grounded:

We believe in finding solutions. We proactively search within our target market for bottlenecks, inefficiencies, and processes that don't work where our technology solutions can create new ways of doing things for our customers.

We believe in traction by action. We are not afraid to take calculated risks to test new ideas, and we will systematically learn from our experiences. 

We believe in working with change-makers. We want to work with disruptive and innovative people and organisations who will adopt and adapt technology solutions to their problems. 

We believe in getting it right. Our customers must understand what we're offering them and we must consistently deliver on our commitments through effective and efficient structures and processes. 

We believe in scale. We will develop technology solutions that enable our customers to scale, thereby making a positive contribution to Africa's economic growth. 

We believe in people. We understand that we will succeed or fail on our ability to find great customers and staff and keep them happy. We will achieve this by behaving with humility and operating with fairness and transparency. 

We hope you like our new brand as much as we do!


ps. Look for me on Twitter @ZoonaMike

Monday, July 9, 2012

Using eVouchers to Change Behaviour in Rural Zambia


Imagine yourself as a smallholder cotton farmer in rural Zambia. For many months, you and your entire family are out at the crack of dawn toiling on your farm - ploughing, planting, and weeding by hand to nurture a handful of seeds into a thriving crop of cotton. You are proud of what you have achieved with nothing more than your bare hands, a primitive set of tools, and if you are lucky, an oxen.

And then comes payday. Finally, after all that laborious work, your crop is sold for hard cash. Everyone in your community is upbeat and happy. There are festivals and celebrations. Houses are repaired and thatched roofs are replaced by corrugated iron. New TVs and mobile phones beam airwaves in and out of the village.

But almost as fast as this “enlightening”, your long lost relatives and less fortunate neighbours show up at your doorstep asking for money. They have watched you tend your crop from the first seedlings. They know the exact size of your harvest by the number of bags of cotton stacked outside your mud hut, and have easily and accurately calculated the amount of cash you received for your burden.

They are begging you for help because they are “not as lucky as you.” You know you have only one choice – to help them by giving them money – or risk a bad reputation in your community and shame from your extended family. You reluctantly dish out your hard earned cash, knowing full well that some of it will end up being spent at the local bar. You know in your gut that many of the people you are “helping” will be back on your doorstep at the same time next year.

Mobile Transactions has a vision to change this very real story that is a hindrance to the economic development of rural African communities. We have launched an innovative pilot project, in partnership with Dunavant Cotton and a local NGO called Musika, to test whether smallholder farmers will opt to receive eVoucher scratch cards instead of cash for their cotton crop.

eVouchers allow farmers to store electronic value instead of cash. Each eVoucher is linked to a farmer’s unique ID number so that it can’t be used by anyone else, and there is no requirement for farmers to memorize a personal PIN (which is a significant barrier for financial services). In fact, farmers don’t even need to have mobile phones! eVouchers can then be redeemed for goods at local retailers, who are willing to offer discounts to attract customers and win sales from their competitors.

If this pilot works, there could be a significant benefit to Dunavant, which pays out tens of millions of dollars in cash to over 150,000 smallholder cotton farmers in Zambia. This is both operationally expensive and extremely risky. If we can prove that farmers will accept eVouchers instead of cash, Dunavant is ready and willing to take this solution to scale and take a step towards becoming a Cashless Corporation.

Donovan Nickel (Board member) and Abishank Jajur (Accion intern)

I had the privilege of visiting some Dunavant farmers near a town called Monze with Hans Hesse (eVoucher Manager), Donovan Nickel (Board Member), and Abishank Jajur (Accion intern). It’s always a treat to get out of the office and into the field, and this was a humbling experience. This year, the world market price for cotton has dropped to half of what it was last year and farmers are facing a tough year ahead with a shock to their expected income. Despite this, the farmers I spoke with were optimistic about eVouchers. When I asked one lead farmer whether he was planning on taking an eVoucher, he replied:
“I will take an eVoucher because when my relatives come asking for money after I sell my crop, I can tell them I don’t have any.”

Behaviour change in rural Africa is a hard and slow process. But I left Monze energized that we are onto something that could improve the lives of productive farmers who are leaders in their communities. Now it’s time to get to work and make it happen.
  Left Mike Quinn (CEO) centre Hans Hesse (eVoucher Manager)

By Mike Quinn
CEO of Mobile Transactions

Monday, June 4, 2012

Bringing billion dollar success strategies to Zambia

Mike Quinn reports on his and Brett Magrath’s recent visit to San Francisco to meet Mobile Transactions’ investors and supporters.

One of the great benefits of having the Omidyar Network (ON) as an investor in your business is that you are invited to the annual Omidyar Network Executive Forum (ONEF). ON is the brainchild of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam - it is an impact investment firm dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives. ON believes that human capital can be as valuable as financial capital in helping organizations grow and increase their impact and therefore it helps its investee companies in strengthening their skills in key areas such as strategy, leadership and operations.

From the 8-10 May Brett and I joined around 120 top executives from ON funded companies around the world for the 3 day event in San Francisco for keynotes, workshops, peer learning, practice-area networking, one-on-ones and small-group coaching. Not only did we meet and exchange ideas and experiences with other growing companies but we also had the chance to learn from people who ‘have been there done that’ and in the process changed the way we live our lives. We are so flattered that ON, by choosing to invest in Mobile Transactions, thought we were ready to join this group of amazing people.

There are so many highlights from the meeting it is difficult to chose which to write about but in addition to meeting with Pierre Omidyar, founder of the Network, two particularly stand out.

Reid Hoffman talked about Driving Innovation: how to exploit risks to achieve “breakout opportunities”. The secret is to choose the right risks! He also stressed how important people are to an organization, that companies need to identify and hire people who possess what he calls an “infinite learning curve”, people who continue to learn and ask questions throughout their career that can scale with a rapidly growing organisation.

Reid has a truly awesome track record in business, he was a member of the board of directors at the founding of PayPal and later he co-founded LinkedIn. LinkedIn currently has over 135 million members in over 200 countries: at its IPO in May 2011 it was valued at over $3 billion US dollars.

One of the most memorable events was the keynote from Julie Hanna, Chair of the Board of Kiva. Julie is an accomplished entrepreneur repeatedly building successful consumer internet and business software companies. She is driven by her belief in technology as a democratizing force for social, political and business disruption and in entrepreneurship as the world's greatest change agent. Julie has helped make Kiva, one of our partners, a TIME Top 50 Website and the world's largest micro-lending marketplace for poverty alleviation.

Julie’s talk Bringing Humanity to Business was truly inspiring especially as by sharing her own story of being a refugee in America she challenged commonly held perceptions, “viewing people through the eyes of pity is dangerous because it wreaks of a stench of superiority.” I have to say that I completely agree with her. There are many complicated forces that keep people in poverty but I believe the best way to help disadvantaged people break-out of this trap is to unlock their potential by exposing them to opportunities.

Our final day in the US was used to meet old and new friends. We made a presentation at the Kiva offices and were able to share directly with each other our excitement of the success Mobile Transactions’ Agents are having in raising funds through Kiva (over $120,000 in Kiva loans to date!).

We also met with Patrick Pichette, CFO of Google and early supporter of Mobile Transactions, and had the opportunity to visit the Google campus. There he showed us some of their new technologies, including a Google Near-Field-Communication (NFC) chip in a phone that enables payments to be made by just swiping an Android phone on a point-of-sale device. Brett and I responded by showing Patrick our e-voucher scratch card, which does the exact same thing by storing value for retail purchases but only costs a few cents to the consumer and can be redeemed using even the most basic SMS/voice phone. I think we were mutually blown away by each other’s technology, and it was great to see how similar we were thinking but for very different market segments.

However different our environment is to Google’s, Patrick laid down a challenge to us in how we should think about building our business. He said Google evaluates new ideas based on two criteria: 1) Can it reach a billion users? (or else what’s the point?) and 2) Can technology change people’s lives? His challenge was that we should evaluate our opportunities in the same way as Google does. There are approximately four billion underbanked and underconnected people in the world who could use Mobile Transactions’ products. It was great to hear such positive affirmation in our model and approach, and the test is now whether we are up to the challenge. I think we are.

This post was written by Mike Quinn and edited by Jill Kent

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Brad and Brett Magrath recognized as leaders in Africa

Each year, the African Leadership Network (ALN) scours the continent in search of a new generation of leaders for Africa: leaders who despite their relatively young age have tremendous influence and are thus uniquely positioned to play a role in taking Africa to a new era of prosperity.

Brad and Brett Magrath have been recognized as “New Generation Leaders for Africa” for 2012 and have been invited to join the ALN. They were chosen out of several thousand candidates and will be joining 200-300 of the "the most significant 'new generation' decision-makers on the African continent".

"Congratulations on this tremendous achievement. It is a testimony to all you have done so far and recognition of your potential to do more to drive Africa forward," said Fred Swaniker, co-founder of the ALN.

Brad and Brett are one of three individuals chosen from Zambia out of the 100+ individuals invited to join the network in 2012.

The ALN is the premier network of young, dynamic, and influential leaders in business, public sector, the arts and civil society in Africa. Their aim is to engage the collective influence of this new generation of leaders to drive prosperity for Africa’s people. Partners include MTN, JP Morgan, and McKinsey & Company.

At the same time, Brett Magrath has been recognized by The Economist Intelligence Unit as a contributor to their report on "Corporate CIOs in Emerging Markets: An Evolving Role". He was one of 366 senior executives surveyed in Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa and 10 who were interviewed in depth. The report highlights the growing importance of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) role in ensuring profitability and growth of companies in emerging markets where ‘the effective use of IT can help catapult a company from small local player to international competitor.

Congrats to both Brad and Brett!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Onto the Next Hill

“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

This is a famous quote by one of the world’s greatest human beings, Nelson Mandela. I can’t think of anything that is more relevant to our business right now.

On Februrary 10, 2012, Mobile Transactions closed a $4m Series A investment round. It was a lot harder and took a lot longer than we originally thought, but as the first ever technology start-up in Zambia to close international venture capital financing, this was truly a great hill to climb (you can read our full investment story here). We’re immensely proud of this achievement and have some great new shareholders, including Omidyar Network, Accion Frontiers, and MEDA. We also have the foundations of a great board of directors, including Arjuna Costa (Omidyar), Monica Brand and her alternate Michael Murai (Accion), and Donovan Nickel (MEDA’s board observer).

But as Nelson Mandela wisely warned, we have only made it to the base camp of Mount Everest. Our vision is a Cashless Africa. Our goal is to build a billion dollar pan-African payments business. Raising $4m seems miniscule compared to these challenges.

So how do we get there?

It all starts with our team. Teams are simply collections of individuals through which the output of the whole is greater than the output of the sum of the parts. We’ve got a good team right now, but we need to add the missing pieces and develop our talent to make it a GREAT team. This won’t happen automatically – it will take a lot of hard work by everyone and there will be casualties along the way. But for those who rise to the challenge, there will be a stream of opportunities and rewards.

Next come our customers. In a start-up business, customers are like a good mechanic in Zambia: they are hard to find but once you do you don’t let them go. Customers pay our wages, test our products, and when we get it right, they do our sales and marketing for us. This is why we have made “Delight our Customers” a key strategic objective of our business, supported by our new Customer Experience department. This department is tasked with listening to and learning from our customers to understand what they love, hate, and desire from us so that we can continuously improve.

Third, we must evolve our products and services with a focus on achieving SCALE. In the short term, this means investing in our technology to develop a scalable platform, expanding our cash agent network in Zambia to lead the market with our Consumer and Agent Payments product lines, and taking our eVoucher Payments product line across Southern Africa. Looking out into the future, we want to open our platform to connect with third parties to accelerate the volume of transactions and push the boundaries of payment innovation in Africa.

There are still many more hills before we reach the summit, but if we get these three things right I have no doubt we will get there.

This post was written by Mike Quinn, CEO of Mobile Transactions

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Get Stupid! - Investment Celebration Party South Africa.

Let me start this off by quoting Brett: “Never, in all my years of being in this business, did I ever think Id witness something like that”.

Those sentiments are shared. By just about everyone I would think.

I witnessed some astounding feats last night, who knew ZOONA employees were so talented with an invisible ball?? Grahams invisible card pack not withstanding!

It such a great feeling knowing that you work with people you can just get stupid with!
From Lelemba and Thulasy’s Adele WINNING idols audition, to how Leshain “rolls” to Brett the IT gangsta, last night was just a bag of fun and then some.

Getting to see everyone in their element and just out of their work shells was priceless. One actually realises that outside work we are completely different people and that there are some lasting friendships to be built within Zoona.

To me personally, interacting with everyone on such a social, non-professional platform was awesome. One realises how much you actually have in common with the people you work with, which in turn, makes for a better working relationship.

I mean, did you ever thing you would see something like this?

I didn't think so......

This little piece just serves to say thank you to everyone who made last night possible!

Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to socialise with and get to know each other better. For allowing us to just get stupid and have enough fun to motivate us for a long time coming!

This post was written by Jade September, on the Payment Processing team in Cape Town

Monday, March 19, 2012

Making a difference behind a screen

Hello everyone,

So I think I will just get the formalities out of the way before I jump into this.

My name is Jade September, I am not the newest addition to the accounting team. However, my start with Mobile Transactions is a fairly recent one. The newest addition would be Ragmat Davids, although I am sure many of you would have seen our names pop up in your email inbox's often enough to get annoyed at the pair of us and to realise that we are the newest employees at the Cape Town offices.

It would seem my experience thus far matters, which is awesome. That being said, one conversation flowed into another and it was decided that I should write a blog post.

Since by nature, I am an honest person, I will say that I hate finance. I just happen to be good at it. Weird isn’t it? However, when I heard word of an employment opportunity here, I thought “Why not? It is not where I would like to be but it is a change” and was it ever.

My first week here must have been one of the most stressful experiences I have ever had, but I can honestly say that I have come to love the company and the things they are involved in. I am living the brand, so to speak.

The vision of this company is so inspiring, that when my family and friends ask me where I work now, they need to prepare for a very lengthy explanation ranging from what I do, to my place in the bigger scheme of things. I love the fact that I can come to work and actually feel like I am making a difference in the world. One reads the blog posts and watches the Kiva videos and everything suddenly comes together very nicely. You realise that even though it might not seem that way, you are helping people and improving their standard of living. Isn't that in itself something to be largely content with?

Okay I can feel myself running away with this, so onto the next topic. The People.

I love the people I work with. In Cape Town, we have the accounting department and the I.T department. Two separate departments, one vision.

I don’t feel like I am in an accounting box and that’s it. I don’t feel any divide between the two departments, everyone is treated the same and all issues and queries affect us all. Everyone is extremely willing to help where they can and it’s awesome.

We have Lelemba, the resident Chartered Accountant and Queen Diva. I still can’t get over how down to earth and friendly this woman is. It’s a joy to be working alongside her and I intend to take in as much as I can.

Then we have Leshain, The internal auditor and fellow Diva extradonaire. One of the most helpful and friendly women I have ever met. It’s like she comes with her own sun. She is just warm and positive all the time. I don’t think I have ever seen her upset, even when the newbies mess up.

Amid all the females, we have Charlton. I think the guys in Zambia should start keeping Charlton company during the day because the dude is really starting to feel the lack of testosterone now gents, he can only be around the I.T dudes for so long before he has to come back over to accounts and feel that overwhelming surge of power infused oestrogen all around him.

Then there’s Marissa, my fellow vivacious Diva and friend. Working with her is an absolute joy. I am extremely proud of her and in awe of how much she, alongside Leshain, accomplishes on a daily basis and I am sure many of the people in the Zambian office can vouch for that.

Then we have Ragmat, the newest employee in Cape Town. So far, I have enjoyed working with her. We talk, we joke, we laugh and we work. What more could I ask for from the girl who sits next to me?
We also have Keith, our Chief Finance Officer. Another person who amazes me with how down to earth and helpful he is. I am not afraid to strike up a conversation with him or to joke with him because that is just the type of person he is. There is a time for work and all the time in between is to joke with everyone here, especially Brett. Just listening to Keith and Brett on a daily basis has to put a smile on your dial.

In my head, generally I.T people are stuck up and snobbish and unwilling to assist with anything. Was I in for culture shock when I got to Mobile Transactions. Never in my entire 23 years of existence have I come across Nerds (don’t even deny it guys) who laugh so much and are capable of talking so much smack!! They make the day fly by and I can never understand how Brett is able to get them to be serious! Though, one tends to understand when they listen to Brett where it all comes from. Yet The system keeps evolving.

Hopefully this little post gives everyone some insight as to what goes through my head on a daily basis.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Making a Difference in Microfinance

It is often said that if more women are empowered with financial assistance in the poorest and remotest areas of the world it would have a huge significance in the uplifting of living conditions for women, men and children alike.

Mobile Transactions is working with Vision Fund Zambia, commonly known as “Harmos”, a wholly owned subsidiary of World Vision International. Vision Fund has a Mission to economically empower the poor to improve their livelihood and become productive members and advocates for positive change in the society, through sustainable microfinance services such as business loans, agriculture loans, bicycle loans and youth loans.

My name is Brenner Nkunta; I am currently as the acting Vision Fund Account Manager (our regular manager is on maternity leave – congratulations!!!). I am the link between the Vision Fund head office in Lusaka, the Mobile Transactions Zambia (MTZ) Champion Agents around Zambia and MTZ Accounts Department in Cape Town.

Vision Fund gives empowerment loans in 15 districts of Zambia with 80% of the loans targeted to women. To be eligible for a loan, one has to be running a business. Most loan recipients have small grocery shops commonly known as “Tuntembas” while others have small scale farming holdings. To identify the loan recipients, Vision Fund field officers physically inspect the settlements of the target clients and make suitable recommendations.

Vision Fund makes use of the MTZ Agent Network, which is spread across Zambia deliver loans to the recipients. Once Vision Fund identifies loan beneficiaries, the details are entered into the MTZ microfinance payments system. Upon approval, the loan recipient receives an SMS to go and collect money at the MTZ agent’s shop near them. In a month Vision Fund approves over 1,000 loans worth around $400,000, which are then disbursed through the MTZ system. Loan recipients are also able to repay their loans through the same MTZ agents.

My job as Account Manager is to ensure that a loan recipient, once approved, will be able to receive their cash at their local MTZ agent. I communicate closely with the Vision Fund team, the MTZ accounts team, and monitor the MTZ system to ensure that agents will have the necessary liquidity to make the pay-outs. The feedback we hear from the loan recipients is that they appreciate that the agents are close to where they live and the pay-outs are faster than the previous manual system that was employed by Vision Fund.

One of the most noticeable success stories is that of the MTZ Champion agent in Maamba located in the Southern Province of Zambia. The agent was set up to meet the needs of the Vision Fund loan clients in the area. The agent caters to loan clients that come from as far as 20Km away from the agent location in Maamba town.

A few of the key challenges faced by Vision Fund include the low level of literacy of their clients and the distance they must travel to reach the pay-out/pay-in locations. We’re working closely with Vision Fund to ensure that their loan officers are able to educate their clients about their role and how the system works. We are also working to expand the agent network to reach out to new areas, previously never served by any financial services. Our agent in Maamba, a rural community to Southern Zambia, was set up primarily to service these loan recipients and offer our other money transfer services. Before this agent, loan recipients would have to travel around 90km to access their loans.

MTZ Champion Agents operate as independent entrepreneurs. Mobile Transactions is working in partnership with Kiva to provide additional working capital to these entrepreneurs to better serve loan recipients and others across Zambia. To check out the profile of some of these entrepreneurs, check out the Kiva website:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Omidyar Network and ACCION Invest US $3.2 Million in Mobile Transactions International

FEBRUARY 29, 2012, Redwood City, CA and Boston, MA—Omidyar Network and ACCION International announced today that they have invested US $3.2 million in Mobile Transactions International, a Zambia-based company that leverages mobile technology and an agent network to enable financial transactions across the Zambian economy. The $4 million investment round also includes $500,000 in converted debt funding from Mennonite Economic Development Associates.

With a proprietary technology platform and countrywide agent network, Mobile Transactions makes transacting easy, quick and safe by replacing cash with electronic currency. The investment from Omidyar Network and ACCION, the first venture capital deal in a Zambian start-up technology company, will enable Mobile Transactions to develop its leadership team, agent network, and technology platform to provide financial access to underserved organizations and base-of-the-pyramid consumers in Zambia and in new markets.

“Omidyar Network believes that Mobile Transactions demonstrates the potential of a ‘cashless Africa’ to transform the way people and organizations transact in emerging markets,” said Arjuna Costa, Director of Investments at Omidyar Network. “We are proud to support entrepreneurs who have demonstrated a tireless commitment to building a model and products from the ground up that can scale across borders and have a pan-African footprint.

As part of the transaction, both Costa and Monica Brand, fund manager for ACCION’s Frontier Investments Group, will join Mobile Transactions’ Board of Directors.

Frontier Investments, an early stage equity fund that invests in breakthrough models that can radically enhance financial service delivery to the unbanked, has supported Mobile Transactions prior to this investment with bridge financing as well as strategic support in market expansion. Frontier Investments acts as a hands-on equity partner, leveraging its specialized domain expertise and ACCION's five decades of experience in emerging markets.

“We are thrilled to have the support of Omidyar Network and ACCION, investors that bring deep expertise in technology and mobile platforms, financial inclusion, and scaling companies in emerging markets,” said Mike Quinn, CEO of Mobile Transactions. “Omidyar Network and ACCION share a commitment to our mission and are ideal partners to help us reach our goal to become a pan-African mobile payments business.”

Monica Brand of Frontier Investments said, "Mobile Transactions combines state of the art payment technology with an entrepreneurial agent network tailored to the local market. From the cotton farmer in rural regions to the small shop in Zambia's urban centers, Mobile Transactions is expanding financial inclusion and integrating the unbanked into the broader economy."

About Omidyar Network

Omidyar Network is a philanthropic investment firm dedicated to harnessing the power of markets to create opportunity for people to improve their lives. Established in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, the organization invests in and helps scale innovative organizations to catalyze economic and social change. To date, Omidyar Network has committed more than $490 million to for-profit companies and non-profit organizations that foster economic advancement and encourage individual participation across multiple investment areas, including microfinance, property rights, consumer internet, mobile and government transparency. To learn more, visit

ACCION is a private, nonprofit organization with the mission of building a financially inclusive world by giving people the financial tools they need to improve their lives. A world pioneer in microfinance, ACCION was founded as a community development organization in 1961 and issued its first microloan in 1973 in Brazil. Over time, ACCION has helped to build 62 microfinance institutions in 31 countries on four continents. Those institutions are currently reaching millions of clients. In the United States, the U.S. ACCION Network is the largest microfinance lending network in the country and has served tens of thousands of clients, with over $300 million in loans. For more information, visit

About Mobile Transactions International

Mobile Transactions is helping to create a Cashless Africa, where organizations from all sectors can transact electronically with unbanked and unconnected end-users. Backed by a proprietary technology and innovative agent network on the ground, Mobile Transactions makes transacting in Africa easy, quick, and safe. The company’s core products include Money Transfers, Electronic Voucher Payments, and Agent Payments for consumers, non-governmental organizations, government agencies, and commercial enterprises. For more information, visit

Thursday, March 1, 2012

e-Vouchers: Better Cash Transfers and Humanitarian Assistance

The Cash Learning Partnership has featured Mobile Transactions in one of it's case studies in its recent publication, New Technologies in Cash Transfer Programming and Humanitarian Assistance. The Mobile Transactions e-Voucher platform was used in the World Food Program (WFP) SPLASH program to distribute over 275,000 electronic voucher scratch cards to vulnerable houses in Zambia. These e-Vouchers were redeemed at local retailers (triggering an instantaneous payment to the retailer's mobile money account) for a basket of food and other commodities. We're proud of our involvement in the program and being featured in the report. Have a read!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Launch of the 2012 Cotton Farmer Payment Project at the Nc’wala Traditional Ceremony

Farmers clad in the traditional dress of the Ngoni people hovered around as I was handing out flyers describing Mobile Transactions’ latest e-voucher project, creating new ways to make payments to rural cotton farmers. A few passer-bys noticed the prominent Dunavant Cotton logo on the flyer and stuck out their hand to get a flyer and learn about what was going on.

My name is Chris Mwaba; I am the voucher Assistant at Mobile Transactions Zambia (MTZ), a company that I have been with since August 2010. Over the past weekend, I and my colleagues, Hans, David and Azalea left Lusaka for the Nc’wala Tradtional Ceremony in the Eastern Province of Zambia to launch the Dunavant Cotton farmer payment project for 2012. Nc’wala is a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, taking place over the last week of February. During the ceremony a bull is slaughtered and the chief (now Mpezeni IV) ceremonially drinks some of the blood. Thousands of farmers from around the province and country, many of whom are cotton farmers, travel to witness the ceremony.

Mobile Transactions is working with Dunavant Cotton to promote a new way for farmers to receive their payments for the sale of cotton, which in Zambia is a major export crop and money-maker for small-scale farmers. Payments of cash to farmers can be risky and expensive for the company. Often farmers in the rural area have little access to traditional services to save their money. While mobile phone and branchless banking penetration increases in these rural areas, a simple system using an e-voucher scratch card, akin to a prepaid debit card is being trialled. The e-voucher is a way of savings for these farmers. At the same time we are signing up local retailers to offer discounts ranging from 5-15% on everything from agricultural inputs to school supplies. Farmers are always able to take cash off their e-voucher through a Mobile Transactions agent. The e-voucher payment is secure (can be replaced in the case of theft, loss or damage), promotes savings, and attracts discounts.

It was a Friday and it all started when Hans, David and I decided to take a tour of the main trading centre in Mutenguleni, a place in Chipata rural which hosts the Nc’wala ceremony where we even bought ourselves what I would call the “local head gears” for the Ngoni people, which are made out of animal skin. We had thousands of flyers in our truck to distribute, and I wondered what response we would get from the farmers. To our surprise, in a few minutes, our hands were almost empty. Rushing back to the truck to pick up some more flyers, it started raining and everyone rushed to shelter.

I could not believe the response that we were getting from the people, the interest they showed and the fact that they had a few minutes to spare and listen to what we had brought forth. One interesting thing I observed was that almost 90% of the farmers that I spoke to were Dunavant cotton farmers who expressed interest in the e-voucher. Ultimately, the goal is evolve the e-voucher payment into a loyalty program that rewards cotton farmers for their service. With a great start at the Nc’wala ceremony, we’re already on the way.