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Zambia fights drought with an unlikely weapon: sun

Comments (0) Africa, Health, Technology

Zambia is currently in the midst of the worst drought the country has faced ever. Partly due to the El-Niño weather cycle, the lack of water has severely affected large swathes of the country notably in the southern regions where rainfall is particularly low.  In order to fight dramatic consequences of drought on Zambia’s most affected regions in 2015 the government focused on sun as a resource to help address the crisis by developing solar technology.

The case of Kanzungula’s solar powered pumps

Kazungula is a rural district located in the country’s far south. Its parched lands saw only 40mm of rain fall between November 2015 and January this year. Zambia’s Climate Chance Secretariat (CSS) identified Kazungula as an area in desperate need of attention which represented an ideal testing ground for a new solar powered scheme. Three new solar installations were built throughout Kazunglula as part of the project. Solar powered schemes involved drilling a borehole 50-60 meters deep into the arid earth to access the water table far below into the ground. Once water struck, a solar powered pump brings clean water to large storage tanks on the surface. The solar array element is critical in this process as it powers reliable water extraction in remote areas with no access to the main grid. For locals in Kazungula, the results have been nothing short of life-changing. Munji Malambo a 16 year old boy who lives in the area said in an interview with Thompson Reuters that “before this (borehole) we used to walk long distances every morning to get water before coming back to go to school […]. Most of the shallow wells in the area had dried up and the closest one was two kilometers away. Sometimes the water would get very dirty and not safe to drink.”

Implications for the future

The success of the Kazungula schemes has prompted plans for 200 installations of solar powered pumps across Zambia that the CSS hopes to complete within two years. According to Zambia’s Ministry of Finance droughtshave costs the economy an estimated US$13.8 billion over the last 30 years.  Solar schemes have then turned out to be real value for money to local and national governments. For instance, the three projects in Kazungula cost a mere $6,100 dollars. What’s more, the costs of solar installations have plummeted almost 50% over the last year. Contractors are now bidding to provide solar schemes at lower cost per MW than coal-fired generators, the cheapest historical source of energy. Solar pumping solutions like those recently used in Zambia are now being recognized as a major tool to be utilized across the African continent to fight drought consequences. With the obstacle of price removed solar energy with its many applications is set to proliferate throughout Africa.

Caution and diligence are needed

For nations such as Zambia which rely heavily on hydroelectric plants drought has placed a major strain on power production. As a result there has been a major shift to chopping and burning lumber for energy. Unfortunately this can negatively affect the water system, causing instability to recharge rates while affecting runoff to bodies of water. In the long term solar installations can help to address the energy shortage but major schemes take time to implement. Similarly, oversight is needed to manage borehole schemes themselves. Excessive drilling can cause serious consequences for the long term health of water systems. Water management is complex, and governments need to make sure the correct expertise and regulation is in place. If properly managed solar-pumping projects can become a significant ally to Africa in its fight against drought.

 

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Study: Mobile levels the banking playing field

Comments (0) Africa, Technology

Mobile phone ecosystems and favorable regulatory environments areeasing access to banking and other financial services in Kenya and other African countries, even among populations that are typically marginalised from banking services. A study of 26 countries led globally by the Brookings Institution gave Kenya the highest rating – a score of 84 percent – for “financial inclusion” of woman, migrants and youth, who often are left out of the financial services system. Four other African nations received relatively high scores: South Africa (78 percent), Uganda (78 percent), and Rwanda (76 percent). Among the other countries ranked were Nigeria (72 percent), Tanzania (68 percent), Zambia (67 percent), and Malawi (61 percent). Ethiopia and Egypt hit the lowest rankings, respectively 53 percent and 49 percent. The rankings were based on four factors: national commitment, the regulatory environment, mobile capacity and adoption of traditional and digital financial services.

Survey finds increased inclusion

A survey conducted by FinAccess echoed that of Brookings showing that the number of Kenyans having access to the banking system had grown by 50 percent since 2006. The study states that in 2016, 75 percent of Kenyans had an access to financing, an increase from 67 percent three years earlier. On the other hand the Brookings Institution study revealed that Kenya’s financial inclusion landscape has benefited from the “country’s vibrant mobile money ecosystem, which features exceptionally high adoption rates – the highest of any country (in the study) by about 23 percentage points.” According to Brookings, Kenya is considered as the most mature mobile money market in the world, driven by the widespread use of the M-PESA service offered by Safaricom. As of 2015, Kenya was one of only 19 markets globally with more mobile money accounts than bank accounts. This success is explaied by government’s commitment to reinforce access to financing opportunities. Kenya’s government is a founding member of the Better Than Cash Alliance, which provides resources to ease transitions to electronic banking. Kenya’s Vision 2030 National Development Strategy highlighted the importance of inclusive finance and set a target for decreasing the proportion of the population without access to financial services.

Governments regulations to allow access to financial services

The country has also implemented regulation designed to lower the risk of fraud, promote competition in the financial sector and increase access to financial services, Brooking said. In a key regulatory change, Kenya enacted in 2009 guidelines to enable banks to name third-party agents such as post offices, markets, pharmacies, gas stations and other businesses in order to make transactions more convenient. In 2014, the government of Kenya launched a Government Digital Payments program to facilitate people-to-government payments through digital channels. By accessing a web portal, individuals can make digital payments for services such as driver’s license and passport applications. The report also pointed out that Kenyan banks have made high-level commitments to financial inclusion.

South Africa put forward

Mobile is also driving inclusion in South Africa that ranked fourth on the Brookings Institution list after Columbia and Brazil. About 70 percent of the population aged 15 or older in South Africa has an account with a mobile money provider or with a financial institution, the report said. However, regulatory challenges have slowed adoption of mobile money accounts. While South Africa does not have a formal policy to promote inclusion, the government has defined it is a priority. The report noted that South Africa has a much more robust traditional banking structure than other countries in the study. South Africa has indeed more than 10 commercial bank branches and about 66 ATMS for every 100,000 adults. Still, a Finscope South Africa survey found that about one sixth of adults in South Africa do not have a bank account or other financial services.

Uganda with large number of mobile accounts

Uganda has committed itself to increasing the number of financially included citizens from 54 percent in 2013 to at least 70 percent in 2017 according to the Brookings report. Recent regulatory changes to promote offerings of financial services through agents should drive increases in access to digital financial services in Uganda, which has already seen a proliferation of mobile money services and has the second highest level of mobile money account ownership in the study. A 2015 InterMedia survey found that about 40 percent of Ugandan adults age 15 and older were financially included, with 35 percent of adults holding mobile money accounts. Rwanda has also benefited from mobile adoption along with the expansion of community savings and credit cooperatives and agent banking locations. A 2016 FinScope survey found that financial exclusion among Rwandans aged 16 and older declined by 17 percentage points in the past four years. Chile, Mexico and Nigeria rounded out the top 10, the report said.

Egypt, Ethiopia ranked lowest

Ethiopia and Egypt both ranked at the bottom of the Brookings Institution list with much lower mobile capacity and adoption of traditional or digital banking services. In Egypt, the report said, adoption of banking services is relatively low with only about 14 percent of those aged  15 or older holding a formal bank account, a level it said was comparable to other countries in the Middle East. While mobile penetration is high, use of mobile money services has not kept pace. The report said Egypt’s political turmoil was likely to slow movement towards better access to banking services. Ethiopia also had low adoption of financial services with only about 22 percent of adults having a bank or mobile money account. While the country has sought to promote financial inclusion, its mobile capacity is also low.

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In Madagascar, medical drones to the rescue

Comments (0) Africa, Health, Technology

While drones are thought of mostly as weapons of war, the robotic, unmanned aircraft may play a life-saving role in remote regions that do not have access to health care. In Madagascar, the American medical drone manufacturer Vayu, Inc., and New York’s Stony Brook University, are testing use of drones to deliver medicine and equipment to remote areas. According to Dr. Peter Small, founding director of the university’s Global Health Institute, 70 percent of the population of the island that lies off east Africa live in very rural settings, including a significant number who dwell in remote settings that can only be reached by foot. “These are places that are only accessible on foot; you can’t even get a bicycle there. By using drones we can not only fly out to villages, but collect diagnostic specimens and deliver care,” Small told Digital Trends. “It is really revolutionary.”

University, country in longstanding partnership

Stony Brook University has a longstanding relationship with Madagascar, which has one of the most important and diverse ecosystems in the world. For three decades, scientists and students at Stony Brook’s ValBio Center, a 15,000-square- foot research station, have worked the island residents to bolster conservation efforts while improving residents’ quality of life. The center is located on the edge of Madagascar’s Ronamafana National Park. The university’s Global Health Institute, which has a $10 million endowment, is teaming up with Vayu, Inc., a Michigan aviation company that was launched in 2014. With more than $1.1 million in investment, the start up is focused on building affordable drone technology to provide medical aid and supplies across rugged terrain and during times of disaster. The drone can take off and land like a helicopter and is able to fly long distances.

Long-range mission accomplished

With the backing of Madagascar’s government and the U.S. Agency for International Development, the project recently achieved the world’s first long-range, autonomous drone flight. The drone collected blood and stool samples from rural villages and flew them to the ValBio center for testing. Small said the potential of drone technology to improve health care in remote areas is enormous. For example, he said a health worker who cannot diagnose a cough in a patient might be able to use a beacon to call a drone. The drone could then collect a sputum sample and fly it to lab for diagnosis then fly medications back to the patient’s location. The entire operation might take as little as a couple of days, he noted. “Drones will find innumerable uses, such as accelerating diagnosis of tuberculosis and ensuring delivery of vaccines,” Small said. Tuberculosis and many other diseases that plague developing countries, require diagnosis in a lab and stool and blood samples must be transported quickly. That is why it is critical in places like Madagascar to find an alternative to cumbersome travel by road or pathway.

Global impact likely

The organizers believe their partnership will produce significant progress in delivering quick diagnosis and medications for remote communities that lack health care professionals or facilities. Vayu in particular was founded with the purpose of developing drones for medical transport in hard-to- reach areas. “Vayu’s accomplishment is significant for public health in developing countries, where limited access hinders healthcare and it is for the future of autonomous unmanned vehicles,” said Vayu’s CEO, Daniel Pepper, a former international journalist and medical student-turned- founder of Vayu. The project could have global impact. Stony Brook University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., MD, a nationally renowned expert in emerging infectious diseases, believes that the benefits of this partnership will likely expand well beyond Madagascar. “Global health is an immediate problem for everyone,” he said, noting that commonplace air travel has shattered natural isolation. “Advances in health delivery and implementation (in other parts of the world) can have positive impacts in the U.S. as well. The benefits of promoting health worldwide are immense.” A similar effort is already under way in Rwanda, were a Silicon Valley start up is using drones to deliver medicine and blood to patients. Zipline International said the unpiloted aircraft will transport supplies to hospitals and medical centers around the country, forming the world’s first national drone delivery system. Zipline International said it plans to expand the service to other countries later this year.

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Tech start-up MAGNiTT and its founder Philip Bahoshy

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Leaders, Middle East, Technology

Philip Bahoshy and his groundbreaking company MAGNiTT are revolutionizing the start-up industry. What’s interesting is that MAGNiTT is itself a start-up firm. So how is Bahoshy simultaneously helping new companies, while nurturing his own venture through its infancy period? Bahoshy, 31, was raised in the U.K and has Iraqi roots. He obtained a BSc in Economics from the prestigious London School of Economics which he completed in 2006. In 2007, Bahoshy made a move to Dubai to work for the highly regarded management consultancy firm Oliver Wyman, where he immersed himself in the corporate world. He then made a move to Barclays Wealth in 2010 to work as the chief of staff for the CEO of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

A start-up for start-ups

His high-flying corporate career bestowed him with an acute understanding of the business and investment landscape in the MENA space. Upon completion of his Master’s degree in 2013, Bahoshy was looking to go solo and start his own firm. Armed with a slew of business ideas, he was keen to get the ball rolling; however, he struggled to find investment, guidance and concept validation. After speaking with other start-ups, Bahoshy came to realize that although Dubai was a vibrant and energetic hub for all kinds of business people, new firms weren’t always making the right connections. He described this as “start-ups struggling in isolation.” This realization gave birth to MAGNiTT, which Bahoshy founded late in 2014. He envisaged building an online ecosystem that would make life easier for start-ups to find the various supports they need, while enabling external parties to identify fledgling firms that they are interested in. Initially, MAGNiTT solely focused on linking start-ups with investment. He explained: “We identified that the real pain point in the region is access to angel funding – basically $100,000 to $250,000.” He elaborated, explaining that start-ups often struggle making the transition from setting up the firm with their own capital, to developing a viable business that is ready for substantial investment from venture capitalists. Linking start-ups with angel investors is often critical if firms are to bridge this gap.

An online pitching platform and more

Bahoshy already had other ideas about how MAGNiTT could develop and provide further services. Firstly, he realized that it can be bewildering for investors and other parties when trying to identify start-ups, and that his product needed to work seamlessly. He focused on making MAGNiTT a streamlined online portal where start-ups have to outline the core concepts of their product. They have to succinctly present their business idea and the problem it solves, their elevator pitch, their target market, the competition, and finally, monetization. External parties can filter and search profiles for concepts they are interested in, analyze the product outline, access further information and ultimately connect with firms that they want to start a dialogue with. Bahoshy was already aware that start-ups need more than just funding to get off the ground. He focused on bringing mentors, accelerator programs, service providers and co-founders to the ecosystem. For start-ups, they can request what kind of support they are looking for. According to MAGNiTT’s data, 58% of start-ups on the site have listed that they are looking for mentorship, 56% are interested in showcasing supports, while 26% are looking for legal support or backing.

Major interest, new features and the future 

In January, Bahoshy had a respectable 200 start-ups signed up to MAGNiTT. Since then the site has exploded and today there are over 1400 start-ups and thousands of users registered on the platform.The site is already helping to forge valuable connections that are taking start-ups to the next level. Bahoshy has said that he wants to bring resources such as video conferencing, legal, marketing and HR services to the site. Additionally, MAGNiTT has recently launched a blog alongside a raft of materials relevant for start-up firms. He is also looking to bring Venture Capitalists into the platform to assist start-ups later down the line. MAGNiTT is itself listed as a start-up on MAGNiTT. Uniquely, its own success is being defined by how well it creates opportunities for all of its parties. For Bahoshy it’s so far so good and he is currently in negotiations with interested investors. It looks as though MAGNiTT is set to take off while bringing other great business ideas along for the ride.

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How institutional obstacles can derail innovative start-ups

Comments (0) Economy, Technology

nigeria-startup

While it is officially Africa’s biggest economy, the Nigerian nation is struggling. Talk of a recession has darkened the horizon for over a year. The slump of global oil prices have been a hammer blow to the country, while terrorism and oil refinery problems have worsened the situation. Nigeria is currently beholden to oil for 70% of its revenues; it must rebalance its economy to unbind itself from market volatility. The country realises this, and is making an effort to diversify its revenue sources. Many are starting to look toward innovative start-ups to take the country in a new direction.

Big tech potential in Nigeria, Konga leads the way

The conditions in Nigeria are rife for daring tech start-ups to create new solutions and drive growth. Unlike other regions on the continent, Nigeria has high rates of mobile penetration with approximately 75% percent of its 175 million people using mobile phones and data services, making it the largest mobile market in Africa. However, this market is currently woefully underexploited. According to a 2013 report by consultancy firm Mckinsey, only 1.5% of the country’s $500 billion economy took place online. This void presents a glaring opportunity for tech start-ups to create revolutionary new services.

Konga, is one such start-up that seized the initiative. Launched in 21012 Konga was an early pioneer in Nigeria’s tech space, offering online retail services. Today the company is thriving, offering a range of original solutions, which have connected all manner of suppliers and manufacturers to consumers across the country. Other innovators are also following Konga’s lead, carving out their own niche in Nigeria. However for every success, many start-ups struggle to overcome barriers in their way.

Unusual obstacles: reluctance and electricity

The issues facing start-ups vary. Some are complicated whilst some are frustratingly mundane. One simple yet formidable roadblock that start-ups face is the availability of electricity. For a new business trying to carve its own niche in the ecommerce space, a reliable energy supply is essential. However, when energy supply is unreliable, as it often is in Nigeria, a start-up has to generate its own power and purchase alternative fuel sources in order to consistently operate. Ultimately, this can lead to greatly increased costs which squeeze margins, snuffing the life out of promising but cash strapped start-up ventures.

On the whole, Nigerians are still very wary about parting with their money over the internet, for fear of their capital or financial information being stolen. This paranoia is not entirely without merit, as Nigeria is a hotspot for online scamming and phishing schemes. In order to accommodate these fears, some successful start-ups such as Konga and Jumia have built cash-only payment methods into their business. Konga has also recently created a payment system called KongaPay whereby money is held securely until orders are delivered. Despite these efforts reticence remains. While some start-ups have survived, this reluctance has certainly deterred some consumers from using new services, reducing the customer base that new start-ups rely on for growth. Tech firms must realize they need to foster a safe and reliable online payment environment, and convince the masses to use it.

Investment is needed, although so is caution

New accelerator programs sponsored by large foreign entities are helping more start-ups get off the ground, especially in the Fintech space. However, Nigerian banks aren’t traditionally interested in providing loans to risky start-up ventures, and encourage start-ups to attract private equity investors instead. Fortunately, foreign private equity is really starting to pick up in Africa, with more and more investors willing to take a punt on a good idea. Regrettably, these investors sometimes undervalue Nigerian enterprises, and strong-arm inexperienced Nigerians into unfavorable deals.

Other issues such as the countries poor logistics system can bring woe to start-ups who rely on delivering a physical product. Sometimes the lack of skills in critical areas such as accounting and marketing can kill a promising tech business before it can get above ground. In other instances, eager entrepreneurs try to make an idea that has worked elsewhere work in Nigeria; without analysis and adaptation this often leads to the graveyard.

A veritable gauntlet of obstacles faces Nigerian start-ups. However, those that have survived are serving as a shining example to those that wish to follow. Success is more likely if a fledgling firm is aware of the pitfalls ahead, provided they have a great idea; a solid business plan and the business acumen to make it all come together.

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Smile Telecoms raises $365m to fund Africa expansion

Comments (0) Africa, Business, Latest Updates from Reuters, Technology

Smile Telecoms

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – African mobile internet firm Smile Telecoms has raised $365 million to fund the expansion of high-speed broadband networks, it said on Tuesday, the latest firm to jockey for a position in the continent’s fast-growing mobile consumer market.

Telecoms and Internet companies are expanding in Africa to take advantage of the growing demand for data heavy services as more affordable smartphones encourage consumers to browse the internet, stream videos and download applications.

Mauritius-based Smile Telecoms said it would use the funds to extend its existing 4G LTE mobile broadband network in Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda and also launch the network in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2016.

The money was raised through a $50 million equity sale to Public Investment Corporation, a South African state-owned firm that manages more than 1.6 trillion rand on behalf of civil servants.

The rest of the funding was raised via debt from a group of investors that included Egypt’s African Export-Import Bank, Development Bank of Southern Africa, Diamond Bank plc and Standard Chartered Bank.

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