As of this year, there are south of 600 million registered mobile money accounts registered around the world with transactions valued at US$600 billion. While this is, on the face of it, a tremendous business opportunity, it amounts to a lot more than mere dollars and cents, it is also the basis of a huge societal transformation.
There are massive amounts of transnational trade taking place across Africa, most of it through small to medium businesses, made possible by technological payment solutions.
According to a 2023 report from the World Economic Forum, the three largest hurdles facing small business owners in sub-Saharan Africa today are difficulty raising funds, lack of staff with sufficient digital skills and a tough regulatory climate, and given the massive potential being stifled through these challenges, addressing them needs to be our top priority as a nation and a continent.
For the past 9 years, I have built up Zeepay and expanded it into 33 markets, 25 of which are in Africa. While I’m certainly a business man, I also have a goal loftier than profits – namely to expand trans-African trade and make entrepreneurship an engine in the economic development of our continent.
While much of our part of the world still struggles with poverty, the future development of Africa hinges on our ability to adopt the technology that sits at our fingertips, as it allows the world to come to us long before we have the ability or resources to come to it.
The expansion of mobile payments throughout Africa has done just that, and it has also created a whole generation of burgeoning young entrepreneurs, who are ready and eager for the next step for their small businesses. The real challenge now is how to harvest and capitalize on that, how to turn Africa into the innovation- and startup hub it should and could be.
Unfortunately, the conversation surrounding our nation’s youth has been marred with negativity, focusing on the burden they represent rather than the saving grace they will turn out to be for generations present and future.
Never before have we had this young a population, and never before have they been as connected to the outside world, allowing them to build and earn despite the limitations their immediate surroundings may be putting on them. Without minimizing the hardship many of my fellow Ghanaians are living through, we should view technology as a shortcut to the middle class, or perhaps even an eradicator of class as a marker, since it levels the playing field like few political reforms ever could on this massive scale and rapid timeline.
If we have learned anything in these past few decades it is that government and establishment can never, through legislation and committee, duplicate the type of ingenuity that the youthful mind concocts. The best gift we can give our youth is to stay out of their way and allow them to show us what is possible, to not tax and bureaucratize their dreams to death but rather lift them up and offer guidance and support.
Lowering taxes and levies on small- and medium business would incentivize them to enter the official market and and providing active financial aid to youth entrepreneurs would help them stay there.
Trans-national cooperation between fintechs as well as government financial institutions is also crucial in order to reach this goal, as the lowering of thresholds for transferring funds across borders will create the trade incentives we so long have sought after, but with much more ease than previous generations could ever have imagined.
Finally, we need to take mentorship seriously, and we in the fintech space who have built and succeeded must participate actively in the creation of a knowledge- and skills base which can be drawn from and used by those who come after us. It is no longer about making it big and cashing out, but about building it broad and leaning in. Government does not invent, it conserves, and as entrepreneurs, makers, inventors and builders we need to roll up our sleeves and do what we do best – create solutions and force the world to move forward when everyone else says it can’t be done.