Three takeaways from the Africa Business Technology Forum 2017

On 21 June, the GSMA’s Ecosystem Accelerator and Mobile Money teams attended the Africa Business Technology Forum which was hosted by Africa Business Technology Network (ATBN). The event convened entrepreneurs, investors, ecosystem builders, government bodies and international organisations to discuss four key themes: financial inclusion, value-added investment, policy and impact. Here are our takeaways from the event.


1. Invest in home-grown talent and go ‘beyond the money’ with value-added investments 

The reality on the ground in Africa is that the majority of start-up investments are coming from non-African investors. This point led several speakers to advise African-focused investors to become more aware of their unconscious bias and invest in local entrepreneurs rather than only expatriate and repatriate teams. Raymond Guthrie (Global Innovation Fund) admonished investors to quit the herd mentality as he revealed that about 70-80% of impact investments in East Africa goes towards expats founders. Tomi Davies (ABAN) stated that the mix of local and international teams is what gets things done since what local talents might lack in international insights, they make up with deep local knowledge.



Investors were also challenged to go beyond their cash investment. Yvonne Haizel (‎Mitsui & Co.) said that for investors to bring value to start-ups in Africa, being involved only at board level is not enough. Jess Williamson (Techstars) followed up with two vital attributes investors should have on top of money: local knowledge and entrepreneurial experience. She advised that partnership (i.e. co-investments) should be sought where any of these attributes are missing.

It was refreshing to hear that there are more investment initiatives focused on developing the skill set of local entrepreneurs. Neku Atawodi-Edun (MEST Africa) touched on MEST’s approach which includes formal training, incubating and then cash investments to the most promising start-ups and talents. Other capacity building investment programmes were also mentioned, including Boost Africa, XL Africa and Lagos State Employment Trust Fund.


2. Building a women-focused innovation and investment ecosystem

A study by the GSMA Connected Women programme revealed that women in low- and middle-income countries are on average 14% less likely to own a mobile phone than men. This study showed that the top barriers to women owning devices are cost, security concerns and social norms. Because of this gender gap in technology, one of the breakout sessions at the event explored current initiatives and potential solutions to increase women’s representation in Africa’s tech ecosystem. Some of the organisations addressing these issues were present at Africa Business Technology Forum:

  • Simon Graffy from Girl Effect talked about their digital platform that connect girls to inspiring content on health, education, financial security and safety in 26 languages across 60 countries.
  • Ramona Liberoff of Spring Accelerator explained how Spring identifies and supports businesses that can bring life-enhancing products and services to girls in Africa and Asia.
  • Eunice Baguma Ball, our host and co-founder of #HerFutureAfrica – a skills development, mentorship and networking initiative, stressed the importance of having female role models as a powerful tool to inspire young women to speak up and take action, sharing the example of her own journey to social entrepreneurship.



The consensus in the room was that a lot remains to be done to change behaviours and social norms. However, the discussion ended on a hopeful note that increased access to technology and social media channels allows girls to learn new skills and express their opinions more than ever before.


3. Evidence of mobile-led financial inclusion

In his keynote, Francesco Pasti (GSMA Mobile Money) highlighted that mobile money has become a global story, surpassing half a billion registered accounts with 277 services in 92 countries. This strong growth has had a significant impact on improving financial inclusion in sub-Saharan Africa. More generally, the fintech revolution and its disruptive innovations in the banking and financial services landscape help to drive deeper financial inclusion in Africa. A recent report from Disrupt Africa states that more than 300 fintech start-ups are active across the African continent.

Two interesting examples of fintech start-ups were mentioned during one of the panel discussions. Both have partnered with mobile operators to leverage their distribution channel and existing methods of payment through prepaid airtime credit or postpaid billing.

  • BIMA uses mobile technology to provide affordable micro-insurance products to the underserved. The company has launched a ‘freemium’ product in partnership with Tigo across multiple countries in Africa. This model allows mobile operators to deliver financial services to their low-income subscribers without bearing much risk and thus, has the potential to increase their average revenue per user (ARPU), loyalty and customer acquisition.
  • Similarly, South-African fintech JUMO leverages its mobile operator partnerships to acquire data on airtime credit and mobile money wallet usage in order to provide a measure of creditworthiness and offer small loans and financial identities to SMEs.


These synergies between mobile operators and start-ups are explored extensively in the GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator’s report Building Synergies: How Mobile Operators and Start-ups Can Partner for Impact in Emerging Markets.



To conclude this blog, we would like to highlight some of the innovative start-ups we came across: payroll HR management provider TalentBase, bitcoin remittance start-up BitPesa and the six start-ups that pitched virtually at the start-up showcase.

We would also like to thank Eunice Baguma Ball, Stav Bar-Shany and the rest of the ATBN team for organising this great event.


The Ecosystem Accelerator programme is supported by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Australian Government, and the GSMA and its members.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.