MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

Jared graduated with his Master’s degree in Business Administration from Azusa Pacific University in southern California. For the following three years, he worked as a crew leader for the National Park Service, leading youth conservation crews in rehabilitation and construction projects in National Parks such as Yosemite, Denali, Saguaro, and Arches.  During his off season Jared traveled throughout SE Asia backpacking and volunteering in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia.  In 2011-2012 Jared served a fellowship for the Seattle based non-profit, Vittana, in Kigali, Rwanda.  Here he worked and partnered at a local microfinance bank implementing financial service products to help university and vocational students complete their education.  For the past year, he has worked in resource development for the International Rescue Committee in Phoenix, Arizona. Jared is a strong believer in the power of opening up financial access to the under-resourced and is excited to serve as a MEDA intern.

My MEDA Internship Reflection: "I feel extremely grateful"

What initially drew me into applying for a MEDA internship revolved around wanting to work abroad again and see if I could find a placement that would give me the skills and opportunities to transition into a career with international development work. However, after applying and having my first interview with MEDA I realized this internship program was not like many of the other I had applied for in the past. The level of professionalism and care by the staff members and the investment MEDA made to provide the necessary resources for us to be most effective in our roles was evident to me from the start. This really drew me into the MEDA internship program and I was lucky enough to be selected.

I had previously served a nine month fellowship for an NGO in Rwanda working at a partner microfinance institution so this was not my first experience living/working in sub-Saharan Africa. I think I went into the internship with realistic expectations of what was expected of me, and what I could contribute during my time frame. So I think having previous experience can be very helpful in the first month of your placement.

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Why I love Zoona

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Now, almost a year after my initially arrival for a six month internship in Zambia with MEDA techno-links partner, Zoona I find myself sitting in front of the mighty Zambezi river writing this final blog post. I find it hard to begin where to start when recapping my MEDA internship experience. My time in Zambia had a profound impact on me both professionally and personally. For starters, my goal of hoping this internship would provide me an opportunity to get a full-time role in sub-Saharan Africa played out well. After my six month internship was completed I was given a full-time three year contract with my placement organization, Zoona as the Agent Training Officer. This is a role that previously did not exist but during my placement I was able to show the value created by having a more robust training program that focused on many aspects of what will improve agent performance.

The skills I have developed since stepping off the plane nearly a year ago up to present day would take pages to explain. To keep things simple I will touch on a few that resonate with me.

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A New Year With New Goals

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After a nice Christmas vacation where I was able to meet up with fellow MEDA interns Mary, Curtis, and Daniel I'm back to work with Zoona as we begin the 2014 year with ambitious goals of expansion and impact. First, let me summarize the great vacation I had in Tanzania and Kenya.It was my first time in Tanzania and I was surprised by the development and hyper-activity of Dar Es Salaam, a very different feeling than the capital city, Lusaka where I spend my time with MEDA techno-links partner, Zoona. On my first day there Curtis got tickets for us to watch a big soccer match at national stadium. It was a great experience!Later we took a trip to Arusha, Tanzania to trek up 4,566 meter Mt. Meru. It was hard, it was fun, and a lot of memories were shared with me, Daniel, and Mary. After getting back down from four days on the mountain I could barely walk but felt great with the accomplishment. It made me realize daily exercise wouldn't be a bad investment for me in Lusaka when I returned.I finished out my trip spending time with a former work colleague in Nairobi, Kenya. I always enjoy visiting new places in Africa as each country has its own unique culture and idiosyncrasies that are fascinating.Now, back in Lusaka I have been developing a case study for the techno-links project on agent training methods Zoona has gone through the past four years. This has involved field work, lots of interviews, and disbursing surveys to collect information from agents and tellers. We hope to utilize the case study as a tool for Zoona to better evaluate its training program for agents and make recommendations for areas of improvement.This will be important as Zoona is planning to expand its agent network from 200 to 600 this year in Zambia. The increase we anticipate will be on par with an increase in customer transactions and demand for financial services among Zambians. As Zoona's popularity has grown, we have seen a steady rise in total monthly transactions. In September of 2012 we had 76,871 total transfers performed, whereas by December we had a total of 122,080.As we continue to scale our agent network it brings more agent locations to rural areas in Zambia that have few, if any, financial options for sending/receiving money. This is one of the focal points of the techno-links project, and it is good to see the progress we are making in providing more opportunities for Zambians to access financial services in rural areas.
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Impact Stories from the Field

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I always enjoy getting out of the office in the busy capital city of Lusaka and visiting MEDA techno-links partner Zoona in the field. Zoona has an expansive agent network totaling over 200 agents located throughout Zambia. Seeing firsthand how these entrepreneurs are being empowered to grow their businesses is inspiring. Not only has Zoona helped increase their incomes and well-being, but it also provides a needed financial service in a country where over 84% of the adult population does not have a formal bank account.  Zoona is unique against other competitors in that individuals do not have to create accounts to use and benefit from Zoona services like sending/receiving money, bill payments, airtime purchases, and receiving international remittances. All they have to do is provide their personal National Identification Card (NRC) and they can be served. This makes the barrier to utilizing the services minimal and with Zoona’s Easy, Quick, Safe platform anyone from illiterate rural farmers to Lusaka businessmen can easily understand and appreciate the simplicity of the service.  This past week I was able to interview five agents along with MEDA M&E Program Manager Jillian Baker. Here are some of the highlights of how this techno-links funded project is making a difference for local Zambian entrepreneurs and consumers:Marjori and her husband Dominque have been operating two Zoona outlets in the Copperbelt region of Zambia since 2009. After being trained and supported by Zoona staff their business has steadily grown. With this income Marjori and her husband re-invested back into the business and also purchased 23 hectares of land for farming to begin generating additional revenue streams. Marjori says her goal is to, “Grow her Zoona business and help others in need.” One way she is already doing this is by taking in 8 orphans to her home and paying their school fees so they can receive an education.  Constance is a young and talented entrepreneur who after receiving training and support from Zoona has now managed to grow her business to six Zoona outlets throughout the Copperbelt region. She employs 8 female tellers who work at her shops and receive a salary as well as bonuses based on performance. When one of Constance’s tellers was pregnant she gave her three months of maternity leave fully paid. Constance understands the concept that if you treat your employees well it will not only benefit them, but also the business and her customer base. With the income Constance earns from her Zoona outlets she has enrolled in College to study for her Diploma. She also says she enjoys the feeling of independence running her own business brings.  Mercy started her Zoona business only 9 months ago. Through training from Zoona, hard work, and direct selling she has expanded her business quickly. She already employs three tellers and recently opened a second outlet in the town of Ndola. She says Zoona has empowered her to think like an entrepreneur. She is now enrolling in College to study Business Management. When asked why Business Management Mercy said, “So I can learn more about how to be a successful business owner.”  Perhaps the most inspiring part of doing these interviews was seeing the confidence and independence these Zambian entrepreneurs conveyed in every word spoken. This visit only reinforced my views that Zoona is living out its core belief, “we will be at the forefront of developing and empowering entrepreneurs in emerging markets.” Improved incomes for agents, local job creation, and increased financial services for the non-banked.... The list could go on and on. This is a model that works, this is sustainable impact.

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Road Trip!

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I’ve always enjoyed a good road trip and the past two weeks I was able to cover some Zambian countryside! Things like dodging potholes, driving long tracks on dirt roads, avoiding bicycles, stopping for goats, chickens, cattle, and once an elephant never leaves time for dull moments on the road in Zambia.I especially enjoy having the opportunity to interact with Zoona Agents and tellers supported by MEDA’s techno-links project in Zambia. These are entrepreneurs who are providing a host of mobile money financial services for their communities while also employing tellers to facilitate transactions at their outlets. Mundia, a Zoona Agent in the small town of Mongu, which is located in western Zambia, employs 18 tellers throughout his 12 Zoona outlets.  Pulling into Mongu after a 10 hour drive I hear people yelling “ZOONA!” as they see our brightly branded vehicle. Cars drive by with the “I LOVE ZOONA” stickers on the back giving thumbs up to us out their window. It feels good to see the impact Zoona is having in the community.  The purpose of the road trip involves me training our tellers and Agents on new services Zoona is providing customers. However, I spend a lot of my time listening to our customers, who are Zoona’s Agents and tellers. Hearing their feedback is valuable for me as I can relay important information gathered from the field to management so we can continue to improve our product and services to the end consumers.  As I’m driving 10 hours back to Lusaka from Mongu I pass one of our Zoona outlets at 4pm and see a queue of five customers waiting in line. 20 meters down the road a competitor with a company value in the billions has their mobile money shop closed up. Sometimes it’s not resources that bring success and growth to companies, but rather resourcefulness.  At Zoona we understand our end users needs and create a service that is reliable and easy for them to access (we now have over 225 locations in Zambia). Our spirit of entrepreneurialism has always focused on problem solving (and there are lots of problems to solve here) rather than just pursuing profit. By focusing on identifying bottlenecks and finding creative ways to unlock value for consumers and corporate suppliers Zoona is now growing on average at 20% per month. One of Zoona’s core beliefs is growth, and we are having fun while working towards a common goal of cashless thriving businesses, everywhere. 

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Ready, Fire, Aim

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The title of this blog is often used by entrepreneurs who are constantly striving to challenge the status quo and welcome change and risk within their business. They view change and risk not as a threat, but rather an opportunity to innovate and grow under-served markets. In the competitive and hyper-evolving mobile money market I like to operate by the quote, “It’s better to have a good plan today, than a perfect plan tomorrow.”  This is what MEDA techno-links partner Zoona personifies. Leading the mobile money financial transaction movement in Zambia requires taking calculated risks in the quest of pushing the ordinary in the name of development. We at Zoona constantly ask ourselves if we are being REAL… Real to our customers, real to our employees, real to our stakeholders, and real in what we strive to accomplish. If the answer is yes, we move forward.  As we work to gain traction in growing the mobile wallet product in Zambia, challenges and breakthroughs constantly arise. The key to executing in this type of environment is staying focused and true to your customer. My role in this is to provide our Agent network with the training tools they need to successfully convert their customers over to mobile wallets.  Generally speaking mobile wallets are a cheaper, more convenient, and easily accessible service than traditional over-the-counter money transfers. One way I like to break down the mobile wallet is by saying it provides ACCESS.  It is a mechanism through which financial inclusion can be delivered on a mass (and cost effective) scale.  One example includes Kiva Zip starting a pilot program where entrepreneurs and small business owners in Kenya can get cash funds sent directly to their M-Pesa account to help grow their businesses. There are myriad examples of how M-Pesa has provided improved access for individuals traditionally cut off from savings, insurance, bill payments, and person-to-person (P2P) sending  and receiving of money. This is the scale we are aiming for at Zoona. One step in achieving this goal is the recent partnership Zoona signed with international telecom company Airtel. You can read more about the partnership here.  Zoona stands alone in one very important way. Our Agent network has significant working capital to service customers compared to our competitors. Basically, this means when a customer comes to a Zoona shop they can feel confident their financial request will be served, whether they are sending $10 or $500.  We provide our Agents with the opportunity to access working capital finance (WCF) through a partnership we have with Kiva. This enables our Agent network to have sufficient working capital, service more customers in need of financial services, grow their businesses, and earn more profits. We are confident in the model we have and its potential to scale far beyond Zambia.  We at Zoona know one key to success depends on having a well financed network of Agents to serve the customer’s financial needs.  

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The Power Of Partnerships; Airtel Money Now Powered by Zoona

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Today, Thursday, October 10, 2013 marks a memorable day for Zoona.  At 8am this morning Zoona officially began its partnership with telecom giant, Airtel.  Airtel is an international telecoms company with over 270 million users.  It is presently in 18 countries throughout Africa and has 4.2 million registered users in Zambia alone.  For the past eight weeks Airtel and Zoona have been in negotiations over a partnership between Airtel money (e-wallet) and Zoona.  The partnership is mutually beneficial as it allows both companies to collaborate together to provide more comprehensive mobile money financial services to Zambian consumers.  Now any of Airtel’s 4.2 million users can register for an Airtel money account via a Zoona Agent.  They can also deposit, withdrawal, and pay bills via Zoona Agents with their Airtel e-wallets.  An e-wallet is basically a mini-bank in your mobile phone.  You can deposit money into your account through an Agent and send money to other Airtel customers in Zambia via your mobile phone.  Once someone sends money to a friend or family member they will receive a text message notifying them of the transaction.  At this point they can pick up the money at any one of the 150+ Zoona Agent outlets throughout Zambia.  Another example is someone now can go to a Zoona Agent, deposit money into their Airtel e-wallet and pay their water, electricity, and DSTV bills through their mobile phone.  This allows more local Zambians to make cashless financial transactions.  The reason why Zoona entered into this partnership with Airtel is for a variety of reasons.  However, this partnership aligns well with Zoona’s core beliefs of entrepreneurship, growth, change, and impact.  1) Entrepreneurship: This partnership will allow Zoona to stay at the forefront of developing and empowering our Agent network.  We specialize in making businesses grow, and we believe the data shows in the long run mobile wallet adoption is the future for branchless banking in emerging markets.  Rather than wait for this to slowly develop in Zambia, we at Zoona want to be at the forefront of creating the successful mobile wallet.  2) Growth: We invest in skills and technology that drive growth in our company for our customers and stakeholders.  This partnership with Airtel gives us the opportunity to gain 4 million new customers in Zambia alone.  3) Change: We challenge the status quo in the name of progress and development.  Currently, Zoona is growing and doing well in the money transfer business.  However, we foresee the future of branchless banking moving towards the adoption of the e-wallet, which will have more services and cheaper costs for consumers.  We are not afraid of change and will continue to adapt in the name of progress.  4) Impact: We will develop solutions that will scale across industries and markets.  At Zoona we are always striving to stay one step ahead of the competition, driving innovation and early adoption in the name of creating sustainable impact.  This partnership with Airtel will allow us to have a more significant impact on the Zambian market and beyond. The past few weeks the staffs in Lusaka and Cape Town have been working long hours preparing for the launch.  On my end I have been working to put together a training packet for Agents and tellers to walk them through the new features that will be on the Zoona interface.  This partnership will benefit Zoona the most if we sign up a large number of Airtel’s 4 + million subscribers and have them begin transacting with Airtel money.  Keeping this in mind, we understand our Agent network is the key to having this venture be successful.  The Agent is Zoona’s customer, as we derive value from Agent performance.  We strive to provide our Agent network with the tools they need to succeed and grow their businesses.  We do this through trainings, marketing/branding, prompt customer care, and real-time payments/commissions to name a few.  At Zoona we believe we have a top-notch Agent network.  This is why we believe we can sign up one million new Airtel money subscribers by January 1st, 2014.  Now that the launch has begun, it’s all about execution.  Like CCO Brad Magrath said yesterday, “Today the real work begins everybody.”  I often joke with my friends back in America that I feel as though I won the lottery to have the opportunity to intern at Zoona.  The organization is at a pivotal point right now in its growing phase and I am working diligently to add value to Zoona during my time.  The next month I hope to continue to travel around the country like I have the past few weeks training Agents and getting valuable feedback on how we can improve the system for them.  Now, it will be more about listening to our Agents and customer feedback.  Then we will do our best to have systems and processes in place to meet the challenges we will face as the new product grows.  We are confident in our Agent network to sell Airtel money.  However, we are most excited about the opportunity this brings local Zambians.  We are striving to innovate and grow the mobile money financial services market in Zambia.  Now, Zoona is offering more services, for a cheaper price, to more potential customers.  This feeds directly into our vision of a world of cashless growing businesses… Everywhere.

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My Arrival in Zambia

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It felt wonderful to arrive in Lusaka, Zambia after 31 hours in transit from San Francisco to Washington D.C. to Addis Ababa to Harare to Lusaka. After waiting in the long line for an entry visa I was welcomed by the Zoona driver, Maxwell, holding a sign with my name on it. Talk about service! On the 25km drive to the Zoona office he pointed out some of the major points in the city as we passed them. Although I was jetlagged, it felt great to be back in Africa after a one year break where I was working in Phoenix, Arizona for the International Rescue Committee.  The partner agency I will be working with in Lusaka is the mobile money transaction company, Zoona. Recently, Zoona developed a one page summary of the company that I find helpful. Not only does it explain Zoona’s purpose, values, and vision but also its corporate strategy, goals, and business KPI’s. You can view a scanned copy of it here. With a rapidly growing agent base, superior access to working capital finance, and real-time payments for customers Zoona has its sights set on providing cashless services to help businesses grow in emerging markets.  Housing has proved to be a bit more difficult to find than I was anticipating. Zoona has been kind enough to let me stay at their company 2 bedroom flat about 200 meters from the office while I lock in a place to live for the next six months. Having some cross over with the current MEDA intern, Jenn Ferreri, has been very helpful in helping me meet people in the community as well as getting up to speed with everything Zoona and MEDA.  In my first week I have been learning about the Zoona business model, what my role will be in helping add value to the company during my time, and visiting local agents to work in performing transactions with customers. This was helpful to understand the process of sending/receiving money via one of Zoona’s agents. I was placed on the busy Cairo Rd. near the city center with Zoona agent, Misozi. It was a lot of fun hanging out with her four tellers and learning the ins and outs of Zoona transactions. I was a little slow at the start, but was getting the hang of it after a few hours behind the booth.  Thus far things have been splendid in Lusaka. The weather is also a nice plus coming from Phoenix in August. I am excited to be working with MEDA to help scale a growing entrepreneurial business with a bold vision of a “cashless Africa.” In my next entry I will go into more detail as to what my role will be with Zoona as I am now beginning to finalize my TOR (terms of reference) for the upcoming six months. 

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