Gareth Grobler is a digital currency entrepreneur and founded the cryptocurrency exchange iCE3X in 2013. He is a founding member of the UK Digital Currency Association. Gareth has over 15 years of experience in IT infrastructure and architecture development. He started iCE3X as a proof of concept and has been involved with other ventures including Merkeleon, a software company that builds exchange and processing software based out of Austria, with offices in Minsk and London. In this exclusive interview with Heath Muchena of Business Africa Online, Grobler provides clarity on developments in the industry within Africa and shares his views on cryptocurrency adoption on the continent. Excerpts:
Heath: What impact do you think cryptocurrencies will have on how people trade especially in Africa considering that a huge number of people on the continent remain unbanked and excluded from the traditional financial system and cross-border trade is slow and inefficient?
Gareth: It is a double-edged sword. Crypto gives more people access to more options but also creates a void where unscrupulous entities fleece consumers who are not as financially savvy due to the fact that they have not had regular exposure to financial products and or have no experience with investments.
Heath: What government issued African fiat currencies does your platform currently support?
Gareth: The iCE3X platform currently supports two fiat currencies, the Nigerian Naira (NGN) and the South African Rand (ZAR) in addition to the more than 10 cryptocurrencies.
Heath: iCE3X has been operational since 2013. What prompted the early move in the space especially in African markets you operate in i.e. South Africa & Nigeria?
Gareth: iCE3X began as a proof of concept for the SaaS exchange product but now we have more functionality and features than any other exchange in Africa. Our focus is on being the best trading platform and not a cryptocurrency custodian since our vision is to give end-users more options especially when it comes to storing cryptos and do not advocate storage on our exchange, only responsible trading.
We have a loyal user base and are very proud to be one of the few exchanges with legitimate trades and volumes. We take a customer-centric approach to development and delivery of our offerings. Our primary focus is user education with regards to both cryptos and fiat money and blockchain technology adoption. An example is our free crypto trading platform feature which allows users to learn how to trade in real markets using demo tokens native to our exchange.
Heath: How is the cryptocurrency industry developing in South Africa?
Gareth: iCE3X is the abbreviation for “Internet Currency Evolution” so we understand that the industry still has a long way to go and we will see many transitions as the industry develops. We are constantly working on new ways to educate users about the underpinning technologies behind cryptocurrencies and are pleased with the trajectory.
Crypto markets are maturing and user security and knowledge is the main focal point for most honest operators. Part of the downside to the success of bitcoin has been the rise of scams being perpetrated under the bitcoin banner by opportunists looking to defraud unsuspecting ecosystem participants.
Heath: You’re part of the group helping to advise the South African Reserve Bank with respect to cryptocurrency regulations. How would you ideally like to see them approach regulating the industry particularly crypto exchanges?
Gareth: We see cryptos such as Bitcoin as complementary financial instruments rather than replacements for traditional fiat. The SARB have been doing a great job in taking great care to understand the industry and any new challenges it faces, both technically and socially. It is pretty clear to everyone that cryptocurrency such as bitcoin itself cannot be regulated or controlled, but rather that the interaction of fiat money and cryptocurrency should and can be regulated.
Ultimately citizens require consumer protection and the best way to provide this is by vetting and licensing the operators who facilitate the interaction of FIAT and Cryptocurrency. The wheels of government, unfortunately, do not turn as fast as we would like, but we are moving in the right direction and we look forward to being a licensed crypto-asset service provider (CASP).
Heath: How would you describe the progress in South Africa in terms of regulating the industry?
Gareth: South Africa is one of the leading countries worldwide in this respect. Our COO, Eugene Etsebeth was the inaugural Chairperson for the IFWG (Intergovernmental Fintech Working Group) back in 2016 during his tenure at the South African Reserve Bank. I’ve been consulting with the financial regulator since 2012 so overall as a whole RSA have been keeping on top of the curve, yet have been very careful not to tie the industry with unnecessary red-tape so I can honestly say that it is one of the best jurisdictions in which to operate.
Heath: What are some of the legal and regulatory guidelines you currently follow and how will the organisation monitor emerging regulatory considerations? For example Anti-money laundering (AML) laws; and know your customer (KYC) laws.
Gareth: We are proud to have been ahead of the game since inception. We have in fact set the standard in some respects. We follow Financial Action Task Force (on Money Laundering) (FATF) recommendations and already comply with all the suggested government regulations in terms of KYC and AML, even though these requirements are not yet legal requirements. We are also fortunate as I am a FATF recognised private sector expert and as a result, get to not only influence regulatory thinking on an international level but also benefit from first-hand exposure to the direction regulators are taking.
Heath: What can you tell us about the product roadmap for the exchange? You continue to release new features and list new digital assets, what upcoming features are you most excited about rolling out?
Gareth: There are a host of new features, functionality and assets scheduled for release during 2020. This includes stable coins, auto trading, 5 new order types, completely revamped and unique rewards system, new mobile apps, gamification and more deposit and withdrawal options. We are most excited about Artificial Intelligence Coin, our native utility token which will take cryptocurrency adoption and use in South Africa to a whole new level. This is due for release towards the end of Q1 2020.
Wahida Mohamed: Empowering Women And Championing Islamic Financing In Sub Saharan Africa
Wahida Mohamed is the founder of Islamic FinTech Hub and a retail banker with over 10 years’ experience in conventional International trade finance and SME Relationship Management. She has also worked for a Democratic Governance Programme implemented for 3 years immediately post the promulgation of Kenya’s 2010 Constitution. She has been of service to Somaliland by working for a Mott Macdonald managed – Somaliland Development Fund Secretariat that provided and managed an external development budget aligned to the country’s 5 year National Development Plan.
In order to make better use of her Monitoring and Evaluation qualifications Wahida founded One OAK Consultants that was selected out of 20,000 applicants to be part of the inaugural cohort of The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme. One OAK Consultants uses Randomised Controlled Trials. It also makes a comparison of objective and subjective indicators to determine baseline and assess progress as well as impact of development programming interventions. One OAK Consultant she begun exploring the use of Immersive Virtual Reality as a reporting and advocacy tool.
Wahida’s passion for Islamic Finance Research has enabled her to participate in various studies in Sub Saharan Africa commissioned by The Islamic Research Training Institute – the research arm of The Islamic Development Bank, headquartered in Saudi Arabia. Her forte is Islamic financial inclusion, capability and consumer protection studies. She has also led a team that developed a Working Paper entitled Islamic Banking and Economic Infrastructure Development -Kenya’s prospects for The Kenya Bankers Association – Centre for Research on Financial Markets and Policy.
Her keen interest in addressing systemic barriers and other challenges that prevent women and girls from accessing and using financial services therefore impacting negatively on their economic empowerment is one of the drivers for the establishment of her latest venture– The Islamic Fintech Hub for Sub Saharan Africa (IsFHSSA). The other reason being winning a PhD Scholarship Award for ICT for Development.
IsFHSSA targets start-ups from ideation stage with a gender focus lens. Its first cohort comprises of an agribusiness with a halal certification feature that it is looking forward to developing in collaboration with Indonesian Halal Certification experts -PT. Ammacue Ihalals Ummatin. In this way the start-up will open up the Asian and other Islamic Consumer markets for its Sub Saharan Africa domiciled suppliers. This start-up has been selected for 12 months incubation, capacity building and financing by The Kenya Climate Innovation Centre (KCIC) – an initiative supported by the World Bank’s infoDev and is the first in a global network of CICs launched by infoDev’s Climate Technology Program (CTP).KCIC is funded by the United Kingdom’s UKaid and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Another startup is a Takaful solution provider that leverages on blockchain and has just completed participation in round two of the on-going 2020 Corda Challenge. This startup is looking forward to working with Takaful Outsource of Netherlands to develop its sharia compliant products.
IsFHSSA is also host to an e-learning platform that will make use of TAIF Digital Institute – an Islamic Finance & Technology company with offices in UAE & Canada. TAIF is committed to support IsFHSSA initiative to deliver world-class Digital Learning Experience across Kenya & region. TAIF is seeking to connect students and teachers from different schools across Sub Saharan Africa.
Other start-ups in IsFHSSA first cohort are a wholly mobile sharia complaint microfinance targeting the Gambian Market; an app targeting sports persons and teams with the aim of building sports careers as well as refurbishing/commercialisation of grass root sports facilities; a sharia compliant mobile lending platform; institutionalization of Zakat vide a network of masjids; automation of sharia advisory services using Machine Learning and sharia complaint crowd funding platform for real estate and specialized agricultural projects development.IsFHSSA is part of the Fintech Galaxy UAE Ecosystem.
Clearly IsFHSSA less than six months’ trajectory is steep and promises to offer interesting businesses and discourse around Islamic Fintech from Sub Saharan Africa.
Wahida was born and raised in Mombasa, Kenya. She holds a Masters in Monitoring and Evaluation from Maseno University, a BSc. Statistics from Egerton University, Post Graduate Certificate in Business Administration from the University of Manchester and Diploma in Financial Services Management from the Institute of Financial Services UK.
Serah Odende, co-founder of African Harvesters Talks Entrepreneurship and Her Initiative Ag4SDGs
Serah Odende is co-Founder and CEO of African Harvesters, an AgriMedia (marketing, advocacy and training) startup based in Lagos, Nigeria. She has years of experience working directly with critical stakeholders in the agricultural ecosystem focusing on Agriculture and SDGs, policy advocacy, research, training and community development. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, she talks about her entrepreneurship journey and initiative Ag4SDGs, and more. Excerpts.
Alaba: Kindly tell us about African Harvesters and the gap it’s filling?
Serah: African Harvesters is an agribusiness hub for agricultural stakeholders across the African agribusiness value chains (farm to table). We fill the information gap in the industry, we agvocate youth engagement and investment in Agriculture, we also agvocate for women inclusion in Agribusiness.
Alaba: What sparked the interest?
Serah: Wow! I would say unemployment and passion for food security. I was a graduate out of the university searching for a job and I got an opportunity to work with an agribusiness association, that’s where was my interest in Agriculture rose.
Alaba: Could you share some of your challenges and how you’re navigating them?
Serah: Challenges are milestones to be crushed! As an organization, our major challenge is getting quality human resource as our volunteers. We resolved the challenge by giving incentives to our volunteers across Africa.
Alaba: How does Agriculture interact with SDG goals?
Serah: The main SDG that is Agriculture inclined is the SDG2 which is zero hunger. Zero hunger basically means no hunger. For this SDG to be achieved by 2030, this means that there would be no hunger as the case may be. For this to be achieved climate smart agriculture needs to be upheld which is SDG 14, gender equality and women inclusion in agricultural decisions which is SDG 10 and 5 respectively.
Aquaculture needs to be explored to attain food sufficiency which is SDG 14. SDG 15 interacts with Agriculture in the aspect of land degradation, biodiversity, afforestation etc.
Alaba: The Covid-19 pandemic has negative impact on the Agricultural value chain. What solutions will you proffer?
Serah: There should be synergy between every Agriculture stakeholders across the value chain. The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the significance of synergy; government, developmental partners and private sectors needs to work together to achieve zero hunger by 2030.
Alaba: Are we post Covid-19 ready and what are the prospects to look out for?
Serah: Yes we are post COVID-19 ready. As an organisation, African Harvesters has always embraced digital solutions to our operations as we are in strategic countries across Africa, the pandemic has made us to re engineer our mode of operations.
Alaba: What support do you expect from the government?
Serah: The pandemic has added to the responsibility of the government to do better. I expect the government to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. Multiple taxations is not the solution.
Alaba: Could you tell us more about your initiative, Agriculture for SDGs (Ag4SDGs) and it’s impact?
Serah: Agriculture for SDGs (Ag4SDGs) is our sustainability initiative at African Harvesters, we enlighten the public on the impact of Agriculture in solving the Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs). We hold online sessions to share more light on the relationship Agriculture has with the SDGs. We also teach kids on sustainability, food waste, hand washing, recycling, water management among other things. We plan to expand our reach on the Ag4SDGs initiative to schools and other African countries outside Nigeria.
Alaba: What’s the future for African Harvesters?
Serah: We envision being the go to resource platform for opportunities, agribusiness happenings across Africa. We also want to open up frontiers for funding opportunities for the platform- African Harvesters.
Alaba: How are you encouraging young female entrepreneurs into the agribusiness ecosystem?
Serah: We at African Harvesters support women inclusion in Agriculture which is SDG 5 and SDG 10. We uphold gender equality, as a female founded startup we include women in all our opportunities with our developmental partners and negotiate equal benefits for our male and female beneficiaries.
B I O G R A P H Y
Serah Odende is an outstanding sustainability development advocate with experience in SDGs 2 and 12. She is the co-Founder and CEO of African Harvesters, an AgriMedia, marketing and advocacy startup based in Lagos, Nigeria. Serah is also a reputable digital transformation consultant with experience in training, digital marketing, social media, email automation and customer experience.
Serah Odende helps organisations position their brands on traditional and digital media.
Chidi Nwaogu: Multi Award-Winning Entrepreneur Launches Global Fellowship Program for Aspiring And Early-Stage Entrepreneurs
Chidi Nwaogu, Founder Publiseer (Source: Chidi Nwaogu).
On the journey to impact over 10,000 professionals before year-end, Nigerian serial tech entrepreneur and software developer, Chidi Nwaogu, launches a global fellowship program for those passionate about solving some of the world’s most pressing problems through innovation. Savvy Fellowship is built for those who want to build their own impact-driven business but don’t know how to, or for those who own an early-stage business and want to grow and scale their impact into new markets or verticals. It is a 12 weeks e-learning, assessment, and mentorship program, where individuals learn everything from ideation to venture-scaling. After going through the 12-week program, Fellows receive a Certificate of Completion to proudly share with their professional network.
“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many have lost their jobs and are now living in an uncertain world. I have decided to start the Savvy Fellowship, to equip passionate individuals with the necessary knowledge and skill they need to start their own impact-driven business and succeed as entrepreneurs,” says Chidi Nwaogu, co-founder at Savvy, multi-award-winning serial entrepreneur, and author of the ‘Dear Entrepreneur’ book series. “It’s no news that every day, I love sharing with others what I’ve learned from my experience as an entrepreneur, and Savvy is just an extension of that personal journey of sharing for me.
Savvy is a 12-week-long virtual fellowship program that runs throughout the year. Some of the things Savvy Fellows learn include fundraising for their business, building the right team to execute their business strategies, building buzz around their product or service, achieving product-market fit, scaling into new markets and verticals, and building customer loyalty and retention.”
Savvy Fellowship kicks off with a rigorous 12-weeks e-learning experience. Savvy Fellows get to learn how to start, build, and scale an impact venture. Using visual presentations, they get to answer all the relevant questions they need to kickstart their impact venture, gain early traction, achieve product-market fit, and scale into newer markets. Some of the things they learn during the program are ‘understanding their customer’, ‘building a product or service that effectively solves their key challenges’, and ‘effectively positioning their solution in the market.’ Savvy is for every impact entrepreneur, no matter what stage their venture is.
During the 12 weeks of learning, unlearning, and relearning, Fellows can test their understanding by taking weekly multiple-choice quizzes. Fellows use the weekly assessments to identify their strengths and weaknesses and work on improving their areas of weaknesses. While learning, Fellows are offered mentorship as well, from entrepreneurs who have built post-revenue businesses in diverse sectors, which is a great way to have a better understanding of their industry. The Savvy mentorship team includes nearly 60 changemakers from 20 countries, with a combined experience of over 250 years. Savvy also runs a peer-to-peer mentorship program that helps Fellows learn from each other, as they ask questions, and have other Fellows help answer them.
Savvy Fellowship launched on August 4, 2020, with its call for application. So far, nearly 10,000 applications from 71 countries have been received for the Savvy Fellowship program, and 1,222 Savvy Fellows (~10%) from 64 countries around the world, has been selected. The program intends to select 2,000 Fellows, so call for application is still open. There is no cohort, no application deadline, and no ethnic restriction, so you can apply today. Savvy accepts new Fellows between the ages of 18 to 40. It’s a rolling Fellowship program, so new applications are accepted, every day, year-round.
Interested individuals can apply to the Fellowship program from https://savvyfellows.com/apply/