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Uzoma Dozie Launches Sparkle, A Startup Set To Disrupt Nigeria’s Retail Services Industry

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Ten years ago, the act of shopping – retail as a necessity and as a pastime – existed entirely offline in Nigeria. You go to a store, you buy what you want, you shop around – but it was a physical transaction. Often laborious too; moving from one store to another, across town, back again, only to find that what you wanted wasn’t in stock. And when it came to payments? Consumers were prepared to part with their cash with bundles of Naira to preempt the store’s POS machine not working or, in all likelihood, there not being one.

Fast forward to mass-market internet; commerce is changing – it is literally in the palm of our hands. Retail has no fixed abode. It’s on instagram. It’s on Facebook. Soon, it will be on online marketplaces that haven’t even been invented yet – and at scale.

Retail powers our country, stealthily. Ask anyone about Nigeria’s economy and the words “oil” and “gas” roll off their tongues, because we can see the results and can account for much of the revenue. However, the millions of retailers across the country – those making sure every day people get what they need and want, are virtually invisible. It is almost a clandestine economy.

At Diamond Bank, we cultivated the retail sector and built digital mobile products for retailers, because we wanted to include them in the banking community and provide a service for the underbanked. For most, cash was [and still is] king, and there was no real engagement with the banks. Not at scale. Retail was a cash economy outside of the usual economic paradigms of taxation and government involvement. For traditional banks, this was a vacuum. For Diamond Bank, we saw it as an opportunity to engage an entire community; and that is exactly what we did. In less than 10 years, we built out a retail arm of the bank that included over 15 million people. This was their first foray into retail banking. As my father and I look back on Diamond Bank’s legacy, cultivating digital banking, at scale, is one of our lasting impacts.

But that was yesterday.

Let’s look at today. And tomorrow. We are introducing Sparkle. A new iteration of what it means to support retailers, businesses and individuals in Nigeria. Beyond traditional banking. A platform that has gone from concept [securing better access to banking and finance business facilities for businesses and individuals] to an MVP; Sparkle is now being developed to allow people to do more whilst allowing businesses to be more.

At Sparkle, we want to complement the resilience with a wrap around digital service that supports retailers, individuals and SMEs, seamlessly. A silent business partner, so to speak. The businesses of today that we will be collaborating with at Sparkle are on the go. They are extremely fluid. They move with the trends and, where possible, they dictate the trends. As I mentioned – they have no fixed abode. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t building or growing. And importantly, they are digital natives – their first point of interaction with customers is online. Picture, swipe, click, purchase. It’s that easy. So how can we deliver a service that supports a tribe of digital natives who want to focus on making money and building their business, rather than be burdened with financial admin?

Also Read Cycles, Nigeria’s No.1 Bike-Sharing Platform Achieving The United Nations SDG Goal 11 – Damilola Soladoye

We are blessed with a young population [in its tens of millions] of early adopters, who are revelling in [and capitalising on] lower costs of smart phone handsets and lower data costs. Whist this means that the barrier to entry for businesses is now significantly lower, there is more competition. But that’s OK – competition is fine, but let’s all make sure we can compete, build and grow; this can only be done if you have access and support services that enable you to compete on a level playing field. This is a generation of mobile-first retailers who are powering ecommerce via social. Facebook boasts over 21m users. Instagram – 5.6m. And unlike the “developed” world, these figures are growing upwards, and fast. Sharing, telling, selling – this is where commerce lies, this is where Sparkle starts.

So what we did with Sparkle, we decided to support and build a tribe of digital natives. Those who instinctively reach for their mobile phone when they’re engaging in any transaction, be it personal or business. As we build this tribe, we are sticking to and embedding core values and principles in to how we operate; everything, absolutely everything we do is grounded in trust and transparency. We are creating a market within an established market and unpicking the barriers to entry for so many people by ensuring they are part of the growth – part of society. They are financially included. Retailers have, for so long, been excluded from society at so many levels, because they are not paying tax and engaging with state and government; Sparkle is tackling this and bringing more people into an inclusive system.

Interestingly, these are the human principles upon which we built when we started building Diamond Bank in the 1990s. Our principles are 25+ years old [and more] but our approach and execution is totally new. With Sparkle, we will provide a dedicated, personalised experience to each and every one of our users – who we hope will number in their millions in years to come. But they will not be “seen to” by traditional customer relationship managers; that’s for the 1%. Sparkle is here for all. We are building for those who don’t need to look into the whites of a bank personnel’s eyes – we are building and growing for a community of people who want fast, accurate decisions made based on unambiguous and unbiased data habits. Powered by AI and Machine Learning, Sparkle will remove emotion from decision making and put your data in your hands. Whereas other companies accrue data to sell and to profit from, we want our Sparklers to profit from their own data, but allowing them to make well informed decisions regarding their next steps. At Sparkle, currency is data.

Our Sparklers have their heads down as they create and build and test – building an MVP that delivers human principles of commerce and business. We are curating a business and lifestyle-friendly platform that will enhance the human side of doing business, at scale. We have no alternative. This is how retail will scale and businesses will thrive in Nigeria; leveraging technology and mobile to create and support a generation of digitally native businesses that provide an alternative economy for Nigeria.

Why Sparkle? Because we can

Credit: Uzoma Dozie/www.sparkle.ng

Entertainment

TuneCore Launches Operations in Africa, Appoints Two Female Regional Executives

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TuneCore Jade Leaf and Chioma Onuchukwu

TuneCore, the leading digital music distribution and publishing administration company for independent artists, has launched operations in Africa. Jade Leaf has been hired as Head of TuneCore for Southern Africa and will share responsibility for key countries in East Africa with Chioma Onuchukwu, who has been hired as Head of TuneCore for West Africa. Both Leaf and Onuchukwu will report to Faryal Khan-Thompson, Vice President, International, TuneCore.

Onuchukwu will be based in Nigeria and oversee countries in West Africa including Nigeria, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and The Gambia. She will also look after Tanzania and Ethiopia in East Africa.  Leaf’s territory encompasses Southern Africa, including South Africa, where she will be based, as well as Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Lesotho. Leaf will also manage TuneCore operations in East African countries Kenya and Uganda.

Said Onuchukwu, “I am elated to be joining a renowned, independent music distribution powerhouse, especially in an incredible era for music creators in Africa at a time when we are gaining global recognition and increasing momentum. I look forward to collaborating with and supporting local artists.”

Before joining TuneCore, Onuchukwu was Marketing Manager at uduX Music, a music streaming platform in Nigeria. There she worked directly with popular African artists such as Davido, Yemi Alade, Patoranking, Kizz Daniel and more.

Commented Leaf, “I am incredibly excited to join the team in a time where the global conversation is around independence and ownership. TuneCore opens up a world of potential for independent artists at every level of their careers. Africa is home to a diverse range of artists who are seeking a reliable distribution service who understands their local needs and can ultimately give them the opportunity to turn their art into commercial success.”

Previously, Leaf worked at Africa’s largest Pay TV operator, Multichoice as the Marketing Manager for Youth & Music Channels, where she led brand re-imaging and marketing efforts for Music TV giant Channel O. Before that, she worked at Sony Music Entertainment Africa, focusing on African artists and content, as well as numerous marketing campaigns & projects for local and international artists.

There has been a meteoric rise in the uptake of streaming services in Africa, the growth has been attributed to several factors such as an increase in internet penetration via smartphones, the entrance of international and local streaming platforms in key territories and its youth population – More than 60% of African’s are under the age of 25.

In 2020, TuneCore saw an increase in music releases globally, with many African artists opting to use the DIY Distributor – DJ Spinall and Small Doctor in Nigeria, Spoegwolf in South Africa, Mpho Sebina in Botswana and Fena Gitu in Kenya to name a few.

Stated Khan-Thompson, “Africa is an extremely exciting music market with a lot of potential for growth. By hiring Jade and Chioma to lead our efforts, TuneCore is well positioned to maximize opportunities for independent artists across the continent. Both Chioma and Jade bring a wealth of experience and genuine interest in helping artists make their dreams come true. I couldn’t be more thrilled to have two incredible women representing the TuneCore brand in the continent”

TuneCore

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IFC Invest in Liquid Telecom Bond to Support Broadband Connectivity in Africa

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IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, invested in Thursday’s bond issued by a subsidiary of Liquid Telecommunications Holdings Ltd., which will allow the telecoms and technology solutions company to expand access to broadband Internet and digital and cloud services across Africa, further facilitating the growth of the continent’s digital economy.

Proceeds from the bond issued by Liquid Telecommunications Financing PLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Liquid Telecommunications Holdings Ltd, will enable the company to refinance existing debt and free up funds to expand its digital infrastructure network across Africa, including in markets with low broadband penetration.

By developing digital infrastructure, Liquid Telecommunications, Africa’s largest independent fiber, data center and cloud technology provider, aims to increase digital connectivity and inclusion in Africa and support the region’s growing digital ecosystem.

IFC played an anchor role and subscribed to 16 percent of the bond, equivalent to $100 million, which was listed on Euronext Dublin, Ireland’s main stock exchange, on February 25, 2021. The issuance raised $620 million.

Internet access in Africa relies largely on mobile networks, many of which are enabled by wholesale connectivity providers such as Liquid Telecommunications. Broadband penetration is low across the continent, with a mobile broadband penetration rate of 34 percent and fixed broadband penetration of less than five percent in most countries across sub-Saharan Africa, excluding South Africa.

“We are delighted that IFC has taken a significant anchor position in our new bond. In the countries in which we operate there are great opportunities to address under developed telecommunications and Internet access, as well as to accelerate the adoption of digital and Cloud-based services. Our refinance enables us to continue to invest in the African digital eco-system including driving penetration of digital and Cloud-based services to businesses who may not previously have had the resources to benefit from them, helping to bridge the connectivity divide, which is more crucial than ever in our current circumstances,” said Nic Rudnick, Liquid Telecom Group Chief Executive Officer.

“Our best chance at ensuring much-needed internet access for everyone in Africa, from large corporates and small businesses to individuals, is to invest in digital infrastructure. Our investment in the Liquid Telecom bond will help the company free up capital to further expand broadband access across Africa, laying a solid foundation for a faster, more resilient recovery,” said Stephanie von Friedeburg, Interim Managing Director and Executive Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer of IFC.

To support Africa’s digital economy, which could be worth $180 billion by 2025, IFC provides financing to mobile network operators, independent tower operators, data centers and broadband connectivity providers. IFC also provides capital to help entrepreneurs and innovative businesses grow and works with financial institutions and telecommunications companies to speed the adoption of digital payments and lending to expand financial inclusion.

Source IFC

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Diaspora investments: A must for the development of Africa

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Image Source: rupixen.com

It has been three years since his Excellency president Nana Akufo-Addo of Ghana shared some controversial thoughts on Africa’s dependence on aid or support from Europe in a decades long effort to develop the continent.

He was applauded for his bold statement and stance, but many (especially people from the Ghanaian diaspora) thought they were only words. Words they had heard many times before, but without plans or actions backing them. This might be true from their perspective, yet for the current generation of descendants from those who have been sold into slavery, it was good to hear an African leader show some backbone.

“We can no longer continue to make policy for ourselves, in our country, in our region, in our continent based on whatever support that the western world or France, or the European Union can give us. It will not work. It has not worked, and it will not work”.

The Diaspora Is Linked To The Strength of Africa

President Nana Akufo-Addo’s views on European aid are commendable, even if we debate how much he will be able to back up his words with actions.

“The place of the Diaspora, the status of the people in the diaspora, of the African diaspora, is intimately linked with what happens on the continent. An Africa strong and performing, transforms your position, your status here in Europe”.

He was addressing diaspora members in France, but he could have been addressing all people of African descent worldwide. The fact is that his ability to back his words, not exclusively but to an important extent, is contingent on the support he as an African leader receives from the African diaspora.

Remittance Coming From The African Diaspora

As a member from the African diaspora, one might ask: “Are we not supporting enough?”

Ishmeal Lamptey (Source: unsplash.com)

According to the World Bank Sub Saharan Africa received an estimated 48 billion US dollars in remittance funds from the African diaspora in 2019.

A study by Comstock, Iannone, Bhatia published in March 2009 (yes, the phenomenon has been studied for some time now) shows most funds are spend on costs of sustenance (29%), medical costs (16%) and education (12%).

When looking at the order of precedence these costs take in relation to each other, we see that unforeseen costs come first, second are medical costs and the last are for education. This underlines what we all know. The fact that there is often a sense of emergency to these transfers.

The Need To Move From Remittance To Investment In Africa

So, to answer the question of the diaspora, if it is not doing enough…well no. Harsh isn’t it? The fact of the matter is that the remittance funds are our own version of aid to the continent. It is keeping our people our family from dying but it’s not helping with any development.

We, the African diaspora, need to make the transition from remittance to investment. Remittance will always be part of the financial flows, but when seen in relation with Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) from the diaspora, they shouldn’t dominate as they do at present.

Following the content of a few independent journalists, there is now ample proof that at least some in the diaspora are not only willing, but able to move to the continent and start new businesses. But this group is a very small minority. The vast majority will not be able to follow suit and we should not want them to.

The revenues of the use of their human capital is needed to generate the investment flows Africa needs. The challenge Sub Saharan Africa faces is that of aggregation of available funds originating from the diaspora. The funds are clearly there, the industries which need them for we’ve identified, but now we need to create a robust infrastructure to aggregate and get them to their destination.

Like we pointed out in our previous article about thinking sufficiently big; while we keep our eyes on the end goal, we might need to start building one stone at a time. From individual projects, to industries, to the whole economy.

When doing so, we need to keep in mind that Africa is a unique environment. The common instruments of capital allocation used in the world should certainly be our starting point, but not limit our imagination when pooling the diaspora funds and channeling them into the continent.

As we have admonished a few times now; Africa should think BIG. And that also applies to its diaspora. In the coming articles we will continue exploring the idea of “thinking big” in the African context. So please make sure to subscribe to our Newsletter. We invite you to share your thoughts with us on the matter and get a discussion going with us and our other readers.

Article By: Jerrol Cambiel, Chief Executive EU Operations Debnoch Capital

 

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