When cellphones and internet become lifesavers

by Claudia Brandian

Africa remains the fastest growing market for mobiles

According to the GSMA’s latest annual report Sub-Saharan Africa registered almost half a billion of new mobile subscribers, which equalled around half the continent’s population (total population: 1,2 billion in 2018). These numbers are expected to increase in the coming years. The high penetration rate of cell phones has changed and shaped this continent faster than anything else, boosting the economy, creating new job opportunities and last but not least breaking with common clichés about Africa.

Leapfrogging bank accounts with mobile money

Cell phones and smartphones have not only improved connectivity but have also changed the way how to do business in Africa. Many mobile network operators started offering cell phone-based money transfers services. One of the most popular is M-Pesa, which allows users to store money on an account on their phones and make payments via secure SMS text messages. Nowadays millions of Africans use it to quickly send money from the cities to their families on the countryside, without ever having opened a conventional bank account. But it also serves as a business and saving tool, which has started to lift (mainly female-headed) households out of poverty, as stated here. Lately it had become that popular among traders and tech companies that M-Pesa was connected to China’s WeChat Pay. “The service is most likely to be used by Kenyan traders to pay for Chinese goods without using more expensive or slower bank options or traditional money transfer systems or remittance services.”, as assumed by Quartz Africa.

Technology solving developmental challenges

In the last 20 years submarine Internet cables have been laid between Africa’s and other coasts providing Internet access even to landlocked regions. Similar to the rest of the digitized world, this lead to a domino effect in Africa: A huge need for smartphones emerged, especially among the young, urban population; a new generation of tech innovators evolved, who disrupted common business models. Nowadays start-ups shape Africa’s new face on a daily basis.

Unlike most European tech companies, many of them are tackling social, environmental or economical challenges: In numerous Sub-saharan African countries the infant and maternal mortality rates are still high. The level of education needs to be raised, especially among rural communities. Many remote regions are still not connected to the electricity grid and families see themselves forced to use harmful diesel generators in order have electric light for their kids doing homework.

Impact Go has been in touch with a variety of startups, which tackle some of these virtuous challenges. Cell phones and smartphones have been their number one tools to provide their services. Totohealth from Kenya and Safer Mom from Nigeria offer mothers a monitoring of their pregnancy and their babies’ health via SMS and voice call. In Kenya Eneza Education has developed gamified SMS-quizzes mainly for kids in rural areas to improve their performance in school. Lumos Global from Nigeria gives off-grid households access to clean and affordable solar power by installing photovoltaic cells on their roofs, for which they pay via mobile money.

With cell phones against maternal and neonatal mortality

Inspired by these impactful products, Impact Go has started an unprecedented cooperation with a startup from Africa, namely with Jamii Africa in Dar e Salaam in Tanzania. Jamii Africa offers mobile micro-health insurance in a country where only 2 % out of around 50 million inhabitants are insured, but 80 % of the total population have a cell/smart phones.

Only 2 % out of around 50 million Tanzanians are insured, but 80 %  have a cell/smart phones.

Only 2 % out of around 50 million Tanzanians are insured, but 80 % have a cell/smart phones.

Public hospitals are only located in cities, unlike private clinics, which are evenly spread all over the country. Thus, Tanzania’s high share of rural population has to either travel a long and expensive way to reach public hospitals or pay a lot of cash to enter private clinics in their regions. Jamii’s health insurance product has become a popular solution among Tanzania’s population, which gives them access to healthcare services and medication in their region.

Still some people remain left out. “With Impact Go we want to give mothers from precarious households and orphans access to medical services and essential medicine.”, Co-Founder Vincent Temech states and continues “Our one-to-one donation is made possible by a seamless and paperless process through new technologies: smartphone technology in Europe and cell phone technology in Africa.” We hope that Impact Go’s close, intercontinental partnership with Jamii Africa shall be only one out of several European pioneering startups co-operating with African counterparts. One thing is for sure: The new, digitized Africa will come up with many more surprises soon!

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Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Jamii Africa and Vodacom members spreading insurance policies.