A few Sunday afternoons ago, a friend shared an article written by a thought leader and known angel investor on the continent on the momentum that angel investing has been gathering on the African continent, and his hopes for the ecosystem in the near and far future. Once we’d both had time time to unpack the read, the conversation then triggered into the origin of this kind of investing and one of the major underlying themes of financial inclusion – collaboration, and in essence group economics. In Africa, the idea of group economics may be unfamiliar by English terminology, but the practice of accruing investments to enable financial inclusion is no foreign concept.
What is Group Economics?
Group Economics is a concept that explains how individuals engaging in economic and financial activities yield better value for their money at the expense of lesser resources in savings by sharing the cost. An example of this would be through carpooling or a lift club and what Somali informal shop traders in South Africa do to grow their consumer base (and more businesses) in townships by buying their stock in bulk for other shop owners in the network. In true Africa-is-not-a-country style, different African countries practice similar components of group economics but under different names and models. In Ethiopia it is known as Iqub, while in Kenya it’s denoted as Chamas and Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) in Ghana. In this article, we’re going to explore what is called Vicobas in Tanzania and Stokvels in South Africa, informal savings clubs and how they are modelling financial inclusion respectively.
Banking on Stokvels in South Africa
According to the National Stokvel Association of South Africa (NASASA) there are more than 11 million stokvel members and the market is worth close to R50 billion (US$ 3.57 million) with over 820,000 stokvels currently in the country. In a recent study conducted by Nedbank, the most popular types of stokvels are savings, grocery and burial societies, with only 5% of stokvels focused on investment savings and 41% having bank accounts. While the profile of stokvels has always been middle-aged black women from low-income earning backgrounds convening and saving to buy groceries in December, the landscape is gradually introducing younger and middle class audiences who are using the model to generate wealth through means of property, investment and travel stokvels.
It’s not only banks that are wanting a piece of this inclusion pie, but so are financial startups like Stokfella who are bringing in a data and financial management piece to the puzzle. The platform is a management tool that enables members to facilitate their payments and claims, and grow their savings through investment channels, also enabling safety and transparency with all the members of the society. With over 9000 registered users who personally registered or were registered by stokvel executives, this application is an example of how the sector is unhurriedly being optimized both in revenue and the level of sophistication in formalising it.
Venture Capital with Impact through Vicobas in Tanzania
With a much more elevated and flexible approach from stokvels, vicobas carry out the mandate of empowerment through a model of micro-financing with economic, socio-economic and environment impact at the backend of it. Coined and conceptualised in September of 2002 by major organizations Social and Economic Development Initiatives of Tanzania (SEDIT), CARE International and World Climate Research Programme (WCRP), VICOBA is an acronym for Village Community Banks.
So, how does the model work and how is it different from stokvels? And, how are the societies sustainable investment opportunities for the vicoba members and the wider communities at large?
It begins with members forming five unit groups and each of these groups and then joining each other to make a vicoba group of 30 members. Once the rules and regulations of the group have been set and amount of resources to subscribe is agreed upon, the members contribute their savings (shares) and social protection and then begin what can be a year long training and follow up cycle with financial institutions. After the financial education from a field trainer is completed, the vicoba members can start to support their own startup enterprises with each loan is then returned to the group basket account with added value.
The premise of the vicoba model is to stimulate low-income earning citizens by equipping them with the tools and finances to develop and manage income generating activities and catalyze developmental initiatives much like the Pastoral Women’s Council (PWC) through their economic empowerment programmes.
Investments Accrue when Sustainability is Optimized
Much like PWC, the heart of the group savings model was aimed at women enabling themselves to participate in the economy actively due to the systematic (and still very nimble) patriarchal society. Group economics has licensed gender and socio-economic empowerment to greater access to education and general participation from citizens otherwise not permitted because of their economic standings. And, don’t get me wrong, not all vicobas or Stokvels work out or are rosy, in fact, most of these savings groups fail at the stage of infancy due to lack of accountability, late payments, theft and lack of transparency within the members. However, the optimist and intrapreneur in me believes in these financial models of inclusion and their opportunity at optimization of exponential empowerment to accrue more investment, and to create more impact.
I truly believe that the future of financing businesses and impacting communities lies in the power of group economics, and next month, I’ll be unpacking this ideology in “Group Economics in Africa: Part 2, Impact Investing is no foreign African Concept”. Whether you’re a startup, a technology or financial expert or a citizen with money and an idea or a dream, this is definitely an idea worth betting on.
Do you belong to any savings and/or investment groups? If so, what do you and your members save up for? Let me know in the comments section, I’d love to hear from you!
So it’s been quite a first six months of 2019, which meant closing a couple of chapters, stepping up into a few and the start of new blossoming ones. As my journey with the global intelligence and media firm, Thomson Reuters came to a close in March of 2019, a new one began in June of 2019 with a pan-African investment and advisory firm Impact Amplifier. The career change has been an overwhelming and energizing experience so far that allows one’s creativity and expertise to be stretched at the opportunity to turn industry upside down through the business of ideas and impact acceleration.
I'm in a new industry, which is quite an interesting, exciting and intimidating to say the least - that of the behind the scenes outlook at creation in private equity and venture capital investments. The firm looks at Social Enterprise Acceleration, Impact Ecosystem Strengthening, Impact Investment Services and Entrepreneur, Investment and Ecosystem Research which all have their particular sub-categories that respectively look at elements like investment readiness, new funding mechanisms, deal sourcing, advisory and so much more. The essence of these capabilities are all rooted in the working with enterprises who are committed to actively and intentionally do business that is impactful through the socio-economic and environmental lenses.
My role as an Associate in Impact Acceleration includes unpacking impact assessment coordination and management, coordination and participating in primary and secondary market research activities, driving internal and external investment/grant readiness and capital raising acceleration process for investment readiness programmes, building a new pipeline for business development and supporting the partners in investment readiness deals. Now I should warn you, no day is the same, and that’s what’s not also rewarding but allows for practices like deep mind when you’re focused on research on one day and being in the field with the customer and unpacking their theory of change. Now, in any workplace setting, one cannot mostly achieve anything on their own without the collaboration with an incredible team and colleagues. What’s really cool about the space that I’m in is that everyone comes from different backgrounds with a diversity of ideas, which when challenges arise, continue to push creativity and solutions envelope.
The impact investment and advisory ecosystem is an industry quite in its infancy globally, and moreso due to the costs associated with the processes and metrics in measuring impact. Stakeholders see the value in impact assessment - investees for their investors, investors for their boards, businesses for growth and organisational strategy etc. I'm really excited to deep dive more into the space, there is a lot of intelligence that exists, and moreso the value added to profits greater than economical. Here's to measurable and accelerated inclusive development, and learning and doing work that matters.
Would you be interested in a Day of the Life of An Associate later in the year? Let me know in the comments section and we’ll make it happen J
What is Innovation Capital?
In a few weeks I’ll be delivering an address at one of South Africa’s universities upon the invitation of the Director of Technology, Innovation and Commercialisation on some key innovation practices in the country, this will be to the regional campus’ staff and students. Last week, I addressed an audience of over 225 women on leveraging their capital (in trusting themselves) through innovation tools. Apart from the innovation addresses in common that these two invitations carried, it’s how I was contacted and made visible to these two entities that will touch on what we’ll be unpacking in this article. Through amplifying my work and thought leadership engagement, and many other properties that I’ll get into in in the coming paragraphs, my Innovation Capital banked on these opportunities.
A concept coined by Marc Benioff who is Salesforce’s Founder and CEO, Innovation Capital is (to paraphrase) the accrued capital and impact to influence and fund an idea and the resources needed to actualise it. Have you ever wondered how Elizabeth Holmes successfully raised millions of dollars for Theranos, despite its failure? Or how Elon Musk continues to build and bankrupt ideas that are bankable, yet seem incredibly ludicrous? Innovation Capital is not only exclusive to individuals, but to brands like Apple who continue to incrementally innovate and elevate their standard to a point where their customers become their brand advocates? Or how recently listed UBER continued being funded by investors even though it was a blood-sucking investment? Some have it, and some can still raise it; so how do you ensure that you have it? You build it, and you do so patiently, because Innovation Capital cannot be wired into your account, you have to earn it. Let’s unpack this a bit.
The Characteristics of an Innovation Capitalist?
As with any capital, no matter who or what brand you are, it accrues in volume over time before it can be of value, innovation capital is no different. To be an inspired gamechanger like an Oprah Winfrey and building a school for girls in South Africa, not only do you need to be the self-made billionaire with multiple businesses and have a direct line to a Nelson Mandela who can make political calls to get your idea into a proof of concept. Are you getting my drift? The characteristics of an innovation capitalist are dependent on who you are, the strong ties that you have with the right network, the work that you’ve done and the stages and platforms that you employ to amplify your work. Now, even with all these characteristics in mind, as is the process of innovation, there is no guarantee that it’ll work out, proof of concepts aren’t always proven. This, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs will tell you, but that’s the beauty of innovation, there’s no guarantee but through the research and development, there’s always a lesson or few to be learnt. Having worked in corporate innovation for the past two years and being at the nucleus of product management and development, I cannot tell you how many ideas were killed (in their respective stages) in as much as that we launched. But in this, the true value became not in how many times we failed, but how quickly we did so and did it so with an accrued value for my manager (with incredible visionary leadership – another key component) to continue getting these ideas funded.
How do you Build Innovation Capital?
So, whether your ideas take off or not. How do you begin to build Innovation Capital? If you’re not an Oprah, a Mandela or even a Hitler (dark, I know, but his capital funded Nazi Germany) and you’re a student, entrepreneur or working professional who wants to create or accrue their innovation capital, where do you begin? First things first, you acquire the knowledge of where you’re wanting to be an innovation capitalist in – in order to play the game, you need to know it. The skills that you’ll acquire from this will enable you to not only set yourself apart, but then have the expertise and confidence to be able to find the platform to share these ideas. These are the makings of a leader. Becoming a leader in your industry is a key component in building trust in your shared ideas, as this garners visibility, which catapults the effectiveness of a personal brand that people trust with their capital.
An amalgamation of many accrued capital, innovation capital requires human, social, intellectual and other forms of capital in order to yield momentum and/or return on investment, nothing is guaranteed. Now that you have the knowledge and the tools of the term, how will you put it to practice and ensure that it get funded? May the best idea win, and the capital odds always be in your favour!
Images Supplied: The Corporate Canvas
One of the most archaic, traditional systems in the world is getting a facelift, it’s being disrupted from the outside in at a pace that is necessary for the sector to grow. Banking is being turned on its head through the agility and prowess of fintech startups across the globe, and interesting to me is the revolution of partnerships with startups that’s making the threat a sweetened growth hack opportunity.
More and more, we’re beginning to see the quite intentional innovation through large corporates, particularly banks with the agenda of strategic partnering with fintech startups to not only tell a good story but innovating with the intent of incrementally and radically transforming products within the bank’s objectives.
In Africa, we’ve seen successful partnerships like ABSA through their RISE signing POC deal with Peach Payments to test their product and Nigeria’s GT Bank investment in Accounteer with live integration to enable the bank’s financial services are prime examples of how the fintech dream team has mutual benefits for both entities.
Leverage the Open Innovation Agenda (Data, Infrastructure and Technology)
Innovation is expensive, and as disruptive as the process is and as sexy of a story it is to tell, the selling of innovation is nothing compared to the sweat equity involved to successfully take a product to market from ideation. One of the most heartbreaking cycles is witnessing a startup working with an entity, be it an accelerator or a bank with the intention to scale or prove a concept, and the innovation agendas are not aligned. Once the alignment is recognised and relevant, for the bank be it to incrementally or radically innovate their products which has an impact on their systems, or a growth hack opportunity for revenue and having more customers, and adding value to their data and technology. Whereas, the opportunity for startups usually comes in at acceleration of proof of concepts, going to market faster through capital investments and other capabilities and the chance to build on top of the infratrsucture of the bank through open integration.
Access to Capital, Network and Domain Expertise
As I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the opportunity to support startups from the bank’s perspective comes in at monetary investment capital, access to the network that of the bank and the knowledge sharing through domain expertise. In 2017, Merrill Lynch South Africa and Royal Bafokeng Holdings in partnership with Rand Merchant Bank’s Alphacode invested over R4 million in 4 fintech startups for the development of these high impact startups. Through Alphacode, fintech startups like Bankymoon, Livestock Wealth, Slide and Commuscore to name a few have to had access to resources such as an advisory network and a co-working space available.
The Opportunity to be a (First) Customer and The Acquisition
One of the most celebrated bank(able) fintech dream team partnerships is between startup Firepay and Africa’s biggest bank, Standard Bank to launch Snapscan. This partnership worked because of the aligned innovation agendas, and provided Standard Bank the opportunity to provide a solution to and grow their customers and supported the bank’s emerging payments strategy, and for Firepay, to have Africa’s biggest bank not only as a customer but now also as an investor in the business, and the opportunity for their product to scale beyond borders.
The dream team partnership doesn’t not come with its challenges, it’s not all rosy, after all, financial innovation and startups are competing with an archaic system with inertia to change from the security policy to the production management process. Partnering with banks is no walk in the park – especially given the early stages of these kind of collaborations.
As the ecosystem embarks on the journey, it’s key for both banks and startups to recognise that the bankable partnerships are not innovating not against legacy, but with legacy systems because of the valuable intelligence of failure’s patterns and the combination of new models, science and data through which both entities have the capabilities to impact.
And as a final word, ensure that your core values, and not just your technology and data talks to each other.