Africa Day was established to celebrate and acknowledge the progress that Africa has made in the last 58 years. It’s an important milestone on the South Africa calendar, and with good reason.
Although the continent doesn’t have as many unicorns and successful businesspeople and ideas as the developed world can claim, South Africa’s entrepreneurs are ahead of the fray when it comes to promoting economic growth and building platforms that increase access to Africa’s vibrant and promising markets.
Two South African Fintech businesses that have scaled, or are planning to, beyond our borders and into the continent are MFS Africa – the continent’s largest digital payments gateway that provides businesses with access to revolutionary financial solutions; and Pargo – a tech-enabled last-mile delivery solution that simplifies online delivery for anybody in Africa. These two innovative enterprises epitomise the vision of Africa Day. They represent the growing number of Fintech start-ups and enterprises that are transforming the lives of Africans across the continent, creating possibilities where there were none and improving the livelihoods of millions. Above all, they connect the people of this continent with each other – and the continent with the rest of the world.
MFS Africa and Pargo are both tech-led enterprises that form part of Endeavor South Africa’s network of entrepreneurial businesses that lead the way for innovation in the Fintech space. The Endeavor global network identifies and supports high-growth entrepreneurs to help them scale, with a significant focus on innovative businesses that have the potential to impact their sector, through technology, and create jobs in the markets in which they operate.
Alison Collier, MD of Endeavor South Africa says: “The entrepreneurial Fintech space is undoubtedly the leading driver of innovation and job creation in the country right now and presents the most prolific and high-yielding opportunity to impact our GDP. It also leads the way for local enterprises to expand into Africa and extend their reach as high-growth businesses, which has a positive impact back home. In my book, that is more than enough reason to celebrate Africa Day this year.”
This proudly pan-African fintech company, founded by Dare Okoudjou connects enterprises, banks, mobile money operators and money transfer companies to each other, and to over 400 million mobile money wallets in Africa – to enable any number and type of cross-border digital financial transaction for remittance companies, financial service providers, and global merchants. It is powered by the fast-growing MFS Africa Hub, a network of networks which is also connected to over 100 000 agents in Nigeria who make it easier for millions of people to make and receive digital and offline payments across the continent. Today MFS Africa’s digital payments network operates across over 35 African countries and the company has offices in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Mauritius, Johannesburg, Ghana, Nigeria, the DRC, the UK, and China.
Okoudjou is the quintessential Fintech entrepreneur – and no stranger to the mobile money revolution. He cut his teeth while working at the MTN (JO:) Group, where he led the development of their mobile payment strategy and its implementation across MTN Operations in 21 countries through Africa and the Middle East. He recognised early on that mobile money could revolutionise access to certain financial services in Africa and much of the rest of the world – levelling the playing field for thousands of young African entrepreneurs and start-ups who were caught in a stranglehold simply because they lacked the know-how and access to the digital payment infrastructure. “That was the impetus behind MFS Africa from the very start,” he says.
What sets MFS Africa apart is their approach. Okoudjou explains: “Our approach is B2B. We sit between networks connecting them, we are not a mobile money scheme, we are a network of networks connecting different types of digital stores of value.” And what an impressive network it is. With partners such as mobile money networks MTN, Airtel, and Orange; money transfer operators like Moneygram, Paypal, and World Remit; banks such as Ecobank and a network of enterprises and merchants across Africa.
“Pan-Africanism is a responsibility,” states Okoudjou. “As entrepreneurs and business leaders we owe it to our fellow Africans to build beyond borders and to connect the continent in ways that matter. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of all. MFS Africa is fully in tune with the vision and intent of the continent, and our ethos ‘making borders matter less’ resonates with the essence of Africa Day.”
Pargo was established in 2015 by Dutch founders, Lars Veul and Derk Hoekert, who recognised the enormous potential for ecommerce growth in Africa, prompting their move to Cape Town in 2012 where they joined a leading online retail company. During this time, they quickly realised that the last mile of delivery was the single biggest challenge for ecommerce companies on the continent. The delivery cost was up to four times higher than the rest of the world and many consumers described the experience as unreliable and inconvenient.
Encouraged by these insights, they started Pargo, a tech-enabled last-mile delivery solution that simplifies online delivery. Their solution? An extensive network of over 3 000 access points in stores across the country, where consumers can collect and return orders at their convenience. Not only did they solve the problem of missed deliveries, they also drastically lowered the cost of delivery, by routing multiple orders to these stores instead of individual addresses – processing 15 000 orders per month at the end of the first year.
With that box ticked off, partners Vuel and Hoeker and their team designed a smart-logistics platform that integrates all stakeholders in the delivery process, including all major ecommerce platforms, warehouse solutions and carriers – effectively providing digital businesses with a single platform for all delivery needs – with Pargo managing the end-to-end process for all their clients.
Fuelled by the pandemic-driven lockdown, the adoption of ecommerce across the globe took flight in 2020 and with this, the need for a reliable and simple delivery solution escalated. Pargo answered the call – and more. Now they are primed to take their solution across the borders and into the African market.
Lars Veul is passionate about the African ecommerce evolution. “It is Pargo’s mission to solve ecommerce challenges and to be a key enabler for ecommerce on the continent. This is how we celebrate Africa Day, every day,” he declares.
In the words of Discovery (JO:) CEO and Chair of Endeavor’s SA SME Fund Adrian Gore, “Successful entrepreneurs are not reliant on thriving economies – they are economy agnostic. When economies turn down, entrepreneurs turn up.”
And that is why it is our entrepreneurs who will harness the power of the entrepreneurial spirit and walk Africa into a new era of prosperity.
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