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Africa’s youngest mobile money company CEO redefines financial inclusion

September 26, 2018
topic:Economic Inclusion
tags:#mobile money, #financial inclusion, #Zimbabwe, #EcoCash, #Natalie Payida Jabangwe, #World Economic Forum
by:Bob Koigi
Behind a host of accolades to her name and a company that is reaching millions of ordinary Zimbabweans, is the story of resilience. This is the story of 35-year old Natalie Payida Jabangwe.

The youngest and only female to run a mobile money business in Africa, Natalie, a trained computer engineer, has had her eyes trained on leveraging the power of technology for financial inclusion, especially among the under-served.

Globally up to 1.7 billion people are unbanked according to the World Bank’s 2017 Global Index. In Sub Saharan Africa up to 60 per cent of the adult population do not have a formal bank account. Yet mobile phone penetration continues to grow in the region faster than in any other region globally. Companies have been looking to expand this phenomenon to deepen financial inclusion. At the helm of Ecocash, Zimbabwe’s largest mobile money business and the second-largest in Africa after Kenya’s MPESA, Natalie has been overseeing the adoption of technology to benefit ordinary people by creating for them mobile money accounts and wallets. And in a sector that is heavily dominated by men, she has blazed the trail, with over 6 million subscribers to Ecocash since she took over.

Yet for Natalie this roaring success has been a labour of love and a climax of the over 11-year journey in the financial services industry. At 21 she developed Atlanta’s first information technology security policies under the guidance of Mayor Shirley Franklin. She later joined UK based IT and Communication firm NCI Limited becoming the first woman in London to be employed in the company. Excited about technology she moved to NCT Corporation as a Senior Software Engineer and later a Mobile Financial Services Consultant. She is credited with formulating the company’s digital strategy in 52 countries. This strategy has been a landmark in the company’s operations including influencing a partnership deal with online money transfer giant PayPal and a $650 million acquisition of software firm Retalix.

But the need to create a lasting impact would see her go home to Zimbabwe to transform the technological landscape. Working with telecommunication behemoth Econet Wireless, she took over the mantle at EcoCash, a journey that has transformed mobile banking and financial inclusion beyond the Southern African country’s borders and is often quoted as a success story.

The world hasn’t been blind to Natalie’s achievements. In 2017 she was selected with 26 others for the prestigious Tutu Fellowship an initiative chaperoned by the African Leadership Institute. The programme identifies young African leaders with a proven track record of passion to Africans and with impeccable values and integrity. It then seeks to mould them into global leaders. In the same year, EcoCash was feted at the Mobile World Congress as the Best Mobile Payment Solution in the Glomo Awards. This year, its savings club initiative emerged winner in the same awards under the category Best Mobile Innovation for Women in Emerging Markets.

But perhaps the greatest honour for Natalie remains being named among the 100 Young Global Leaders under the age of 40 by the World Economic Forum. They were drawn from 40 countries and were picked after a rigorous process that sought to identify the crop of young leaders shaping today’s world.

“The individuals have been selected from over 40 countries in recognition of “their creativity and innovation, their ability to build bridges across cultures and between business, government and civil society as well as their pioneering work in arts and culture, business, design, energy, health, public policy, sustainability and technology. We’re challenging these 100 women and men to do more and be more. They’ll join a community of enterprising, socially-minded leaders working as a force for good, and highlight the potential for innovation to correct the shortcomings in our economies and societies,” said John Dutton, Head of the Forum of Young Global Leaders at the World Economic Forum in a statement.

She now joins the league of Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Larry Page, the co-founder of Google and Skype founder Nicholas Zennström who are past nominees of the honour.

Article written by:
Bob Koigi
Bob Koigi
Author, Contributing Editor
Embed from Getty Images
In Sub Saharan Africa up to 60 per cent of the adult population do not have a formal bank account.
Embed from Getty Images
Yet mobile phone penetration continues to grow in the region faster than in any other region globally.
Embed from Getty Images
Ordinary people benefit from the adoption of technology by creating money accounts and wallets.
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