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#30Under30: Technology Category 2019



This year marks the fifth milestone annual FORBES AFRICA 30 under 30 list, and we have introduced a new category of game-changers. Together, they are 120 in total across four sectors: business, technology, creatives and sport. Meet the class of 2019, a stellar collection of entrepreneurs and innovators rewriting rules and taking bold new risks to take Africa to the future.

The list is in no particular order:

Nthabiseng Mosia, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

1. Nthabiseng Mosia, 28, Sierra Leone

Co-founder and CMO: Easy Solar

Nthabiseng Mosia grew up on the outskirts of the township of Alexandra in South Africa, and while attending high school, load shedding (scheduled power cuts) and electricity black outs would affect her studies.

“So when the lights went out, we lived by candlelight. The first few nights, it was fun and somewhat romantic,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

But a few months into the electricity crisis, the novelty wore off.

Mosia was frustrated while studying for her final high school exams under a dim light of a wick, not knowing at the time that this frustration would be the catalyst that drove her to start Easy Solar.

If load shedding was affecting her to this extent, then how much more for millions of Africans who do not have daily electricity?

Mosia made it her personal mission to fix this problem.

While studying Global Energy Policy and Finance at Columbia University in 2015, she started Easy Solar, along with her co-founders Eric Silverman and Alexandre Tourre.

They founded the business in Sierra Leone, where almost 90% of people did not have electricity at the time.

They introduced an entry-level solar product into their business model in an attempt to really target low-income customers.

Today, Easy Solar supplies, installs and services all variety of solar systems.

They also sell solar PV panels, PV mounting structures, solar charge controllers, solar inverters, lead-acid and Li-Ion batteries.

Easy Solar has also expanded to Liberia, and plans to expand into Guinea in the next few years.

Evans Akanno, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

2. Evans Akanno, 29, Nigeria

Founder and CEO: Cregital

With N600,000 ($1,600), Evans Akanno founded Cregital, a creative and digital platform, in 2015.

The company designs and builds websites and platforms for African startups and corporates.

“Running a startup in Nigeria with a lean budget, especially in our economy, requires a lot of courage,” he says.

This is because some of the challenges they face include the high cost of power and the liability of the internet in Nigeria.

However, Akanno says in starting the company, he had to make sure it was bootstrapped from the beginning especially when building the team as he says they hired “attitude over skill”.

Over the years, he has won numerous awards including the 2018 Nigeria Technology Awards as the Tech Young Achiever of the Year and the 2016 Future Awards Africa Prize for Creative Professional.

Last year, he founded another tech platform, called Farmkart, which enables people to bank in agriculture by investing in fish farming. In the same year, he also launched Acts of Random Kindness, Cregital’s CSR initiative to give back to the community.

Michael Paul Mollel, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

3. Michael Paul Mollel, 29, Tanzania

Co-founder and Executive Chairman: Jimz Technologies Co. Ltd

Michael Paul Mollel is taking a college startup to the world.

He started providing IT support when he was only 15 years old.

He would sell IT equipment such as dongles and flash drives to students and professors.

In 2015, while attending university, the IT enthusiast sought to solve an existing gap at his institution.

“While pursuing an MBA, I kept noticing that both students and professors had problems with their laptops [and] had no where they could rely to have their laptops attended and fixed,” he says.

That’s when Jimz Technologies Co. Ltd was born.

Initially, they only had enough money to pay for the first month’s rent, including a chair and table.

A year later, clients started filing in and the contracts for IT support grew.

Now, their reach is global and they also provide IT support services for international companies such as Tetra Tech and Winrock International.

“It is possible for an African college startup to go miles; even the sky is not the limit anymore. Our team has grown from two to 10; and our sales have almost quadrupled in 2018,” he says.

Next year, Mollel says they plan to open an office in Kigali; part of his plan in taking his college startup everywhere.

Nureshka Viranna, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

4. Nureshka Viranna, 27, South Africa

Co-founder and Director: ShopLi

Nureshka Viranna grew up in Durban in South Africa and comes from a family of academics.

Despite being encouraged to pursue a similar route, Viranna’s passion was in marketing, technology and innovation.

So she quit her teaching job in 2015 to follow her dreams.

She co-founded an e-commerce company called ShopLi and broke every norm, becoming the first entrepreneur in her family.

“It was the best decision and financial investment I made,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

ShopLi is an e-commerce company that designs and develops online stores and catalogues for businesses that can’t afford high rentals or to pay salaries.

“They now had the ability to sell to anyone in the world and operate 24/7,” she says.

She currently employs a team of five.

At the end of last year, she was asked by a friend to assist her son with learning Afrikaans, but she couldn’t find any online resources to help.

This led her to found another business in 2019 called Lit Academy.

She created an online course focusing on video and study guides to help learners improve their marks.

“Lit Academy has given us the opportunity to make quality education available to learners, at a fraction of the cost of tuition. Our aim is to disrupt the education system in South Africa,” she says.

Viranna describes herself as an innovator, disruptor and entrepreneur and aims to become a leading woman in the e-commerce and digital space.

Jacob Rugano, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

5. Jacob Rugano, 29, Kenya

Co-founder and director: AfricarTrack International

Jacob Rugano founded a company called AfricarTrack International after developing a mobile-controlled road-accident control system that uses a mobile phone to reduce accidents on the road.

It all started when one of his cousins was involved in an accident.

“The accident was caused by a lorry driver who was driving while drunk and over-speeding. Several members of his family died in the accident,” he says.

This gave Rugano the impetus to start a tech company as a solution to help curb road accidents and in 2014, AfricarTrack International was born.

A programmed chip is installed inside the car which acts as a liaison between the car’s computer and the reporting and control system.

The system then collects data on whether the driver had been driving drunk, driving carelessly, as well as the location of the vehicle if hijacked.

“The sensor also automatically controls the car in case it is about to get involved in an accident, reducing the chances of an accident by over 48.67%,” he says.

 The company has won numerous awards including the Changemaker Of The Year at the  2016 African Achievers Awards in Sandton, South Africa.

He was also listed among the 2016 Top 40 Under 40 Men in Kenya by Business Daily.

Rugano is passionate about increasing the number of  African tech leaders and currently mentors a group of 150 every Sunday.

He plans to expand to South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria and install the technology in at least two million vehicles in Kenya.

Fred Oyetayo, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

6. Fred Oyetayo, 25, Nigeria

Founder and CEO: Fresible

Seven years ago, Fred Oyetayo created a digital agency from his university dorm room, unaware that one day it would erupt into a multi-million naira business. Oyetayo is a trained lawyer but enjoyed the digital space more.

Fresible, his enterprise, provides services such as website development, software development, digital marketing and events management.

Oyetayo says the company has trained over 60 individuals in entrepreneurship, digital marketing and web/app development.

Some of their present and past clients include Afe Babalola University, the Federal High Court Nigeria, Dangote Group and First Bank of Nigeria.

In August 2018, the company launched (formerly law repository), a web application that uses artificial intelligence to provide legal services to small and medium scale businesses in Nigeria.

Oyetayo plans on his company being one of the largest tech companies in the world.

Alpha Nury, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

7. Alpha Nury, 29, Senegal

Founder and CEO: Jamaa Funding

Alpha Nury left his career in finance, working with global companies, Chanel, Apple and L’Oréal to start his own business aimed at financing others.

With €10,000 ($548,617) in savings, Nury launched Jamaa Funding in 2015.

The business is a crowdfunding site aimed at humanitarian and solidarity-based projects using time and money to fund projects all over the world.

To date, they have had numerous successfully-funded projects such as the creation of a farming school, overcoming sickle cell disease, green turtle protection, funding a football team and building a new school.

Nury’s platform has had successful campaigns with 24,102 supported people in Africa, 150 supported people in Asia, and 40 in America.

“Joy is the feeling that we felt the first time a project was funded on the platform and it is a feeling that we continue to have with the same intensity every time. Seeing dreams come true is our reason to exist as a company,” Nury tells FORBES AFRICA.

“By 2020, we hope to have impacted 500,000 people via our platform.”

Some of his biggest milestones have been collaborating with the World Bank and the African Union. Tropics Magazine shortlisted him as one of theMost Influential People in Business in 2018, alongside Amina J. Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the UN.

Hansley Noruthun, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

8. Hansley Noruthun, 27, Mauritius

Founder: Mauritius Space and Science Foundation

Hansley Noruthun was born and raised in the village of Triolet in Mauritius, where being a part of the space industry was just a dream.

Now, it has become his reality.

Noruthun is the founder of the Mauritius Space and Science Foundation (MSSF), a community in Mauritius for space, aeronautics and science professionals, students and enthusiasts.

They tackle local and regional issues, using space applications and technologies in areas such as agribusiness, maritime, climate change, earth observation, health and engagement of youth and women in the sector.

It all started when he received a full scholarship by the UK Space Agency and European Centre for Space Applications and Telecommunications to complete the Space Studies Program 2015 hosted by NASA’s Glenn Research Center in US.

The following year, he received the Space Generation Leadership Award  by the Space Generation Advisory Council in support of the United Nations Programme on Space Applications and elected the National Point of Contact (NPoC) for Mauritius.

This gave him the exposure to further develop MSSF.

He recruited a team of 18 from other African countries, and together, they managed to secure a proposal to host the African Space Generation Workshop series in Mauritius.

“The foundation also managed to connect over 25% of the national general public reaching over 300,000 out of the 1.3 million population,” Noruthun says.

Noruthun’s future plans are stratospheric.

“We will be starting with our exclusive National Space Tour, that will be running globally. This is a new project part of the agenda for the foundation that will be launched this year,” he says.

Schizzo Thomson, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

9. Schizzo Thomson, 29, Malawi

Founder and Managing Director: Sky Energy

Power failure in Malawi is a prominent issue.

But the lightbulb came on for a young Malawian electrical engineer from the city of Blantyre.

Schizzo Thomson left the company he was working with in Ireland, returned to Malawi, and registered his business in 2015.

Sky Energy designs, supplies and installs solar energy and power backup systems.

“I have always said that I never started my business with any money but I started with an idea,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

One of his biggest projects was designing and installing a 40KW solar power system at Mulanje Mission Hospital.

Thompson currently employs 32. They have since expanded to Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.

Wilford Mwanza, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

10. Wilford Mwanza, 29, Zimbabwe

Founder and CEO: FordOlutions

Wilford Mwanza once attempted to build a power station to increase the efficiency of the national electricity utility in Zimbabwe.

He initiated and drafted a roadmap for the establishment of a smart grid in Zimbabwe, with assistance from the management at the Zimbabwe Electricity Transmission and Distribution Company (ZETDC).

This spark of electricity resulted in the creation of Mwanza’s company, FordOlutions. It provides simplified practical training on the applications of robotics using NXT Lego robots for SMEs, private businesses, and government organizations in Zimbabwe.

“To date, we have trained over 1,000 participants, done data analytics which assisted our clients to have better insights in decision making, inspired high schools kids to dream brighter of a future with robotics,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

The 29-year-old electrical engineer has big plans for Africa’s Fourth Industrial Revolution.

“We believe we are tapping a very green opportunity and have the privilege of directing how the narrative will go in Africa with regard to robotics and automation,” he says.

Last year, he was one of 60 Global Shapers at the World Economic Forum on Africa.

At the 2017 Enactus World Cup in London, he won the Enactus World Wide Global Alumni of the Year, where he was representing  Zimbabwe.

Vena Arielle Ahouansou, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

11. Vena Arielle Ahouansou, 25, Benin

Co-founder and CEO: KEA Medicals

In 2016, Vèna Arielle Ahouansou was part of a delivery team that successfully delivered two babies. But, unfortunately, the delivery caused a haemorrhage in the mother and a blood transfusion was needed immediately.

It took the doctors 10 minutes to find her blood type as the mother was fighting for her life.

Sadly, it was 10 minutes took long. The mother died that night.

It was a sad and unfortunate loss for Ahouansou and her team.

Since then, she vowed to find a solution to improve healthcare in Africa.

That solution was KEA Medicals, established in 2016.

It is a digital platform that connects health structures through a single database, the Universal Medical Identity (IMU), to facilitate the feedback of the medical history of patients.

As a patient, your medical record can be accessed from anywhere and at any time.

Today, they have over 1,700 health professionals linked on the platform.

They currently employ a team of 15, mixed with tech engineers, medical doctors, communications and laws specialists.

“My vision is to ensure an easy and equitable access to healthcare for people around the world by breaking down barriers to access to healthcare for them,” Ahouansou tells FORBES AFRICA.

In the next four years, she plans to connect 500 million Africans to one million medical doctors.

Ahouansou is also a Techstars accelerator program alumni, GSMA Ecosystem Accelerator program and Tony Elumelu Foundation Entrepreneurship Programme fellow.

Damilola Olokesusi, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

12. Damilola Olokesusi, 29, Nigeria

Co-founder and CEO: Shuttlers Logistics Company

With 40% of all cars in Nigeria registered in Lagos, commuting can be stressful.

Fortunately, Damilola Olokesusi has come up with an innovative way to move with ease in the city.

Her business, Shuttlers Logistics Company, uses web and mobile app technology to enable users to book trips along fixed routes at 60%-80% less than ride-hailing services.

You can book a seat, make payments and track updates of your transportation in real-time in a car shared with other professionals and with free wi-fi services.

Olokesusi and her co-founder used their savings to start the business after her sister was robbed by armed men disguised as public bus drivers, on her way to work.

“These horrific experiences created a need for me to create a solution that my colleagues, friends, family and I could use,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

As the business grew, they received grants from the World Bank, Airtel and Sahara Energy, all of which allowed them to go from one to 22 routes in Lagos.

“One of my biggest highlights within the business [was] meeting with President [Muhammadu] Buhari and Vice-President [Yemi] Osinbajo at a private meeting… where I had the opportunity of explaining what we do at Shuttlers.

“[The] same day, I pitched in front of Mark Zuckerberg, the best part was him mentioning Shuttlers in one of his Facebook posts,” she shares.

Among the awards she has won, she was one of the winners of Women In Africa for the Digital and Technology Award 2017. She is also a World Economic Forum Global Shaper.

She powers on.

Diana Esther Wangari, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

13. Diana Esther Wangari, 27, Kenya

Co-founder and Chief Medical Officer: Sagitarix

Diana Esther Wangari was a bright-eyed medical student who had dreams of specializing in neurosurgery.

But instead, when she was introduced to the realities of the health care system in Kenya, her dreams changed.

“I was overwhelmed by a sense of waste and lost opportunities. It always seemed to me that we could be doing so much better,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

As a result, she ventured into health communication and entrepreneurship to bridge the gap between the health system and doctors, policy-makers and patients.

In 2016, she co-founded Sagitarix, a digital platform that facilitates the direct distribution of drugs to those most in need, with a focus on patients with chronic diseases.

The company launched an app called iSikCure which allows patients to place orders for drugs.

The medicine is then delivered on the same day.

They also introduced a subsidiary company, Checkups Medical Centres, a low-cost rapid diagnostics medical clinic which uses technology.

Last year, they were able to distribute medical supplies worth over $200,000.

They currently have five clinics, four in rural areas and one in an urban area.

Wangari says they plan to open up four more urban clinics by June 2020.

Her organization has won the Get In The Ring Contest 2018 in Hague, Netherlands.

They were also finalists at the SBC AfriTech 2018 in Paris, France.

Chinedu Azodoh, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

14. Chinedu Azodoh, 29, Nigeria

Co-founder and Chief Growth Officer: Metro Africa Xpress (MAX)

“You need to have been trapped in Lagos traffic to truly understand the strong sentiments it evokes in Lagosians and visitors alike,” Chinedu Azodoh tells FORBES AFRICA, leading to the essence of his business.

Metro Africa Xpress (MAX) is a bike-hailing service that allows passenger or packages to move around Lagos conveniently at the tap of a button.

Azodoh and his co-founder, Adetayo Bamiro, came up with the idea of MAX as part of an assignment while studying at MIT Sloan School, in Massachusetts in the US.

They then returned to Lagos and started the business in 2014 with five staff members and three riders in 2014.

“We were both involved in every part of the business, which is to say that we rode the motorcycles, and made deliveries,” Adozoh says.

Today, they have 70 employees and over 1,000 bike riders.

To date, the company has won numerous awards and has been featured by CNN, Business Day and Techstars.

In 2017, they were also one of the 20 top African startups selected for the World Bank Group’s digital acceleration program.

They were also announced as one of the Business Day’s Top 100 Fastest Growing SMEs in Nigeria.

Shoriwa Shaun Benjamin, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

15. Shoriwa Shaun Benjamin, 29, Zimbabwe

Co-founder: Simba Solutions

At the age of 16, Shaun Benjamin taught himself computer programming and it was not long before he mastered the trade.

Today, he is the co-founder and head software developer of Simba Solutions, formerly known as N-Sho Technologies.

The company provides business ICT solutions such as mobile apps, websites and systems, cloud servers and video production.

Benjamin started the company in 2008 with his brother when they lived in Cape Town.

Soon after, they relocated to their home country when the Zimbabwean market was embracing mobile app technology.

“This proved to be a stepping-stone to bigger and more diverse technology projects,” says Benjamin.

Their biggest highlight, to date, was developing a mobile app and web portal for the UNESCO ICT Essentials for Teachers program to equip rural teachers with the essential skills to teach IT.

They have since created opportunities for 15 small enterprises, supported six families and carried out 20 community initiatives.

At the 2018 Agricultural Show, he programmed an advanced virtual reality platform for the Zimbabwe Power Company.

“It is those noble and genuine reactions across members of all ages, from your five-year-olds to your octogenarians, that are priceless, those assurances that your technology is not only impacting an inanimate corporate person, but real people with real lives,” he says.

He plans to create a global brand and is looking at setting up an internship program for young people interested in tech.

Karidas Tshintsholo, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

16. Karidas Tshintsholo, 24, and Matthew Piper, 25, South Africa

Founders: Khula App

When Karidas Tshintsholo and Matthew Piper moved to Johannesburg to start a business, they slept on the floor for six months, could not afford a bed, or afford to pay rent and electricity.

But they still got up every day, put on suits and tried their best to make it work.

In the end, it was worth it.

The duo now spend their lives as award-winning entrepreneurs, traveling abroad and staying in five-star hotels.

After founding their first business, they made their first million at 23.

However, it was their second business that developed their knack for entrepreneurship.

The duo are reaping what they sowed through their agri-tech business called Khula.

It is a platform that connects producers to customers who are looking for locally-grown fresh produce.

It also helps them make deliveries; and provides a platform for farmers to get mentorship.

Last year, they won the MTN App Of The Year and were ranked one of the world’s top 10 social ventures through The Chivas Venture.

In the next five to 10 years, they plan to scale the business throughout the SADC, Brazil and India.

Courtney Bentley, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

17. Courtney Bentley 29, South Africa

Co-founder and CEO: Vizibiliti Insight

With just R10 ($0.69) and no formal business experience, Courtney Bentley started his first business,  ZA Support, providing Apple product solutions to individuals, SMEs and Mac Pro clients in South Africa.

However, when he tried to apply for credit for the business, he was denied it because he did not have a  credit score.

As a result, he sought to find a solution for this problem he shared with millions of South Africans.

“I was so naïve when I first started out. I did not have money to go to university, and I had no financial background so, I really didn’t know anything about the financial system or how it worked,” he says.

His objective was to build a system that could build track-records for individuals and businesses which didn’t require them to incur debt, and his fintech company Vizibiliti Insight sprung from this challenge. In 2016, Bentley co-founded the business as an alternative credit scoring business, using artificial intelligence for the financial services industry, without an individual having to incur debt to prove that they are not a credit risk.

They assess data from individuals, the credit bureau, transactional data, financial analytics and macroeconomic data sets..

The business has analyzed more than R12 billion ($807 million) in loans contracts and has alternative credit intelligence on over 21 million South African consumers and businesses.

“Our goal, in the next 18 months, is to be the number of one most accurate alternative credit scoring platform in South Africa,” he says.

In 2017, the company won the Mercedes-Benz Predictive Manufacturing Award and last year, they were nominated for the CNBC Africa All Africa Business Leaders Awards Innovator of the Year Award.

Josh Okpata and Tochukwu Mbanugo member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

18. Josh Okpata, 27 and Tochukwu Mbanugo, 29, Nigeria

Founders: Eazyhire

In 2016, Josh Okpata and Tochukwu Mbanugo thought it would be the end of their business.

While they were in their incubator phase, someone had stolen their business idea and replicated it online.

Their business Eazyhire, a digital peer-to-peer sharing platform that enables individuals and businesses rent items, was gaining a bad reputation.

“He created an unregistered company called Easyhire. Our tagline was ‘Hire, Lease, Rent,’ while his was ‘Rent, Lease, Hire’. Our domain was Eazy hire with a ‘Z’, his was ‘Easyhire’ with an ‘S’. Even the color coding was replicated,” recalls Mbanugo.

They received an overwhelming amount of  backlash from the media and prospective clients.

But that did not deter them.

It took a massive PR campaign and hard work to win back the hearts of Nigerians.

Eventually, they succeeded and were awarded Nigerian Technology Start-up of 2016 by the Nigerian Internet Registration Association. Together, they have grown the business from less than $2,000 in 2015 to an estimated $4 million today. 

“We have processed over 60,000 transactions and are projected to get to 100,000 by the end of 2019,” Mbanugo says. They currently have 24 full-time employees in two African countries and 22 contract staff in three countries, including Spain.

Some of their biggest clients include Dangote Group, Siemens, Google and Intel.

Muhammad Salisu Abdullahi, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

19. Muhammad Salisu Abdullahi, 28, Nigeria

Co-founder and Managing Director: eTrash2Cash

Muhammad Salisu Abdullahi is a young Nigerian turning waste into wealth.

He co-founded eTrash2Cash in 2016, a social enterprise business, in northern Nigeria, using technology to exchange e-waste for money.

Using the website, mobile app and SMS platform, low-income communities can earn money in exchange for their everyday waste.

The waste is then sorted, processed and recycled into products such as organic compost from food wastes, raw material pellets from plastic wastes, and tissue paper from paper waste.

Since inception, they have created 27 social micro-entrepreneurs, collected 106,222kg of waste, recycled 99,348km of waste and paid N5,575,273 ($15,487) in incentives.

They have since partnered with Microsoft, Co-Creation Hub Nigeria and more.

eTrash2Cash is currently self-sustainable and 50% of the profits are re-invested back into the business.

“[Our goal is] to make eTrash2Cash an enviro-fintech African brand, which helps people at the bottom of the pyramid to monetize all trash they generate and redeem instant cash to improve their lives,” Abdullahi says.

He plans to reach 100,000 low-income earners by 2025.

Abdullahi is a Mandela Washington Fellow and an alumnus of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program.

Silas Adekunle, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

20. Silas Adekunle, 26, Nigeria

CEO and Co-Founder: Reach Robotics

Silas Adekunle was only a young boy from Nigeria when he dreamed of contributing to the world of modern robotics.

In 2010, he took his first step towards his dream. He went on to study robotics at the University of the West of England.

“I had visions of Transformers in real life, [but] the reality was quite different. I couldn’t find robots that were functioning [the way] I, and indeed most kids, imagined they should. So, I set out to make one,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

Five years ago, he made his first prototype.

It was the MekaMon, the world’s first augmentative reality gaming robot.

Together with his co-founders Chris Beck and John Rees, they spent years building the business and developing the MekaMon technology.

In 2017, they launched the world’s first AR gaming robot and secured $7.5 million in investments.

The same year, they launched with Apple in the UK and the US.

This year, they plan to expose MekaMon to advanced students and allow the technology to be used for study and research at university and postgraduate level. Adekunle plans to enable young Africans to achieve their STEM objectives. 

He has begun executing a robotics and engineering pilot program in Nigeria and plans to expand it to other African countries.

“All of us at Reach believe that leading from entertainment is the key to creating the next generation of STEM pioneers,” he says.

Joshua Chibueze, Somto Ifezue, and Odunayo Eweniyi, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

21. Joshua Chibueze, 26, Somto Ifezue, 28, and Odunayo Eweniyi, 26, Nigeria

Founders: PiggyVest

Joshua Chibueze, Somto Ifezue and Odunayo Eweniyi can happily say they have helped Nigerians save $15 million.

The former university mates, at Covenant University in Nigeria, previously co-founded in 2014, a digital job site in Africa with a database of pre-screened candidates.

But that was not all.

Two years later, they founded PiggyVest (formerly, unaware that it would one day become a million-dollar company.

PiggyVest is a financial technology platform for online savings and investing, helping the youth improve their saving culture.

“PiggyVest was born out of the need to help people create a sustainable means of saving,” Eweniyi tells FORBES AFRICA.

The business has won a number of awards, including the Future Awards Africa Prize In Technology 2018, the Business Day Top 100 SMEs, and the 2017 Village Capital Fintech.

Eweniyi has been recognized as the SME Entrepreneur of the Year at Wealth and Society West Africa for 2019.

Uka Eje, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

22. Uka Eje, 29, Nigeria

Co-founder and CEO: Thrive Agric

Uka Eje used to sell KFC and catfish pepper soup in schools. He even went on to run a food e-commerce site. But these initiatives failed.

However, all those challenges culminated in him becoming the business leader he is today, as the CEO of Thrive Agric, selected as one of the most promising companies of the year at the Africa CEO Forum last year.

Thrive Agric is an agricultural technology-enabled company that works with smallholder farmers in Nigeria to give them access to finance.

They have been able to fund over 15,000 farmers across Nigeria.

They have a permanent staff of 96 and 14 ad-hoc staff.

One of their biggest achievements to date was being selected to participate in the Google Developers Launchpad Space.

As for Eje, he was part of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) 2018.

He is also a Mandela Washington Fellow.

“Our vision is to build an Africa that feeds the world and itself, and to get this done, we plan to have boarded close to five million farmers in the next seven years,” he says.

Melissa Mwale, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

23. Melissa Mwale, 29, Zimbabwe

Founder: Hive Incorporation, and co-founder: CryptoGem

Melissa Mwale is the founder of three organizations, two of them operating in the technology space.

In 2016, Mwale was looking for a professional job while selling second-hand clothes out of the boot of her car.

 Tragedy struck.

“The death of my eldest brother when he was only 33 years old gave me a rude awakening. I began to search for my purpose. After deep introspection, I realized I was strongly passionate about Africa,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

The entrepreneur at heart wanted to find something that would not only change her family, but change the lives of Africans, especially women.

As a result, she started Hive Incorporation, an online fashion store.

She sold her car and laptop and used the money to start the business. The sacrifices paid off because as a result of business success, she was able to buy two brand new ones.

The platform has a secure online shopping service with multiple payment methods to choose from such as Debit Visa Cards, Zimswitch, electronic funds transfer, PayPal, EcoCash, Wallet One, Zipit, Bitcoin and cash on delivery.

Her love for digital and e-commerce led her to co-found CryptoGem Global.

It is a peer-to-peer bitcoin exchange that allows cryptocurrency traders to trade for e-monies or local monies.

She was invited by Afrobytes, an African tech marketplace, to share her journey in the e-commerce and blockchain industry in Paris the same year.

“Sharing the African story with international investors made my dream more tangible. I believe in creating solutions for Africa that work for Africa instead of duplicating the West,” she says.

“In the midst of the difficulties currently being faced by my country, Zimbabwe, I still dare to hope, I still believe in solutions that will help everyone at large,” Mwale adds.

One of her goals is to mentor other women in business and create opportunities that might create 100 female millionaire entrepreneurs in Africa by 2030, through an organization she founded called Messe Foundation.

Eric Muli, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

24. Eric Muli, 27, Kenya

Founder and CEO: Odyssey Capital

At only 27, Eric Muli’s company has been listed by the London Stock Exchange Group as one of the companies to inspire Africa.

But his company isn’t the only inspiring thing.

After finishing high school, Muli received a scholarship to attend Babson College in Wellesley in the US and this was where his journey as an entrepreneur began.

He started his first venture, a marketing company called Jossle, while studying.

At the time, Odyssey were recognized by Business Insider as one of the best college startups, along with Uber and Microsoft.

Muli ran the company successfully but something was amiss.

“On graduating in 2014, I had a burning desire to return home and begin building a company that would impact the communities I was raised in,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

The following year, he launched Odyssey Capital, a non-deposit-taking financial institution which provides financial products and services to individuals and businesses in the lower to middle income bracket in Kenya.

With a strict policy of 50/50 male-to-female hiring policy, they have since built a team of over 90 employees, 500 sales agents and built partnerships with Samsung, Huawei, TECNO Mobile, Walmart and Airtel.

This year, Muli is expanding into Uganda and Tanzania.

“We are building an African entity and not just a local entity,” he says.

Eric Rutayisire, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

26. Eric Rutayisire, 28, Rwanda

Founder and CEO: Charis UAS

Eric Rutayisire was born in Kinshasa, Congo, to Rwandan parents who had fled the country due to the political instability and persecution against the Tutsis at the time.

In 2010, he had the opportunity to study at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities in the US.

That’s where he fell in love with what would form the business he runs today.

With the $1,000 he invested from his savings, he bought drone parts and built one.

“The building was successful and as I started flying, I saw a great opportunity for business not in the US but in my home country of Rwanda,” he says.

Rutayisire set out to do so and his business, Charis UAS, was born in 2014.

The company provides rapid and high-quality aerial imagery to various industries to support intelligent decision-making.

But it wasn’t easy.

“Many were sceptical about a young African building such technology and many told me it was going to fail. Many times, we were chased out of offices because people thought that we were just kids playing around,” he says.

To prove the value of the technology, Rutayisire worked an entire year free in 2015 and the demand started pouring in.

Now, he employs 16 full-time staff and has opened new offices in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.

One of the projects the company worked on was to use drones to fight malaria.

Last year, the company was voted one of the Companies to Inspire Africa by the London Stock Exchange Group.

Rutayisire plans to expand the business into 15 countries and reach 15 million farmers through his company’s services.

Wissal Farsal and Khalid Machchate, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

27. Wissal Farsal, 27, and Khalid Machchate, 26, Morocco

Founders: K&W Technologies

Wissal Farsal and Khalid Machchate are a duo passionate about technology.

Three years ago, the two founded K&W Technologies International.

It’s a digital solutions firm specializing in software and hardware innovative products in a secure and data-driven process.

They design brands, develop solutions and scale strategies, from machine-learning to analytics, digital marketing and protective cybersecurity solutions.

“We created our first product, Skill Learn, that earned us 5,000 active users in its first four months,” they tell FORBES AFRICA.

In 2017, they were awarded by DEMO Africa as Entrepreneur of the Year and Africa Lion for designing their second product called SOS Santé which is a software and hardware solution used to detect road accidents, and alert the closest emergency service.

Today, they have raised a seed funding round to industrialize SOS Santé and deliver their first batch in Morocco to CACF Insurance and Siemens.

 They were also accepted into the Silicon Valley’s acceleration program.

Their goal is to create innovative solutions with social impact for Africa.

Tyrone Adams and Siyabonga Thomas Tiwana, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

27. Tyrone Adams, 28,  and Siyabonga Thomas Tiwana, 29, South Africa

Founders: Skywalk Innovations

Having met in their third year at Cape Peninsula University of Technology, this duo founded a business out of their shared passion for technology and entrepreneurship.

While Tyrone Adams was working on a project digitizing bookings for a personal trainer, he brought Siyabonga Thomas Tiwana on board to assist, and together they made magic.

They launched the product and it was a success.

Skywalk Innovations is a tech hub and software engineering firm focused on digital transformation to solve business problems, unlock new potential revenue models or drive down inefficiencies in business processes.

They assist businesses to develop mobile applications, in innovative research, and digital transformation and software integrations.

“We wanted to become Africa’s technology partner,” says Adams.

And so, they set out to do just that. Their clients were local and international, ranging from different industries such as government, agriculture, finance and education.

Their current team of nine is made up of engineers, business analysts and user interface/user experience experts, a majority of whom are also Cape Peninsula University of Technology alumni.

“Our goal is to be the biggest software engineering company in Africa. We are aiming towards a turnover of over R100 million ($6.7 million) in five years and to be listed in a stock exchange,” says Tiwana.

Chika Madubuko, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

28. Chika Madubuko, 27, Nigeria

Co-founder and CEO: Greymate Care

When Chika Madubuko’s grandmother was bedridden due to diabetes, her family found it difficult to care for her.

“We were all busy and couldn’t provide her with the care she deserved. Hiring a caregiver for her was so complicated. Sometimes, miles were traveled in futility to interview one caregiver, and we often ended up with a poorly-trained caregiver,” she recalls.

As a result, she decided to create a business as a solution to this problem.

Greymate Care is a digital platform that connects patients to an insured and professional caregiver 24/7.

Madubuko launched the business with $4,500 in Abuja in 2016.

Her team has since grown to a staff of 20.

She plans to expand into other African countries such as Kenya and South Africa.

Among her accolades, Madubuko was a finalist for the She Leads Africa Accelerator 2017.

She also received an award for Social Innovation by Women in Africa Philanthropy Entrepreneurs Club Programme.

Dorcas Owinoh, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

29. Dorcas Owinoh, 28, Kenya

Co-founder and Director: LakeHub

Dorcas Owino was born in Kibera, one of the informal settlements in Kenya.

Now, she works at improving technology access to girls from similar backgrounds.

She co-founded LakeHub with her team at university. It is a technology and social innovation hub in Kisumu that supports a community of creatives, programmers, hackers, designers and entrepreneurs; a majority of whom are girls aged between 13 and 19 years old.

One of their biggest successes was in 2017 when a group of girls from LakeHub were the only team picked to represent Africa at the 2017 Technovation Challenge, sponsored by Google, Verizon and the United Nations in Silicon Valley, US.

“I feel strongly that as women, we have to own our careers and destinies, because no one else is going to be as invested in your success as you will be. Also, it is imperative that women find both mentors and sponsors who can help them guide and navigate the landmines along the way,” Owinoh says.

Some of her company’s partners are Siemens Stiftung, Pluralsight, Hivos, and Segal Family Foundation.

Last year, she was a runner-up at the Queens Young Leaders awards.

Ndabenhle Ngulube, Matthew Smith, and Marnus van Heerden, member of Forbes Africa 30 under 30 class of 2019. Picture: Supplied

30. Ndabenhle Ngulube, 28, Matthew Smith, 26, and Marnus van Heerden, 29, South Africa

Founders: Pineapple App

With a snap on your mobile phone, you can now insure anything under a minute thanks to this trio.

Marnus van Heerden, Matthew Smith and Ndabenhle Ngulube founded the Pineapple app in 2017.

It is a peer-to-peer, decentralized digital form of fast insurance for absolutely anything except vehicles and houses.

Hannover-Re, one of the largest reinsurance groups in the world, ran a global competition to select a team that would come up with an idea to disrupt the insurance space.

Van Heerden, Smith and Ngulube were the lucky ones to represent Johannesburg and were incubated for six months with salaries and the Pineapple app was born.

“Laden with paper intensive on-boarding procedures, and hidden behind a veil of complexity, the insurance industry has become somewhat of a landmark for innovation,” they tell FORBES AFRICA.

The next year, they secured R5.2 million ($359,412) in seed investment from Lireas Holdings.

Since then, they have built a community of 13,000 users.

In 2018, at the Lireas conference, they received a certificate of excellence as the Most Innovative Company and won the MTN business award for the Best Consumer Solution.

This year, they plan to expand their services to insure vehicles at the snap of a picture and they plan to expand to the US as well.

Their plan is to become the go-to insurance product for the “sharing economy”.

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Cover Story

The People’s Banker: ‘Entrepreneurship Means Folding Up Your Sleeves And Working’



James Mwangi; images by Paul Kariuki Munene for FORBES AFRICA IN Nairobi

In 1993, Dr James Mwangi walked away from a promising career at one of Kenya’s largest banks, to join the Equity Building Society. Three decades on, few could have predicted his entrepreneurial leadership would work to transform not just Equity but the financial services of the region. FORBES AFRICA meets the man behind East Africa’s billion-dollar banking empire.

Dr James Mwangi, Managing Director and CEO of Kenya’s Equity Group, is a captivating figure. His trademark smile and down-to-earth demeanour set him apart from the traditional banker. But Mwangi isn’t your run-of-the-mill chief executive. His journey to the C-suite has been fuelled by sheer resolve, belligerent bravado, and an uncanny concern for his customers.

It’s hard to believe that the force behind East Africa’s pioneering billion-dollar banking brand grew up in circumstances far removed in rural Nyagatugu, a tiny village flanking the Aberdare mountains in central Kenya.

“I am a product of my upbringing [and] it has [had] a significant influence on how I see things today… [but] my village of Nyagatugu was not enough to say that I conquered Africa,” declares Mwangi from his office at Equity’s corporate headquarters in Upperhill, Nairobi’s swanky business district, in an interview with FORBES AFRICA in July.

The banker describes his childhood as humble, dignified but fraught with difficulty. Born in 1962 to peasant farmers, Mwangi’s parents had no formal education and lived apart from what he calls the ‘monetary society’. As a boy, he had never met anyone who owned a bank account or even fathomed being served by any of the country’s banks which, at the time, only catered to a privileged few.

“It was a simple life. As boys, we grazed cows and goats… we hunted wild animals like rabbits. Growing up, we didn’t know [if] people were ‘well-off’ or [if] people were ‘poor’, we were all equals. [As a community], we built houses together, tilled the land together, and even socialized together at village dances,” he reminisces.

While it may seem contradictory, it was this deeply communal atmosphere that inspired the business that Mwangi built.

Founded in 1984, Equity did not start its commercial life as a bank but as a mutual society trading as the Equity Building Society (EBS). Back then, as Kenya was forging a new national identity, most banks were hesitant to provide its vast population with even the most basic financial services. As an answer, indigenous building societies took root. However, while buffeted by good intention, these fledgling financial institutions were poorly run, leading many to ruin.

“I realized that there is no wealth without work! Entrepreneurship means folding up your sleeves and working. Profit is the reward.”

In the 1970s, while these societies were emerging, life’s challenges had already begun to shape the young Mwangi. Shortly after his birth, his family had suffered a major tragedy with the untimely death of his father. His mother, Grace Wairimu, was not only widowed but was left with seven children to raise on a meager income.

Never having gone to school herself, Mwangi’s mother, who was an anchor throughout his life, was adamant that all her children, including her daughters, would study; a controversial decision at the time. And she was not prepared to compromise.

To achieve this dream, Wairimu imposed a strict code of discipline in her household whilst encouraging an entrepreneurial fervor in her children. The family sold milk, tea, charcoal, and fruits to stay afloat. It was an important training ground for the young Mwangi.

“We were vending to eke out a living, to pay school fees, and to feed the family. My instinct for commerce [came] from [there]… I realized that there is no wealth without work! Entrepreneurship means folding up your sleeves and working. Profit is the reward,” he explains.

Nyagatugu was where Mwangi really cut his teeth in business. Then, owing to his academic talent, he had the opportunity to study the theory that governed his early entrepreneurial experiences, on scholarship, at the University of Nairobi several years later.

“Taking milk to the village restaurant or selling fruits to the village middleman, who would take them to [the market] in Nairobi, introduced me to the concept of ‘supply chains’. I realized that I was the ‘primary producer’ with my mother, the ‘middleman’ dealt with logistics, and then an ‘aggregator’, who was our face in the marketplace, played on volume and made more money than everyone else. The owner of the shop received [goods] from the ‘aggregator’ and sold them to ‘consumers’, through the ‘brand’ of his shop. I [finally] understood how the value created [in the supply chain] was shared.”

After university, Mwangi began his career as an auditor with Ernst & Young in Nairobi. Four years later, he moved to the now-defunct Trade Bank Group. Then an innovative financial services firm, founded in 1985, it quickly gained prominence as Kenya’s first attempt at mass-market banking.

Over a brief career at the bank, he climbed the ranks from teller to Group Financial Controller.

However, just as things were looking up, a familiar face came calling. In 1993, the EBS was in trouble, with debt on its books. Founder and Chairman, Dr Peter Munga, had known Mwangi as a boy and was convinced that the young banker was his only hope. By then, Equity had been declared insolvent and was facing dissolution.

“We came from the same village where I had developed the reputation of a ‘brilliant boy’. I was the first boy [from Nyagatugu] to get a university degree. I was also a youth leader in the church. In Nairobi, I had risen up to be a director at Trade Bank by the age of 28 [where] I had a reputation for being a sharp young man who was good at analytics and bold decision-making. All of that combined to package me, in the eyes of Dr Munga (and other EBS executives), as a credible, reliable person,” he says.

Munga’s confidence was not misplaced. Eager to oblige, 31-year-old Mwangi left his job at Trade Bank to take on a role as Director of Strategy at the stagnating society.

“I had gone with [EBS executives] to Central Bank because they had been condemned with closure. Suddenly, the Governor looks at me, as I try to plead their case for more time, and he says [to me], ‘if it was you who was talking of turnaround, then I would give you the opportunity’. I was between a rock and a hard place; if I hadn’t made the sacrifice to join them, then they would [have had] to close,” recalls Mwangi.

“I had a singular mind to build a bank for my mother who [I saw] bury savings under her mattress.”

So, in a seemingly fool-hardy move, the young banker agreed to take on mounting debt, unpaid salaries, dwindling membership, and declining morale at Equity. He even remortgaged his own house to inject some desperately needed cash into the business, inextricably linking his fate, and hard-won reputation, with that of the beleaguered building society.

 Given a carte blanche to transform the business and with no option of turning back, Mwangi was determined to meet his mandate.

“I had made the decision from an emotional aspect [and] I didn’t want to fail them. But I hadn’t realized that Equity was in [such] a bad state. It had not done any [debt] reconciliation, it had not published accounts for three years, and it had not had a board meeting for [over] two years. With everything at stake, it was only my entrepreneurial skill that would [eventually] get us out of insolvency.”

Mwangi’s reforms were more an attempt at reinvention rather than resuscitation. He began by re-training the organization’s remaining staff in the ethos that would later come to define them – customer care.

“We didn’t have money… the currency that created Equity was a passion to please the customer. I had a very small staff, none of whom had gone beyond Form 4 [Grade 10]. They didn’t have the skills but they had enthusiasm. We didn’t [even] have a meaningful product so we had to give our clients an experience that they had never had anywhere else and that they were willing to pay for,” he continues.

According to a Lagos Business School case study, Mwangi ensured that, in this way, his 12,000 customers were accorded with the dignity they deserved, breathing new life into the institution. This had an impact on both sides of the counter. Customers felt valued and continued to patronize the building society. On their side, staff felt confident and empowered even whilst working long hours.

 In 1997, things looked promising. Equity had cleared its debts, encouraging staff and customers to begin purchasing shares in the company. This time around, Mwangi made sure that records were meticulously kept.

“We didn’t have money… the currency that created Equity was a passion to please the customer.”

According to its website, Equity’s client accounts had grown exponentially from 32,000, in 1997, to 482,000 by 2005. This exemplary track record allowed Mwangi to raise capital from the European Union (EU), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and other institutional lenders to introduce computing technology to the building society, paving way for his ambitious expansion plans.

“Transaction times dropped from 30 minutes to five, queues disappeared, the process, including signatures and so on, was automated. Equity was now on a rapid, but solid, growth path,” notes Mwangi in a 2012 interview to African Business.

Steady growth made the building society’s transition to Equity Bank, in August 2004, possible. Two years later, the bank listed on the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE). Bolstered by further investment, Equity made its first foray into the region, listing on the Uganda Securities Exchange, as EBL in 2009.

Within five years, the bank was operating subsidiaries in Rwanda, Tanzania, and was among the first to open branches in South Sudan, Africa’s youngest country. By 2019, the bank had transformed, yet again, becoming Equity Group Holdings, with customers across East Africa.

In 2020, three decades after Mwangi made his debut, the Equity Group boasted a market capitalization of KES128.1 billion (approx. $1.3 billion) making it the largest banking outfit in East Africa, out-rivalling its closest competitors.

Equity’s tremendous transformation is due, in large part, to what is now known as ‘The Mwangi Model’. Thanks to this ground-breaking framework, Mwangi has been able to introduce a bulk of East Africa’s low-income population to the financial services sector. It is a model of inclusion that thrives on high volumes, low margins, and mass-market appeal.

“I realized [after leaving Trade Bank] that it was not the bank of the common man. My mother would have never been able to [open] an account there. Nobody in my village would have qualified for an account either. In fact, not even [EBS Founder] Dr Peter Munga would have qualified. I had a singular mind to build a bank for my mother who [I saw] bury savings under her mattress,” reveals Mwangi.

At the time, this drive to serve the so-called ‘unbankable’ population had only been attempted once before at the Grameen Bank founded in 1984 by Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus in Bangladesh. However, in Kenya, the model was risky, untested, and needed modifying.

“To be honest, [in 1993] I didn’t have a very good view of what Muhammad Yunus was doing. His [main product] was group lending, Equity started out with individual lending. I simply wanted to remove the barriers for people, like my mother, in opening bank accounts. We could do better than a mattress!”

This revolutionary perspective blew open the Kenyan banking sector. By eliminating monthly ledger fees, minimum balance requirements, and easing withdrawal limits, Equity ended up engineering a product that it could bank on.

By 2000, Mwangi says, Equity began signing on an average of 100 new clients per day. Going directly to its customers, initially, in weekly marketing campaigns in rural towns and villages, the bank eventually developed a network of third-party ‘banking agents’ to provide services across Kenya, even in the most far-flung corners.

Today, with mobile banking, Equity’s customers benefit from yet more convenience with access anywhere, any time, and at a minimal cost.

As a result, Mwangi’s entrepreneurial reward has extended far beyond profit. The ‘Mwangi Model’ has been recognized and analysed in case studies at some of the world’s most prestigious business schools including Stanford, Columbia, Harvard, and the Lagos Business School.

He is also the holder of numerous honorary degrees and the winner of countless awards for his commercial prowess. The first, and most memorable, he says, was the ‘Global Vision Award’, which Mwangi won alongside fellow micro-finance trailblazer, Muhammad Yunus, at the 2007 G8 Summit.

In 2012, after clinching the title of FORBES AFRICA ‘Person of the Year’, the Kenyan banker triumphed over 58 global business leaders to become the first African ever to be crowned Ernst & Young’s ‘World Entrepreneur of the Year’ in Monaco.

Mwangi, as Founding Chairman of the Equity Group Foundation (EGF), is also a prolific philanthropist. In May this year, EGF, with the Mastercard Foundation, pledged KES1.1 billion ($10.3 million), to Kenya’s Covid-19 response and to provide personal protective equipment to frontline medical staff in public hospitals. A portion of the endowment, KES300 million ($2.8 million), was a personal donation from the Mwangi family. Since March, the banker has been a member of the Covid-19 Emergency Fund Committee, a 10-member board peopled by the country’s most accomplished private sector leaders, convened by President Uhuru Kenyatta.

A key feature of the ‘Mwangi Model’ is its resilience which the current pandemic is putting to the test. In June, Equity saw its acquisition plans, through the highly-anticipated Altas Mara deal, in Rwanda, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia, halted. Instead, Mwangi announced that the Group was doubling down and would take a more conservative approach to see through the crisis. In an unprecedented move, shareholder dividend payments were also delayed to safeguard liquidity reserves.

“Covid-19 has been a turning point. We have analysed over 1,200 years of data, starting with the bubonic plague, to understand this [Covid-19] pandemic. The only way we can survive this is if [our] business is agile and resilient enough to navigate these times.”

While much is still uncertain, the pandemic has had some positives for Mwangi, a proud husband and family man.

“I am not a very outgoing character so ‘working from home’ has been very exciting for me. I’ve been able to spend more time with my family, which is important for me,” he says.

On another high note, Mwangi jests that Covid-19’s most visible impact has not been on his balance sheet but his waistline.

“I have been making the best of this crisis. Instead of 30 minutes, I am now able to put in at least two and a half hours at the gym. When I look at myself [in the mirror], my body is looking much better!”

Despite the present tumult, Mwangi insists that the fundamentals remain unchanged and only the things that matter get him up, at 3AM, to start his day.

“Seeing a smile in people’s lives still makes me happy. I’ve lived a full life and it’s humbling to know that the child my mother raised has not changed and [with the values she taught me] I’m able to share what I have with others. Thirty years later, it’s been a journey of changing one life at a time.” 

James Mwangi’s 10 Tips For Entrepreneurs During Covid-19

1. Stick and focus on purpose, use essence to filter dos and don’ts.

2. Protect the public license. Society will never forget the side or position you took when you had the chance.

3. Support the supply and value chain and recover. Bend backwards to accommodate your business’ unusual circumstances.

4. Adopt a shared prosperity model using social and impact investing.

5. Adapt to ‘the new normal’. Be aware Covid-19 might have irreversibly changed your world in terms of resource reallocation, priorities, tastes and preferences.

6. Be part of the solution to our shared global challenges in humanity, health, and livelihoods. Don’t run away from the reality your customers are facing.

7. Focus on the opportunities of the fourth industrial revolution like digitization, big data, technology and innovation.

8. Adopt an appropriate leadership style for these uncertain times. Provide visibility, hope and answers to concerns and when carrying your followers along with you.

9. Preserve cash, liquidity, and capital reserves for the long haul.

10. It is all about people: staff, customers, society and humanity.

– By Marie Shabaya

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Cover Story

Covid-19: Beyond The Lockdown: What Big Business Is Doing Now



Corporate Africa has to urgently pandemic-proof itself with new ideas, innovations and emotions, to merely stay alive fighting a marauding virus.

The verdant vineyards of Stellenbosch, a charming wine town in South Africa’s Western Cape province, offer breath-taking, panoramic views of the rolling hills, valleys and mountain ranges fringing them.

Only that there are no tourists to marvel at them now – and perhaps will not be for a long time to come.

Like good wine, these views will stay but who will savor them? 

Like every other industry on the planet, South Africa’s wine industry too, which produces some of the finest wines and spirits globally and employs millions in its tourism collaterals, has been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Even with the President Cyril Ramaphosa (whose leadership at this time was commended by world leaders and media) easing lockdown restrictions to Level 4 on May 1, liquor and wine sales are prohibited, and the big players say the local industry has taken a hit.

Michael Jordaan, Former banking CEO and wine entrepreneur

Former banking CEO and wine entrepreneur Michael Jordaan speaks about the effects the crisis has had on business.

“Local sales represent 50% of industry turnover,” says Jordaan. The export ban was lifted five weeks after the lockdown but by then, he feels “precious sales and rack space” in export markets were lost to foreign competitors. “Related wine businesses such as wine tourism or restaurants are suffering the most as income has gone to zero while many costs remain.”

The wine industry is already a high-cost, low-margin business, he adds, with industry surveys showing that only 28% of wine grape producers made a profit in 2019.

Most wineries were cash-strapped to start with, and the pandemic has left a bitter after-taste.

“It is inevitable that many of the 290,000 jobs in the industry will be lost…” he says.

Premium wine houses are now looking at offbeat ways to sell and deliver online.

Jordaan’s Bartinney Wines – in the Jordaan family since 1953 – is produced from a 28-hectare farm in Stellenbosch, and he says he has made it a priority to look after staff using savings and income from non-wine businesses.

“We’re also exploring new export markets but struggle as this usually requires trips to sellers which are obviously not possible,” he adds.

The wine-drinking wealthy across the continent are also not immune to the crisis. Some South African billionaires, listed by Forbes every year, made announcements to help fight Covid-19 even before the government announced the lockdown.

Billionaire Johann Rupert and family, worth $4.6 billion (as of mid-May according to Forbes), announced R1 billion ($54.73 million) through the Sukuma Relief Programme “consisting of grants and low-interest bearing loans with a 12-month repayment holiday, given to formal sole properties, closed corporations, companies and trusts”. On April 6, the program closed the application platform on account of the overwhelming response. Ben Bierman, administrator of the program, told CNBC Africa the relief program received applications in excess of R2.8 billion ($153 million). Nicky Oppenheimer and family, worth $7.5 billion (as of mid-May according to Forbes), made two contributions towards Covid-19 relief. The first made by Nicky and son Jonathan, pledging R1 billion ($54.73 million) to the South African Future Trust (SAFT). Following in her brother Nicky’s footsteps, the second pledge came from Mary Oppenheimer-Slack and her daughters who pledged R1 billion ($54.73 million) to the state’s Solidarity Fund, stating it’s “most aligned to our concerns about basic needs, food, medicine, general care and gender abuse”.

The Motsepe family pledged another R1 billion ($54.73 million) to the country’s coronavirus Solidarity Fund and said the pandemic has shifted the priorities of the Motsepe Foundation. The Founder and Chairman of the foundation, Patrice Motsepe, with a net worth of $1.5 billion (as of mid-May as per Forbes), said: “The Motsepe family and companies we are associated with, will continue to do everything possible to assist health workers, poor rural and urban communities and all South Africans to prevail over the current coronavirus pandemic.”

Other established South African businessmen such as Douw Steyn and family pledged R320 million ($17.5 million) through the Douw Steyn Family Trust. 

Globally, tech billionaires such as Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, worth $4.7 billion, announced on April 7 that he was moving $1 billion of his Square stock to support various causes including Covid-19 relief efforts. The tech billionaire didn’t specify how much of the $1 billion donation would be going towards the pandemic.

Chinese billionaire and Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma donated protective equipment to all 54 countries in Africa through his Jack Ma Foundation and Alibaba Foundation. The donation includes a total of 1.1 million test kits, six million masks and 60,000 protective suits.

Global tech billionaire Bill Gates and his wife Melinda committed more than $250 million through their foundation. According to Forbes, much of it will be spent on vaccines, treatment and diagnostic development.

“Covid-19 has essentially become a catalyst for the shift which was bound to happen,”

– Sipho Maseko, CEO, Telkom Group

Whilst the big dollar signs bring hope, the numbers for Covid-19 continue to bring gloom as worldwide statistics rise.

At the time of going to press, the number of cases globally was over five million, with the death toll over 325,000. So far, almost two million worldwide have made recoveries. Africa has over 90,000 cases, with 2,900 deaths and over 35,000 recoveries.

But the big global bodies overseeing the crisis say the world’s youngest continent, Africa, may suffer heavily if the disease is not contained.

The World Health Organization said in a statement released early May that “83,000 to 190,000 people in Africa could die of Covid-19 and 29 million to 44 million could get infected in the first year of the pandemic if containment measures fail” as per a new study based on prediction modeling, looking at 47 countries in the WHO African region with a total population of one billion.

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), “sub-Saharan Africa is facing an unprecedented health and economic crisis that threatens to throw the region off its stride, reversing the development progress of recent years and slow the region’s growth prospects in the years to come”. It predicts the region’s GDP to contract by 1.6% this year, making it the worst forecast on record.

On its part, the African Development Bank (AfDB), led by president Akinwumi Adesina, is supporting the continent through the Covid-19 crisis with $26 million for the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for the procurement of critical medical supplies. The bank also launched a $3 billion ‘Fight Covid-19’ social bond, with bids exceeding $4.6 billion. It also launched a $10 billion Crisis Response Facility to support Africa to address the pandemic.

Gary Booysen, Director and Portfolio Manager at Rand Swiss

Because Africa’s financial markets are less developed than many of its global counterparts, Gary Booysen, Director and Portfolio Manager at Rand Swiss based in Johannesburg, says: “They often struggle with liquidity. As the world grapples with the economic fallout of the lockdowns and Covid-19, risk appetite will almost certainly diminish. This will likely see money initially flowing out of more speculative frontier markets. This, in turn, could potentially result in undue pressure being placed on African financial assets.”

With these forecasts, what is the way forward? Corporate Africa is grappling with the hard reality and is in the process of re-strategizing itself. The only hope is if big businesses realize that they have to not just come up with forward-thinking views but also unlock much-needed solutions and even their balance sheets to help all in these times of uncertainty.

And technology and interconnectedness should be the forces driving these collaborations.

Makhtar Diop, the World Bank’s Vice President for Infrastructure, states on the bank’s website: “Governments, regulators and the telecom industry must do all it takes to deploy affordable, reliable, and safe digital technologies… to work together to achieve the promise of new technologies for all and keep the world connected.”

Shameel Joosub, chief executive officer of Vodacom Group Ltd., poses for a photograph following an interview at Vodacom World in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Monday, May 16, 2016. Vodacom, Africa’s largest wireless operator by market value, raised three-year targets for revenue and earnings as rising investment in its network delivers growth in South Africa and international markets. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On their part, telecom companies such as Vodacom have stepped up. Shameel Joosub, CEO of Vodacom Group Limited, says it plans to donate 20,000 smartphones, 100 terabytes of data and 10 million voice call minutes to South Africa’s National Department of Health to collect and transmit data in real time for resource planning purposes as the government accelerates its Covid-19 testing campaign. Vodacom recently entered into a partnership with Discovery Health to offer free virtual consultations with doctors for the general public. The telecoms company has experienced a significant increase in fixed and mobile network traffic since the lockdown, attests Joosub. As a result, Vodacom has accelerated its investment spend.

Sipho Maseko, CEO of Telkom Group

“As the world becomes more online and more digital, it would make fiber and 4G-investment ready for that. This has always informed our investment strategy. Covid-19 has essentially become a catalyst for the shift which was bound to happen,” says Sipho Maseko, CEO of Telkom Group, to FORBES AFRICA. The telecom provider delivered a tracking and tracing system for Covid-19, “in record time”, working with the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa. Maseko believes that as big businesses face an economy and society that has been changed fundamentally by Covid-19, they will need to find innovative ways to adapt, deliver services, and drive growth in a challenging economic period.

“Tech innovators will find business opportunities in the difficulty,”

Darlene Menzies, CEO, Finfind

Megan Pydigadu, Group Chief Financial Officer of EOH

Megan Pydigadu, Group Chief Financial Officer of EOH, a technology services provider in Africa, believes the company is systemic to South Africa’s IT backbone, and as a result, creates significant responsibility for the company as an organization during the pandemic.

“We have implemented short and medium-term cash flow forecasting which pre-warns us of anything we need to deal with,” says Pydigadu. On potential opportunities and trends coming out of the industry, Pydigadu believes that EOH needs to develop product solutions that will last beyond the company’s current circumstances.

“The ‘new normal’ is here to stay and is going to change the ways of working. There will be an increased need for virtualization and the effective use of information, AI and data to reduce costs as we face an ongoing recession in the medium-term,” says Pydigadu. The CFO says the company is looking at opportunities to accelerate digital transformation for its clients.

As companies continue to look for solutions, one thing is crystal clear.

Corporate Africa is reiterating the need to future-proof businesses through new innovations – and they have to act now.

For years, the question of whether businesses are prepared for the fourth industrial revolution (4IR) has been posed. The pandemic has no doubt now answered that question. Perhaps what we need to ask is how quickly companies must now adapt to 4IR.

Darlene Menzies, CEO of Finfind

Darlene Menzies, CEO of Finfind, an online finance solution platform that brings together the providers and seekers of SME finance, believes online businesses will thrive as traditional forms of business grind to a halt.

“Tech innovators will find business opportunities in the difficulty, and we will see many new businesses birthed that provide solutions to address the gaps that this challenging time has presented,” says Menzies. She believes it’s important every business uses the lessons learned from the pandemic to ensure they are better prepared for any future disaster.

She reckons the world will see a lot of change with more firms deciding to move to a hybrid of virtual and physical work, and many transitioning to an entirely virtual operation. Menzies says the pandemic has also exposed the need to increase the accessibility of the digital economy to people at the base of the pyramid, in order to ensure that everyone can take full advantage of the benefits.

As the world finds itself at the mercy of the digital economy, perhaps more can be achieved through partnerships?

Kweku Bedu-Addo, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank in South & Southern Africa

Kweku Bedu-Addo, CEO of Standard Chartered Bank in South & Southern Africa, says the pivotal lesson during the pandemic has been the need for greater collaboration.

“It’s clear that we need better collaboration globally to be able to identify a developing crisis sooner, to enable the world to react faster to minimize the fallout,” says Bedu-Addo.

Speaking on digital technology, Bedu-Addo believes that many in the banking industry, and other industries, have had to quickly and safely expand access and capabilities in the area of technology.

“If it [digital technology] is fully integrated into a company’s strategy, it can benefit all employees and help businesses thrive in a time like this.” Standard Chartered has committed $1 billion of financing to support companies that provide goods and services to help in the fight against Covid-19. In addition, the bank has launched a $50 million global fund with donations from colleagues and the bank to provide assistance to communities affected by Covid-19.

“We have seen a 650% increase in alternate channelsin the last two weeks of March alone,”

– Robin Bairstow, CEO, I&M Bank Rwanda

Similar examples abound in the rest of the continent. In East Africa, more banks have responded to the pandemic.

Diane Karusisi, CEO, Bank of Kigali

The CEO of Rwanda’s largest commercial bank, Bank of Kigali, says the bank’s staff set up a fund to support the most vulnerable in Rwanda’s communities affected by the health crisis. “We have provided relief measures to our clients, waived various transaction fees as well as penalties for late payments. We have also designed loan products to support both retail and SME clients going through this difficult period,” Diane Karusisi tells FORBES AFRICA. The CEO’s forecasts for the medium-term are that economic growth will be significantly affected and all stakeholders will have to coordinate efforts to support speedy economic recovery.

“The Bank of Kigali’s excellent liquidity and capital position pre-Covid will allow us to weather the shock and remain a champion in financing the economy,” says Karusisi. On the opportunities she sees for the industry, she says that clients have had to shift their behavior toward digital channels, and cashless means of payment. For this reason, she believes digital transformation in the industry will be accelerated. Should the worst happen, Karusisi believes the bank’s most pessimistic stress tests show that it would withstand “a shock implying large business and retail defaults as a result of our strong capital position”. She adds: “Rwanda recovered from the war and the genocide against the Tutsi only 26 years ago. Our resilience has been tested and Bank of Kigali was the only bank to avail clients’ balances and savings after the tragic events…”

Robin Bairstow, CEO, I&M Bank Rwanda

Another bank in the country is I&M Bank Rwanda Limited. Robin Bairstow, the bank’s CEO, tells us its top priority during the pandemic is to maintain operations, protect the workforce, and keep customers safe and informed. Bairstow mentions the bank has anticipated changing customer needs, and has agreed to allow interest and principle deferrals for three months, and in some cases, longer for all affected customers. They have also reduced lending rates to provide support to clients. He believes that social distancing has given an opportunity for banks in terms of shifting customers to digital channels.

“We have seen a 650% increase in alternate channels in the last two weeks of March alone (when the lockdown began). If this trend continues, we would have changed behavior and the cost of serving customers will reduce in the industry and the momentum will continue due to the convenience of digital offerings,” says Bairstow.

“My team and I are trying to find or create new projectswhere we are able to work with people remotely,”

– DJ Fresh

In South Africa, internet group Naspers, one of the largest technology investors in the world, was one of the first, alongside the Ruperts and Oppenheimers, to announce funds for Covid-19 relief efforts. The company contributed R1.5 billion ($82 million) in emergency aid to the government’s response; of that, R500 million ($27.3 million) was allocated to the Solidarity Fund, and it’s buying R1 billion ($54.7 million) worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies.

Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa, CEO of Naspers South Africa

In an interview with FORBES AFRICA, Naspers South Africa’s CEO, Phuti Mahanyele-Dabengwa, says: “We have a strong and liquid financial position to navigate uncertain times but we are not immune to the impact of Covid-19 and like all other businesses in the global economy.”

On the opportunities ahead, Mahanyele-Dabengwa believes in the longer term, Naspers’ payments and fintech business is expected to benefit across its markets from large sectoral trends, including more customers transacting online and more online transactions being executed through alternative forms of payment, instead of cash.

Moving to the travel and lifestyle sector, tourism has been hit the most. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that industry passenger revenues could plummet $252 billion or 44% below 2019’s figure for the world.

“Airlines need $200 billion in liquidity support simply to make it through. Some governments have already stepped forward, but many more need to follow suit,” says IATA’s Director General and CEO, Alexandre de Juniac, in a web statement.

Marc Wachsberger, Managing Director of The Capital Hotels & Apartments

In South Africa, Marc Wachsberger, Managing Director of The Capital Hotels & Apartments, a luxury hotel and apartment room provider that also offers conference venues and meeting spaces, believes travel will change dramatically in the future.

“As social distancing becomes the norm, hotel groups that will survive will be sure to go the extra mile in cleaning and sanitation protocols, while giving guests the room they need to maintain sufficient physical distance.”

With approval to operate during lockdown, Wachsberger says the company helped a few businesses to remain open during this time. It pivoted its business and implemented steps to offer safe spaces for guests and their staff, through ‘self-isolation hotels’ for anyone needing to isolate for approximately 14 days, or until they have been cleared; and ‘sanitized sanctuaries’ for families and corporates who want to live and work freely during this time. The company has partnered with Discovery Health in operating The Capital Empire in Sandton in the heart of Johannesburg as a Covid-19 isolation recovery facility called ‘The Get Well Hotel’. He adds that occupancy is expected to increase as more industries return to work and need to isolate or quarantine. He reckons hotels that can offer contactless check-ins, room access, check-outs and payments will be the way forward.

Wachsberger believes the meetings, incentives conferences and exhibitions (MICE) industry is feeling the ripple effect of the virus and will continue to struggle as business travelers stay away. Many venues will flounder as large meetings and gatherings can only possibly convene again in Level 1 of South Africa’s ‘risk-adjusted strategy’. 

Gareth Taylor, Country Manager for Bolt in South Africa

Another company steering itself for the future is Bolt. The app, formerly known as Taxify, offers services from ride-hailing to food delivery. Gareth Taylor, Country Manager for Bolt in South Africa, says the company now offers free sanitization liquid refills at all its driver centers on a daily basis.

The ride-hailing company has launched several new services to provide alternative ways for drivers to continue to earn an income. One such is the ‘Bolt Isolated Car’, featuring a physical barrier between the front and back seats, limiting the risk of exposure between drivers and passengers. Taylor says there will be a bigger focus on businesses connecting and assisting one another through partnerships.

“Businesses that can collaborate the most effectively and to the greatest mutual benefit, will win,” says Taylor. On the future of the transport industry, he says it is likely to evolve as electric vehicles become more available. “Electric vehicles are cheaper to run and maintain than petrol or diesel vehicles, which could in turn make transport more affordable, particularly for the more cash-strapped.” Taylor reckons that as more people and businesses have become accustomed to a work-from-home labor force, it’s likely that car ownership will decrease.

With the cancellation of movie premieres, concerts and big ticket events, those in the entertainment industry are also feeling the heat. And this includes actors and celebrities.

BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – FEBRUARY 09: Gabrielle Union attends the 2020 Vanity Fair Oscar Party hosted by Radhika Jones at Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on February 09, 2020 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison /2020 Getty Images)

In a recent Instagram Live session (which seems to be the order of the day), Hollywood actress Gabrielle Union told her fans that a number of black entertainers are grappling to pay their bills as they are getting fewer gigs during this crisis, and that “this stoppage of work and money is impacting marginalized ‘celebrities’ the most”.

Over the last few months, people working in the entertainment industry have had to look for other alternatives of making money.

DJ Fresh

Closer home, as a DJ who travels for shows around the world, Thato Sikwane, known as DJ Fresh, realizes that DJing is one of the jobs that has definitely taken a knock.

The DJ says he’s fortunate to have work outside of his DJ career. “Radio being one of the biggest mediums and forms of entertainment and information providers, we are marked as essential support workers. I still have Fresh on 94.7, Monday to Friday,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

Whilst the entertainment industry has been rattled by the lockdown and travel bans around the world, DJ Fresh says players in the music industry will need to carry on finding new windows of opportunities to keep generating personal incomes.

Furthermore, he states that they will need to have bold ambitions to change the way in which they previously applied their minds, in order to survive.

“I am working on new music and excited for it to be released. I have live streams every Sunday on my Facebook page where I work with Oskido and a few other industry mates to create sets called Legends Live. My team and I are trying to find or create new projects where we are able to work with people remotely and that will help some of the unemployed people.”

The South African DJ believes those that fail to fully utilize and exploit their digital presence during this period, will have wasted a crisis.

Through trial and error, big business and big names are re-evaluating, re-strategizing, and trying innovative ways to face the disruptive virus and rebuild themselves sustainably for the future, knowing only too well, that if they don’t adapt, they will surely die.

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Cover Story

Covid-19: The Ultimate Disruptor



The coronavirus has rebooted every aspect of life as we know it. Across Africa, home-grown ideas and small-scale technological innovations are coming to the fore to help combat it.

It’s 8PM in Johannesburg on March 29, the first Sunday of the lockdown in South Africa, and a team from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) is hard at work, not in the comfort of their homes, but at an innovation lab, designing the first two prototypes of a face shield.

Letlotlo Phohole and Moses Mogotlane, the two members of the team, are working on paper and transparent face shield models, with a Perspex headband, and they are doing all of this at a Transnet-sponsored innovation space hosted at Wits; together in thought, but apart in (social) distance.

Their work would use 3D-printers and a laser-cut solution, in coming up with the very first version of a face shield developed by Wits.

Reeling from the disastrous effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, just like any other part of the world, Africa is turning to home-grown solutions such as this to tackle a global problem.

“Design can save the world,” says Dr Randall Paton, one of the engineers in charge of coordinating this project. And for any innovation at this time, speed is paramount.

“I think that innovation, especially of the sort that leaves us with a legacy of new products or ideas, is essential in tackling an issue like the coronavirus crisis,” he adds.

The face shields were initially designed for health workers at Netcare Hospitals, made from a flat pack consisting of two pieces that can rapidly be assembled.

Now, they are producing the face shields in only 90 seconds using die-cutting (cutting chosen shapes from low-strength materials), as opposed to 3D-printing them which takes up to 90 minutes.

“We are also working with the Wits’ UK representative looking at possible collaborations with the University of Edinburg who responded similarly to Wits in the face shield provision to healthcare workers. We are sharing our stories with the aim of learning from their mass production process that we could emulate,” Phohole tells FORBES AFRICA.

This pandemic could very well see innovation going from Africa to the rest of the world.

Another example is Fablab Rwanda, a space for members to turn innovative ideas into products specifically in the hardware and electronics domain based in Kigali, that has produced 3,500 face shields so far as the entry point for personal protective equipment, especially for health workers, and is now working on producing low-cost ventilators in Rwanda.

A manufacturer of industrial robots, YASKAWA, in South Africa, for many years, has been looking into a crystal ball believing robots would come handy at such a time. “Future-oriented solutions won’t merely be an option, but an absolute necessity,” they say.

Robotics and automation technology are already playing a pivotal role in the health sector, from the use of automated laboratory tests to autonomous disinfectors utilized in hospitals, but they’re about to extend further into other industries faster than anyone could have anticipated.

The global Japanese manufacturer’s southern African branch has already installed over 2,500 robots in the automotive, manufacturing and packaging industries. Decades ago, YASKAWA proposed the innovative concept of an unmanned factory termed ‘Mechatronics’. Since then, the concept has evolved into ‘i³-Mechatronics’, featuring further advancements and implementation of automation through the management of digital data.

“The fast-moving consumer goods and food markets, however, should see an increase and acceptance in the usage of robots and automation technologies… And this is where robotics could come in to reduce contact and cross-contamination,” says Kurt Rosenberg, Managing Director of YASKAWA Southern Africa.

Covid-19 is birthing a new era of health-focused robots and tech to be used in all spheres of life.

Rosenberg believes a robot-powered workforce is the way to the future, both locally and internationally.

And there are more such examples of blue sky thinking.

In South Africa, construction company Profica has partnered with ‘temporary infrastructure specialists’ Chattels to construct temporary Covid-19 triage and testing facilities.

Chattels have already constructed new temporary Covid-19 triage and potential field hospitals at Tygerberg Hospital, Victoria Hospital and Paarl Hospital in the Western Cape province of South Africa.

Meanwhile in South Africa’s North West province, in Mogwase, a company called Akim Holdings Pty Ltd has designed a walk-through sanitizing unit. With an engineering company, it has created a tunnel that is practical and adjustable to suit the specifications of clients.

“Covid-19 is an introduction to a world hygiene awareness program that many have not been practicing or have partially practiced. The sanitizer tunnel was created with health risks involved especially for hypersensitive individuals and to also accommodate the disabled and parents with prams, providing a ramp and sprayers that release 5-10ml of sanitizer per person,” says Thuli Mabebo, one of the directors of Akim.

Corona contact-tracing is also an area where technology and manpower meet.

According to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Maryland in the United States (US), contact-tracing is key to reopening the economy.

The world’s tech giants Apple and Google have joined forces to unveil plans to build contact-tracing technology with the potential to cover the vast majority of smartphones currently in use across the world. In a joint statement, the companies explained they will develop technology-enabling governments and public health agencies to develop apps to track the pandemic, “with user privacy and security central to the design”. They have decided to refer to it as “exposure notification”.

Closer home, one of the entrepreneurs working on a contact-tracing device app is 2020 FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list-maker, Olajumoke Oduwule, with her company KJK Africa in Nigeria. The ‘DISTANCING App’ ensures the user can observe a six-feet distance with others to control the spread of infectious diseases.

2018 FORBES AFRICA 30 Under 30 list-maker Roger Boniface and his brother Dean, have been working alongside the Aurum Institute, architects, 3D-printers and branding specialists to build automated wash-bins called Shesha Geza. It is a cost-effective mobile wash-bin and sanitizing solution that can service large numbers of people. Boniface plans to install these in high-density areas such as taxi ranks and plans to “sanitize more than 100K hands a day”.

Communications solutions provider, Liquid Telecom, is also coming up with digital solutions for Africa during the pandemic. It has provided solutions for remote learning at Kibabii virtual school in Kenya, established Covid-19 toll-free helplines in Zimbabwe, and provided better connectivity across the East African Community.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) in South Africa is also pushing the boundaries of innovation, using an app developed for rhino poaching to tackle Covid-19. Cmore allows rangers to use their cellphones to track poaching incidents, sightings, carcass locations, or to track rangers out on patrol. Now, it is being used to record screening data and assist in tracking potential coronavirus cases. “Community health workers have to enter information on a cellphone and, when they press submit, the cellphone sends a location – not just to the person that has been screened – and that location pins itself on the screen at the CSIR, so we know where we have covered the country with our screens,” says Salim Abdool Karim, chairperson of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory group, during an event just before the lockdown at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa.

As cases spike in South Africa, Evolutio, an African company whose cloud solutions include BSS/OSS and CRM, has developed artificial intelligence (AI)-powered Covid-19 screening software that will allow the system to identify Covid-19, pneumonia and tuberculosis on chest x-rays, or a photo of the x-ray, in the absence or presence of pathological findings. “Our results from reading thousands of x-rays has showed that the system can achieve an accuracy comparable to radiologists, above 90% sensitivity and above 80% specificity across conditions,” says Evolutio’s co-founder Sunil Menon. However, he says the regulatory authorities have not responded to most Covid-19-related initiatives so they have faced challenges with any local traction.

This is an issue encountered by most innovative players in the fray. Some local manufacturers of Covid-19 test kits claim the regulatory authorities are stifling the distribution and export of kits despite massive demand globally. It will take a while before legislation can approve certain home-based innovations; as a result, it is global innovations that seem to be thriving in Africa.

An ad hoc team of engineers and doctors from the MIT Emergency Ventilator (E-Vent) Project, has developed a low-cost, open-source alternative of ventilators to assist hospitals across the world facing shortages. The goal of the project has been to find a way to automate resuscitator bags using mechanical paddles that continuously, precisely and gently squeeze the sides of the bag. Instead of relying on someone’s hands to manipulate the bag and deliver oxygen, the idea is that this device could do it automatically, and act as a long-term ventilator.

‘A Game Of Survival, Not Growth’

Small businesses all over the world are succumbing to the pandemic.

“90% of the small businesses went from trading on amonthly, weekly, or daily basis, to zero,”

– Mashudu Modau

Latest research from fintech group Yoco shows small business revenues in South Africa have plunged over 84% in the pandemic.

“This pandemic has been the ultimate disruptor,” says Mashudu Modau, an entrepreneurship enthusiast and founder of Founders Sauce. Formally working as the community and partnerships manager at Yoco, he was one of many retrenched globally in the pandemic.

“[Covid-19] reduced the number of small businesses that were trading by 90%,” says Modau. “This meant 90% of the small businesses went from trading on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis, to zero.”

Many small businesses operating in Africa already face challenges such as not being registered, lack of resources or lack of funding and as a result, the lockdown has crippled the SMME economy.

“Informal economy businesses were completely wiped out, where they could not trade at all and those that were left operating could not trade at a significant level,” he adds.

Only essential workers or businesses deemed essential services could operate during the lockdown in South Africa. As a result, many businesses are relying on digital platforms to survive if they can afford it, and if lucky, with a client base still consuming their products. Most have had to come up with new ideas. Like startup Granadilla which went from swimwear to grocery delivery in weeks. South African brand Tshepo Jeans, known for denim clothing, quickly pivoted to producing fashionable denim masks. Falke, a South African company once known as a sock manufacturing company, has now turned towards manufacturing face masks from its facility in Pretoria.

With hospitals around the world facing shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), businesses have stepped up. Nike, for example, has manufactured full face shields and powered, air-purifying respirator (PAPR) lenses to protect against the virus, while the Prada group has started the production of 80,000 medical overalls and 110,000 masks to be allocated to healthcare personnel. Food and beverage company Nestlé is contributing masks and other PPE to frontline workers. It’s also donating medical equipment to hospitals in Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Senegal. Additionally, in Burkina Faso, it will donate three ventilators, for use in intensive care units.

“Zimbabwe is in the midst of a crisis knowing exactly that its healthcare system is dilapidated…The fact that there is limited supply of hospital equipment in our institutions, especially in this part of the globe, has had a negative effect on our motivation to report for work,”

– Dr Masimba Dean Ndoro

The lockdown regulations have also grounded the construction sector.

Siphelele Mngaza, the Founder and CEO of Hannah Properties in South Africa, had to curtail operations, resulting in many clients pulling out of contracts. However, this has made him rethink his building strategy, especially in crowded areas.

“Social distancing and self-quarantine is almost impossible because shacks can [heat] up to about 50 degrees in summer and be really cold in winter with no electricity and no water,” he says. The key then is how to build better cities suitable for everyone.

He emphasizes the importance of having smoother surfaces, greener buildings that incorporate plants, better ventilation and access to natural light. “[Post the pandemic] I envision healthier buildings that behave like plants,” says Mngaza.

On the other side of the spectrum, businesses operating in the digital space have seen a boom at this time. Twenty-eight-year-old entrepreneur Cleo Johnson has taken full advantage of this. She is the founder of Nuecleo, a hospitality and marketing consultancy in South Africa. With clients based in Africa and overseas, she has been able to put together post-corona marketing plans remotely.

“The big thing is, ‘what is your business going to look like post corona?’ Because it is not going to be the same,” she tells FORBES AFRICA. She remains optimistic.

“As a business owner, taking care of yourself mentally is extremely important as it also gives you clarity on a way forward. There is time now to refine your business, your growth strategy and how you can scale your business.”

Those that grab the opportunities or gaps in this pandemic stand a better chance of surviving because if a small business does not receive any revenue within 30 days, it may die, says Modau.

“Right now, it’s a game of survival, not necessarily growth,” he adds.

Where Africa Stands In Healthcare

A medical staff member wearing protective equipment places a face mask on a mock patient at the Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital in Harare on March 11, 2020, as they demonstrate their state of preparedness to treat the COVID-19 coronavirus in the event the epidemic reaches Zimbabwe where five suspected cases have tested negative. (Photo by Jekesai NJIKIZANA / AFP) (Photo by JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP via Getty Images)

In Zimbabwe, Dr Masimba Dean Ndoro is a medical doctor on the frontline, working in the country’s Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals. Wearing his white coat and stethoscope, every day, Ndoro prepares himself for the worst.

“Zimbabwe is in the midst of a crisis knowing exactly that its healthcare system is dilapidated,” he tells FORBES AFRICA. He says Zimbabwe was not ready for the devastation wreaked by Covid-19 on its economy and people. “The fact that there is limited supply of hospital equipment in our institutions, especially in this part of the globe, has had a negative effect on our motivation to report for work.”

March 20 marked the first confirmed case of the virus in Zimbabwe, when a 38-year-old man arrived at his home in Victoria Falls after a trip to Manchester in the UK.

By the end of April, there were 29 confirmed cases and four deaths, a small number compared to neighboring South Africa, but with huge repercussions nevertheless.

With Zimbabwe’s economy on its knees and socioeconomic problems lingering, healthcare in the country was already in dire straits. In an effort to curb the virus, the country was put on lockdown.

Coronavirus testing rolled out. But Ndoro believes this is not enough.

“There has been an outcry for the need to decentralize centers for testing so we reach containment faster. It’s so unfortunate relevant authorities are lagging behind,” he laments.

In Malawi too, efforts to curb the virus have been challenging. The nation is divided. Since the first case of the virus hit headlines in the country on April 2, it was met with skepticism by many in a nation not used to epidemics. For a country that recently nullified its 2020 elections, the public’s trust in the government also reportedly declined. Being told to stay at home and stop business because of an invisible opponent was the least of many citizens’ worries amidst the political instability.

By April 7, the country had recorded its first Covid-19 death. Panic ensued, and the president declared a national disaster. Part of the nation began practicing social distancing despite the Malawi High Court putting in an injunction against the notion of a 21-day lockdown.

On May 5, thousands in Malawi took to the streets in support of the opposition party alliance as they submitted their presidential candidate nomination in Blantyre. It was a sea of red.

“It’s like all they care about is to vote, then start the fight against Covid-19,” a Malawian citizen tells FORBES AFRICA. He watched the crowds chant and dance. “The pandemic is here, and it is real. But we Malawians, we are taking it for granted,” says another to us.

Amid all the chaos, one of the many at the helm in the fight against the virus in Malawi is Dr Titus Divala, a medical doctor and epidemiologist.

Operating from the southern part of the country in the city of Blantyre, he works for the University College of Medicine focusing on malaria, HIV, and tuberculosis, but now, is also part of the national committee leading efforts surrounding the management of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“One thing I have learned as a medical doctor and epidemiologist, I never thought I would come across something that consumes my every thought,” he tells FORBES AFRICA.

“For countries like ours, where we are sort of struggling to get hold of every case, what will happen is the virus will spread widely to most of the population and then at some point, it may not be able to move forward because most of the population is already infected. This is a point we call ‘herd immunity’.”

However, there is one key advantage Malawi and other African countries may have over Covid-19 and that is a young population. It is quite possible the risk of death is slightly lower than that of an older European or American population. However, according to Divala, if a vaccine is found, it may take long to reach African countries due to political and economic challenges.

Further up the continent, in Nigeria, Dr Nneka Mobisson, provides healthcare support for her clients digitally.

“I realized that we as Africans were not willing to take ownership of fixing our healthcare systems. We all have a role to play in ensuring the health and happiness of Africa and I hope everyone is willing to take on that responsibility in the post-Covid world,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

She is the co-founder and CEO of mDoc, a social enterprise that integrates methodologies in quality improvement and behavioral science with web and mobile-based technology to optimize the end-to-end care experience for people living with chronic illnesses. At this time, her patients are most at risk.

In the first week of April, Mobisson lost an acquaintance to Covid-19. “She had been at the Yale School of Public Health when I was there for medical school and was my best friend’s close friend. She was such a champion for public health in the US, a 45-year-old mother of three, so it just hit too close to home,” says Mobisson, who also knows more friends who have tested positive for the disease. She and her team have been working 24/7 to combat the virus – digitally.

Very few healthcare entities have the ability to provide virtual care and at such a time, it puts Mobisson at an advantage.

“We have a responsibility to protect the vulnerable, and we have been knee-deep supporting our members, the general population and health workers with Covid-19 support. We have shut down all our in-person hubs but have ramped up all virtual care support,” she says.

They have built a center locator called Navihealth which helps to reduce the burden of overwhelmed and insufficient hospital systems in the country. Digitally, they have been able to reach thousands.

However, Mobisson says it has not been easy with funding and resources being limited.

“Most of our team is located in Lagos and electricity is not constant which makes the reality of providing 24/7 guidance to people challenging. We fortunately have a redundancy system when generators or fuel are not available but it certainly makes things very expensive.”

What About Other Diseases?

As governments, hospitals and organizations shift all focus to Covid-19, burdening existing healthcare systems, where does it leave patients with other conditions needing critical care?

“Other diseases are suffering now,” says Dr Herbert Longwe, a lab director at ICAP at Columbia University in Pretoria, South Africa.

Liam Klassen, a 19-year-old from South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, experienced this first-hand. After discovering that flesh-eating bacteria had entered a wound in his leg, he was admitted to a hospital 45km away from home. The staff, he says, were too preoccupied treating Covid-19 patients.

“It was very intense being in hospital, with nurses and doctors, and they really wanted me to get out of the hospital as soon as possible. And my wound was very severe,” he says. Anxiety levels remained high for the family as they were not allowed at the hospital due to regulations, what’s worse; they say they didn’t receive adequate communication about what was going on.

“What has happened is, many people are focused on Covid-19 now, and skilled people who were looking at HIV, are now focusing their attention on Covid-19 and the other diseases are being abandoned,” notes Longwe. His work involves doing surveys to measure the impact of HIV, the burden of the disease and the populations that have been affected. Longwe says that there has been a lack of further research and finances being put into other diseases, as a result, the coronavirus has triggered a funding crisis for NGOs when they are needed the most. “People are no longer paying more attention and putting their efforts in writing grants or research proposals on other diseases, for example, TB, HIV and malaria. The focus has dramatically shifted away from those diseases. But those diseases are still killing us. They are still a public health problem,” he adds.

“The initial genome sequencing was costly and time-consuming but efforts are underway to reduce this cost and get faster turnaround time. This will allow us to help those trying to trace the transmission of the disease in South Africa and the continent,”

– Peter van Heusden

But on the other hand, the pandemic will expand knowledge in the public health space and grow more human resources and skills. “We are going to draw a lot of knowledge in terms of public health on disease intervention, disease prevention and disease control,” says Longwe.

Hunt For A Vaccine

Vaccine vial dose flu shot drug needle syringe,medical concept vaccination hypodermic injection treatment disease care hospital prevention immunization illness disease baby background. stock photo

Billions of dollars are being spent globally to find a vaccine for Covid-19, but the big question is which is the most promising? According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are over 70 vaccines in the works for Covid-19, but only four of them are already being tested.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will fund the manufacturing of seven potential vaccines. But it is possible that one or two of these may be successful.

In South Africa, Peter Van Heusden, a bioinformatician focusing on pathogen genomics, is part of a team researching ways to understand the coronavirus. Simply put, he builds and uses software to make sense of genomic material from bacteria, parasites and viruses.

Together with Dr Mushal Allam, a graduate of the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and other scientists, they immediately got to work researching the virus in January this year. “My role has been in sequence analysis, that is taking the data from the sequencing process and trying to clean it up and make sense of it, both for this single SARS-CoV-2 genome and to understand the genome in the context of other SARS-CoV-2 genomes worldwide (collected on the GISAID portal),” Van Heusden says.

This work is a breakthrough in understanding Covid-19 in South Africa in the context of the global pandemic. “The initial genome sequencing was costly and time-consuming but efforts are underway to reduce this cost and get faster turnaround time. This will allow us to help those trying to trace the transmission of the disease in South Africa and the continent,” he says. This research will also help in understanding the global diversity of Covid-19 and note any significant changes in the virus.

Madagascar has reportedly found a cure for Covid-19 in an artemisia-based tonic that’s subject to more trials.

Other options being explored globally to treat Covid-19 include new drugs specifically designed to target SARS-CoV-2, as well as repurposed drugs designed to treat a different disease.

One of the oldest treatments being tested, is convalescent plasma. This involves using blood plasma from people who have recovered from Covid-19 and infusing it into patients presenting the disease.

In Pakistan and India, it was reported that Covid-19 patients recovered through this method, although it’s contested.

In short, it’s all hands on deck as countries and corporates come together to find ways to alleviate the disease.

Rebuilding the world

It’s hard to imagine what the world may look like by the end of the year. From healthcare, to retail, media, travel and education, it will no longer be business as usual. Experts are already coming up with strategies to entirely rebuild nations.

“I hope that in the post-Covid or Covid world, we are willing to invest in primary care systems, non-siloed care that focuses on building awareness and health literacy and one that invests in educating, retaining and supporting our healthcare workers at all levels of the system,” says Mobisson.

Sanitizing, social distancing and mask-wearing are the expected new norms, along with remote working and e-learning. Van Heusden fears the worst in a post-corona society. “I fear there will be a lot of trauma. How we deal with that will define the post-Covid-19 world. We might turn inwards and focus on blame and recriminations. Or we might draw on new awareness of how interconnected we all are and draw strength from that,” he says. In a tweet, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says “the reality is that we are sailing in uncharted waters. There is still a great deal about the epidemiology of the virus that is unknown. It is better to err on the side of caution than to pay the devastating price of a lapse in judgement.”

We are living a textbook example of history as it’s being made, amid uncertainty that will likely not go away for long. The moot question is: will we all live to tell the tale of a pre-and-post Covid-19 world? Only science can answer that.

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