#Re-ImagineRural (Part 4)

#Re-ImagineRural (Part 4)

__Ask, seek, knock… Seeds are already being planted!

It’s time for our entrepreneurship to touch the lives of people in the rural areas. I’ll be saying this to you time and again for weeks, months and years to come! This week I would like you to take time to go through this short video. It’s 23 minutes but will be a data bundle well spent. Watching it brought tears to my eyes, because I did not know about this work at all. That might surprise you but I will explain later…


A few years ago, I decided to buy a loss-making bank in Zimbabwe. The decision brought a howl of protest from a group of people called analysts (these guys monitor the activities of publicly-listed companies). We shut down its 40 bank branches, and that brought even more howls of protest.

The bank’s management resisted our vision for the future of the bank, telling me to my face that what I was proposing was “not banking.” I fired them all within days and some of them took me to court whilst others enlisted politicians to harass me. I asked a young man who was completing his PhD in England, Dr Lance Mambondiani, to return home and run it. You will see him in the video.

Anyway, that was a long time ago.

Fast forward…

The rebranded bank (Steward Bank) was integrated into our telecoms company and turned into what we call a “digital bank.” It has very few branches, yet has the largest branch network in the country through what we call an “agency bank.”

I told them to go out and bank the “unbanked and unbankable.” We recruited tens of thousands of depositors by offering them bank accounts with deposits of $1. Today at 800,000++ customers, we are well on our way to one million in a country of 13m people… officially the biggest bank in Zimbabwe by number of customers. (Our system almost crashed at one point because we had so many people wanting to open an account with us!)

We intend to reach an additional 6m through our mobile money service (EcoCash).

__One million smallholder farmers have been integrated in the system, and we’re able give them a loan in a matter of minutes without collateral. I will write about that program one day.

Steward (Digital) Bank is now considered by many experts around the world to be the way Africa should organize its commercial banking. We like to call it “the bank for people who hate banks”!

We have empowered 3,000 agents to offer limited banking services in the most remote parts of the country, where opening a branch would not have been cost effective. In return, we give them a commission. All transactions are done on the phone and through other unconventional platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp!

We operate it as part of a group we call Cassava Fintech. Last year the group generated almost a quarter of a billion dollars in revenue ($250m) in Zimbabwe alone! It is by far and away the largest financial services business in the country.

We are now developing blockchain and artificial intelligence systems to help the rural poor with loans and livestock management. We even have a drone company that helps smallholder farmers inspect their crops!

I told you that I did not know about the rural community programs of Steward Bank, until a few days ago. As a leader, I don’t focus on detail. I recruit and empower the likes of Lance and Natalie (who runs EcoCash). I engage and help infuse them with a vision. Remember what I’ve said here before about the importance of excellent #Peopleand #Partners… They along with their staff also read what I write on this very platform you’re reading now. They sometimes call me or even write on this platform.

__ “Find a way to put an egg in the hands of every child under 10 years old at school. Do it in a sustainable way that does not lose us money.”

This is what I told our executives. Now the people I said this to were not farmers… They are our telecoms, banking, and media execs, and other techies.

Let’s see what they come up with!

To be continued. . .

Author:Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa is the founder and Executive Chairman of the Econet Group. He serves on several international boards including Unilever, and the Global Advisory boards of the Council on Foreign Relations and Stanford University. A board member of the Rockefeller Foundation for 15 years, he also serves as Chairman of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). He is a co-founder of the Carbon War Room, Pathways for Prosperity, and the Global Business Coalition on Education. He and his wife, Tsitsi, co-founded the Higherlife Foundation and are signators of the Giving Pledge.

21 Replies to “#Re-ImagineRural (Part 4)”

  1. Afterthought 1.

    As you will see in the video, the Zimbabwe Livelihoods and Food Security Program run by Steward Bank, in partnership with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and DFID, has already reached about 127,000 smallholder and rural farmers across the country – giving small loans and helping participants improve their nutrition, financial literacy and access to finance…



  2. Afterthought 2.

    “There are roughly 160 million people all over the world in microcredit, mostly women. And they have proven one very important thing: that we are all entrepreneurs. Illiterate rural women in the villages, in the mountains, take tiny little loans – $30, $40 – and they turn themselves into successful entrepreneurs.” These are they words of Professor Mohammed Yunus (economist, social entrepreneur, founder of Grameen Bank and Nobel Laureate 2006).

    If you aren’t aware of Professor Yunus’ groundbreaking work, please look it up. https://www.theguardian.com/world/muhammad-yunus

  3. Afterthought 3.

    This year Steward Bank introduced a mini-Point of Sale (POS) service called “Kwenga” which allows small businesses such as vendors, barbers and transport operators all over Zimbabwe to accept card payments. This exciting new innovation complements our EcoCash merchant services. Now who can tell me what HEPII stands for, and why it’s so important? https://www.facebook.com/stewardbank

  4. #A call to action!

    I have always been fascinated by Rural Industries. It would be great if we could develop an online network in each African country so that we can register businesses that operate in rural communities:
    #Register and put the information online, including helping them set up websites.
    #Promote and share information.
    #Provide access to capital for those who set up businesses of any kind in rural areas.
    #Skills training for rural entrepreneurs.
    #. Research ventures that can be carried out in rural communities:
    -study examples in other countries including places like India, China, Indonesia where I have seen some amazing rural ventures.

    This type of network does not need government, and can be done by social entrepreneurs on this platform.
    If you manage to set something up in your country, I would like to know in a few months time. Who knows what we might do together!

    1. This is a brilliant idea. I suggest that an advertising phatform is the only missing link that is a digital market that cuts across boundaries.

  5. Thought of the day!

    I remember some years ago visiting a village in one of the Indian states, and noticed some milk cows in small paddocks. They were fed and watered in situ and did not roam around. There is no space there for roaming cattle [a practice which is now discouraged in many countries, as part of modernization]:

    “Each family is given a cow, under a program we call the “white revolution”, the milk is collected by entrepreneurs who provide cold storage and distribution.”
    Someone explained to me.
    I was impressed as I realized that this is part of a fight against stunting.

    Being a “FAST FOLLOWER”, I thought to myself imagine if African governments could do the same with cows:
    If each family were given a loan to have a milk cow, and also assisted with feedstock solutions so they don’t roam around. You could have a Cold Chain Storage system at the local business center and people could deliver their milk daily on bicycles. It would need a generation of young entrepreneurs who would develop products beyond just milk. In another country I saw an effective solar powered cold storage system for fruit, vegetables, milk and meat. It’s not all grinding mills at our rural business centers, we can add other services.
    Imagine if every rural school child had a glass of milk and an egg a day. The learning outcomes would be phenomenal.

    It just needs a new way to @ReImagineRural.

  6. Thembisile writes,

    Yeah… As I was just visited rural in Kwazulu Natal… I just Re-Imagine Rural in different perspective, I mean it’s a lot that one can do given an opportunity to be a fast-follower on that area of business…

    My reply,
    The rural areas are teaming with multi-billion dollar opportunities. We just need to nurture a generation of entrepreneurs who can open their eyes to “see” as entrepreneurs!
    You can make billions through African Rural Enterprise development.
    Someone asked me yesterday why I see all these business opportunities when others don’t. My answer, Thembi, was really simple:
    “I never accept the way things are. If I can see something with my eyes, it is subject to change. I also see everything from the perspective of needs.”

  7. Cholwe writes,

    The farmer who NEEDS the app probably resides in an area where the internet technologieshave not yet caught up with the rest of the world. And those with tractors are mostly found near good roads with good reception. The one in need of the app has to get on a hill just to make a call. Unless maybe also incorperating USSD some how.

    My reply,
    You have to develop the mindset of an entrepreneur so that you can help find solutions for the problems that you see.
    Fortunately no one is born an entrepreneur, you can be trained. Stay on this platform, and a year from now we will hear of the venture you have developed, aimed at solving a problem.

  8. #Shoutout the Humanitarian Of The Year!
    A few years ago I wrote about a visit I made to the one of the biggest informal settlements [also known as slums] in Africa, called Kibera, just outside Nairobi.

    I went to see the social venture of a couple called Jessica and Kennedy Odede. Their organization is called ShofCo.
    They have just been named the Humanitarians of the Year, and taken a prize of $2,5m!

    Well done Jessica and Kennedy!

    Now here is what I wanted to say about them today:
    These two are amongst the greatest entrepreneurs I have ever met in my whole life!
    And yet they live and work in a slum.

    The other day whilst trying to find a solution for the Cholera crisis in Zimbabwe I suggested that our team travel urgently to ShofCo to look at an innovation for delivery of clean water in a slum [informal Settlement]. I wrote about it when I visited them. Instead of burying water pipes, or using water bowsers, they have mini water treatment centers, and then deliver the water using aerial piping to avoid contamination with sewage on the ground!

    1. Wonderful motivation. I wish my semi organization Microfactics that I run along would become a mega charity organization one day.
      My book Qualities of Actuality is almost ready for printing..
      Thank you for sharing.

  9. #Enlightened Self Interest!

    Look at the picture of the smiling woman in the banner picture. In one hand she has eggs, which is her business. And in the other she has a mobile phone.
    In helping her and others improve their livelihoods, I’m also helping my potential customer. The more money she has, the more money she has to buy our services.
    When we invest time to improve education for children, or protect the health of citizens, we are also helping ourselves.
    Your business does not exist in isolation of a community, or environment which must be protected.
    Be enlightened in your approach even to business.

    If you have not yet taken time to join the fight against Ebola, or Cholera, or the latest disaster of flooding in Nigeria, think again!

  10. Mxolisi writes,

    Thank You very much Mr Masiyiwa for bringing back hope to my dead business. In 2015 I taught my self to create websites using WordPress platform by the end of 2015 I was very good on creating the websites.

    Since everyone was praising my skills I decided to start my own Web Development company, and my target were small businesses especially those that are based in rural areas and rural schools.

    My business didn’t go well, it dismally failed because the people I targeted thought that the websites are not that important for their businesses, and most said they don’t afford a website, although I was way cheaper compare to other developers.

    After reading the story of a guy who started a “Contract Ploughing Business” that you just shared I just realised what if I use the same model, what if I wakeup my business now and call it a “Contract Web Building Business”. I’ve just decided – I am going to create websites FOR EVERY rural business FOR FREE now, and I have also conceptualized the paying plan. They will have a choice of paying for it whenever they are fit or pay as little as R10 every month until they finish up.

    Thank You so much again Dr Masiyiwa, you are truly a blessing to us. Everyone who needs a FREE WEBSITE must contact me: mxolisib3@gmail.com , I want to take all rural businesses to the internet.

    My reply,
    This is one of the most practical comments I have read in a long time.
    You have an incredible mindset, and you will prosper.
    I hope others emulate your example.
    Well done.

  11. Reflection:
    A young man once approached an old man well known for his wisdom that many in the village called him a sage.
    “I have a problem which I need your advice on,” the young man began.
    “Why don’t we have a cup of tea?” the elder answered.
    The young man spoke for a long time, almost without stopping. He explained the problem, and then he laid out passionately the solution he was pursuing to solve the problem.

    Then suddenly he realized that the elder man was continuing to pour out the tea until the cup was overflowing! He seemed not to be aware of the fact that the cup was full:

    “Sir, the tea is overflowing!” he exclaimed.

    “Yes, I know.=,” the elder replied:

    “It was the only way I could get your attention.
    If I recall correctly, you said you wanted advice, but you left no room for that advice.”

    I first read this story in a book by Akio Morita, the founder of Sony about 25 years ago. It had such a profound impact on me, both in terms of how I seek advice and to whom I also give advice.
    On the latter I never give advice if I perceive the person is only looking for validation for the course they have chosen to take. The person will even later claim they acted on the basis of my advice!

    I’m not a sage but just someone who has enjoyed more than my fair share of grace. I love to give advice to those I know will listen to me, and act on that advice.


    1. Thank you Mr Masiyiwa
      This is very wise.
      Sometimes I give advice to others even they don’t asked because I want to help them
      I understand that this could be dangerous!
      I will only give to people to people who asked from now on
      Thanks again

  12. Reflection:
    When I was younger I would often offer advice to people even if they did not ask for it.
    That was not wise…

    When I was younger I gave advice to people who found it difficult to take my advice, and would often get very angry.
    Someone tried to kill me after I gave them advice by pointing out an error he had made in his own business!

    The guy actually came to my home armed with a gun, and only the Lord saved my life!

    And yet later his business collapsed and he lost everything..

    That day I learnt a life lesson. ..

    Now you know how I came to say:

    If I know my advice will anger you, I would sooner go my way quietly because I have long found my own peace.

  13. Folorunso writes,

    Oga Strive, there is a very effective and convenient mode of payment here China call “we chat payment” Which I believe that you must be familiar with.
    This system of payment is so good that you can use it to pay for almost every goods and services here in China by just simple scanning and transfer. It’s an immediate payment mode that makes the player and the receiver very comfortable to do business.
    I wonder if your company can also create such platform for payment in Africa. with this, farmers or pretty traders don’t really need to carry cash or go to the bank before they could make financial transactions.
    Kujembola Johnny Folorunso

    My reply,
    We are very familiar with it, and we have been operating a similar system in several countries. Unfortunately it is not yet taken off in West Africa.
    Cassava Smartech.

  14. Dave writes,

    We started a first-of-it -kind Agro-edu called BARTER WORLD (A subsidiary of one of our companies called VILLAGE IN THE CITY:where we bring large amount of fresh farm product from the remotest Villaged to the city at a very ridiculously cheap prices ).now what Barter world offers is exchange of agricultural goods (yams,rice etc:staple foods) as payment for good education for farmers children.we value the school fees and convert it(using our conversion model) to a similar worth of agricultural product the farmers have.
    Alot of very poor farmers children are enjoying very good top class education in places you would never believe a farmer child can go to school. Our vision is to eliminate the limitations cash has put on dreams.Also to encourage farmers that their children can enjoy the best in nice schools while they focus on the farming.we are located in western Nigeria and we believe by next year we would spread to 5 western Nigeria countries.
    We need partners all around the world..the future of the world is ict and agriculture….our slogan is….something more than money!!

    My reply,
    “Our vision is to eliminate the limitations cash has put on dreams”…
    I love this. What an idea. Well done.
    Any potential partners out there on this platform?
    Keep us posted on your progress.

  15. waoh,our vision is to eliminate the limitations cash has put on our dreams
    i wish every Kenyan Youth can read through this…
    that is is still doable without the cash

  16. Thanks for inspiring us and we are going to re-image Africa.We are also very much interested in the project.

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