MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

My MEDA Internship Reflection: "I feel extremely grateful"

What initially drew me into applying for a MEDA internship revolved around wanting to work abroad again and see if I could find a placement that would give me the skills and opportunities to transition into a career with international development work. However, after applying and having my first interview with MEDA I realized this internship program was not like many of the other I had applied for in the past. The level of professionalism and care by the staff members and the investment MEDA made to provide the necessary resources for us to be most effective in our roles was evident to me from the start. This really drew me into the MEDA internship program and I was lucky enough to be selected.

I had previously served a nine month fellowship for an NGO in Rwanda working at a partner microfinance institution so this was not my first experience living/working in sub-Saharan Africa. I think I went into the internship with realistic expectations of what was expected of me, and what I could contribute during my time frame. So I think having previous experience can be very helpful in the first month of your placement.

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Why I love Zoona

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Now, almost a year after my initially arrival for a six month internship in Zambia with MEDA techno-links partner, Zoona I find myself sitting in front of the mighty Zambezi river writing this final blog post. I find it hard to begin where to start when recapping my MEDA internship experience. My time in Zambia had a profound impact on me both professionally and personally. For starters, my goal of hoping this internship would provide me an opportunity to get a full-time role in sub-Saharan Africa played out well. After my six month internship was completed I was given a full-time three year contract with my placement organization, Zoona as the Agent Training Officer. This is a role that previously did not exist but during my placement I was able to show the value created by having a more robust training program that focused on many aspects of what will improve agent performance.

The skills I have developed since stepping off the plane nearly a year ago up to present day would take pages to explain. To keep things simple I will touch on a few that resonate with me.

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A New Year With New Goals

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After a nice Christmas vacation where I was able to meet up with fellow MEDA interns Mary, Curtis, and Daniel I'm back to work with Zoona as we begin the 2014 year with ambitious goals of expansion and impact. First, let me summarize the great vacation I had in Tanzania and Kenya.It was my first time in Tanzania and I was surprised by the development and hyper-activity of Dar Es Salaam, a very different feeling than the capital city, Lusaka where I spend my time with MEDA techno-links partner, Zoona. On my first day there Curtis got tickets for us to watch a big soccer match at national stadium. It was a great experience!Later we took a trip to Arusha, Tanzania to trek up 4,566 meter Mt. Meru. It was hard, it was fun, and a lot of memories were shared with me, Daniel, and Mary. After getting back down from four days on the mountain I could barely walk but felt great with the accomplishment. It made me realize daily exercise wouldn't be a bad investment for me in Lusaka when I returned.I finished out my trip spending time with a former work colleague in Nairobi, Kenya. I always enjoy visiting new places in Africa as each country has its own unique culture and idiosyncrasies that are fascinating.Now, back in Lusaka I have been developing a case study for the techno-links project on agent training methods Zoona has gone through the past four years. This has involved field work, lots of interviews, and disbursing surveys to collect information from agents and tellers. We hope to utilize the case study as a tool for Zoona to better evaluate its training program for agents and make recommendations for areas of improvement.This will be important as Zoona is planning to expand its agent network from 200 to 600 this year in Zambia. The increase we anticipate will be on par with an increase in customer transactions and demand for financial services among Zambians. As Zoona's popularity has grown, we have seen a steady rise in total monthly transactions. In September of 2012 we had 76,871 total transfers performed, whereas by December we had a total of 122,080.As we continue to scale our agent network it brings more agent locations to rural areas in Zambia that have few, if any, financial options for sending/receiving money. This is one of the focal points of the techno-links project, and it is good to see the progress we are making in providing more opportunities for Zambians to access financial services in rural areas.
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Impact Stories from the Field

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I always enjoy getting out of the office in the busy capital city of Lusaka and visiting MEDA techno-links partner Zoona in the field. Zoona has an expansive agent network totaling over 200 agents located throughout Zambia. Seeing firsthand how these entrepreneurs are being empowered to grow their businesses is inspiring. Not only has Zoona helped increase their incomes and well-being, but it also provides a needed financial service in a country where over 84% of the adult population does not have a formal bank account.  Zoona is unique against other competitors in that individuals do not have to create accounts to use and benefit from Zoona services like sending/receiving money, bill payments, airtime purchases, and receiving international remittances. All they have to do is provide their personal National Identification Card (NRC) and they can be served. This makes the barrier to utilizing the services minimal and with Zoona’s Easy, Quick, Safe platform anyone from illiterate rural farmers to Lusaka businessmen can easily understand and appreciate the simplicity of the service.  This past week I was able to interview five agents along with MEDA M&E Program Manager Jillian Baker. Here are some of the highlights of how this techno-links funded project is making a difference for local Zambian entrepreneurs and consumers:Marjori and her husband Dominque have been operating two Zoona outlets in the Copperbelt region of Zambia since 2009. After being trained and supported by Zoona staff their business has steadily grown. With this income Marjori and her husband re-invested back into the business and also purchased 23 hectares of land for farming to begin generating additional revenue streams. Marjori says her goal is to, “Grow her Zoona business and help others in need.” One way she is already doing this is by taking in 8 orphans to her home and paying their school fees so they can receive an education.  Constance is a young and talented entrepreneur who after receiving training and support from Zoona has now managed to grow her business to six Zoona outlets throughout the Copperbelt region. She employs 8 female tellers who work at her shops and receive a salary as well as bonuses based on performance. When one of Constance’s tellers was pregnant she gave her three months of maternity leave fully paid. Constance understands the concept that if you treat your employees well it will not only benefit them, but also the business and her customer base. With the income Constance earns from her Zoona outlets she has enrolled in College to study for her Diploma. She also says she enjoys the feeling of independence running her own business brings.  Mercy started her Zoona business only 9 months ago. Through training from Zoona, hard work, and direct selling she has expanded her business quickly. She already employs three tellers and recently opened a second outlet in the town of Ndola. She says Zoona has empowered her to think like an entrepreneur. She is now enrolling in College to study Business Management. When asked why Business Management Mercy said, “So I can learn more about how to be a successful business owner.”  Perhaps the most inspiring part of doing these interviews was seeing the confidence and independence these Zambian entrepreneurs conveyed in every word spoken. This visit only reinforced my views that Zoona is living out its core belief, “we will be at the forefront of developing and empowering entrepreneurs in emerging markets.” Improved incomes for agents, local job creation, and increased financial services for the non-banked.... The list could go on and on. This is a model that works, this is sustainable impact.

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Road Trip!

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I’ve always enjoyed a good road trip and the past two weeks I was able to cover some Zambian countryside! Things like dodging potholes, driving long tracks on dirt roads, avoiding bicycles, stopping for goats, chickens, cattle, and once an elephant never leaves time for dull moments on the road in Zambia.I especially enjoy having the opportunity to interact with Zoona Agents and tellers supported by MEDA’s techno-links project in Zambia. These are entrepreneurs who are providing a host of mobile money financial services for their communities while also employing tellers to facilitate transactions at their outlets. Mundia, a Zoona Agent in the small town of Mongu, which is located in western Zambia, employs 18 tellers throughout his 12 Zoona outlets.  Pulling into Mongu after a 10 hour drive I hear people yelling “ZOONA!” as they see our brightly branded vehicle. Cars drive by with the “I LOVE ZOONA” stickers on the back giving thumbs up to us out their window. It feels good to see the impact Zoona is having in the community.  The purpose of the road trip involves me training our tellers and Agents on new services Zoona is providing customers. However, I spend a lot of my time listening to our customers, who are Zoona’s Agents and tellers. Hearing their feedback is valuable for me as I can relay important information gathered from the field to management so we can continue to improve our product and services to the end consumers.  As I’m driving 10 hours back to Lusaka from Mongu I pass one of our Zoona outlets at 4pm and see a queue of five customers waiting in line. 20 meters down the road a competitor with a company value in the billions has their mobile money shop closed up. Sometimes it’s not resources that bring success and growth to companies, but rather resourcefulness.  At Zoona we understand our end users needs and create a service that is reliable and easy for them to access (we now have over 225 locations in Zambia). Our spirit of entrepreneurialism has always focused on problem solving (and there are lots of problems to solve here) rather than just pursuing profit. By focusing on identifying bottlenecks and finding creative ways to unlock value for consumers and corporate suppliers Zoona is now growing on average at 20% per month. One of Zoona’s core beliefs is growth, and we are having fun while working towards a common goal of cashless thriving businesses, everywhere. 

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Ready, Fire, Aim

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The title of this blog is often used by entrepreneurs who are constantly striving to challenge the status quo and welcome change and risk within their business. They view change and risk not as a threat, but rather an opportunity to innovate and grow under-served markets. In the competitive and hyper-evolving mobile money market I like to operate by the quote, “It’s better to have a good plan today, than a perfect plan tomorrow.”  This is what MEDA techno-links partner Zoona personifies. Leading the mobile money financial transaction movement in Zambia requires taking calculated risks in the quest of pushing the ordinary in the name of development. We at Zoona constantly ask ourselves if we are being REAL… Real to our customers, real to our employees, real to our stakeholders, and real in what we strive to accomplish. If the answer is yes, we move forward.  As we work to gain traction in growing the mobile wallet product in Zambia, challenges and breakthroughs constantly arise. The key to executing in this type of environment is staying focused and true to your customer. My role in this is to provide our Agent network with the training tools they need to successfully convert their customers over to mobile wallets.  Generally speaking mobile wallets are a cheaper, more convenient, and easily accessible service than traditional over-the-counter money transfers. One way I like to break down the mobile wallet is by saying it provides ACCESS.  It is a mechanism through which financial inclusion can be delivered on a mass (and cost effective) scale.  One example includes Kiva Zip starting a pilot program where entrepreneurs and small business owners in Kenya can get cash funds sent directly to their M-Pesa account to help grow their businesses. There are myriad examples of how M-Pesa has provided improved access for individuals traditionally cut off from savings, insurance, bill payments, and person-to-person (P2P) sending  and receiving of money. This is the scale we are aiming for at Zoona. One step in achieving this goal is the recent partnership Zoona signed with international telecom company Airtel. You can read more about the partnership here.  Zoona stands alone in one very important way. Our Agent network has significant working capital to service customers compared to our competitors. Basically, this means when a customer comes to a Zoona shop they can feel confident their financial request will be served, whether they are sending $10 or $500.  We provide our Agents with the opportunity to access working capital finance (WCF) through a partnership we have with Kiva. This enables our Agent network to have sufficient working capital, service more customers in need of financial services, grow their businesses, and earn more profits. We are confident in the model we have and its potential to scale far beyond Zambia.  We at Zoona know one key to success depends on having a well financed network of Agents to serve the customer’s financial needs.  

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The Power Of Partnerships; Airtel Money Now Powered by Zoona

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Today, Thursday, October 10, 2013 marks a memorable day for Zoona.  At 8am this morning Zoona officially began its partnership with telecom giant, Airtel.  Airtel is an international telecoms company with over 270 million users.  It is presently in 18 countries throughout Africa and has 4.2 million registered users in Zambia alone.  For the past eight weeks Airtel and Zoona have been in negotiations over a partnership between Airtel money (e-wallet) and Zoona.  The partnership is mutually beneficial as it allows both companies to collaborate together to provide more comprehensive mobile money financial services to Zambian consumers.  Now any of Airtel’s 4.2 million users can register for an Airtel money account via a Zoona Agent.  They can also deposit, withdrawal, and pay bills via Zoona Agents with their Airtel e-wallets.  An e-wallet is basically a mini-bank in your mobile phone.  You can deposit money into your account through an Agent and send money to other Airtel customers in Zambia via your mobile phone.  Once someone sends money to a friend or family member they will receive a text message notifying them of the transaction.  At this point they can pick up the money at any one of the 150+ Zoona Agent outlets throughout Zambia.  Another example is someone now can go to a Zoona Agent, deposit money into their Airtel e-wallet and pay their water, electricity, and DSTV bills through their mobile phone.  This allows more local Zambians to make cashless financial transactions.  The reason why Zoona entered into this partnership with Airtel is for a variety of reasons.  However, this partnership aligns well with Zoona’s core beliefs of entrepreneurship, growth, change, and impact.  1) Entrepreneurship: This partnership will allow Zoona to stay at the forefront of developing and empowering our Agent network.  We specialize in making businesses grow, and we believe the data shows in the long run mobile wallet adoption is the future for branchless banking in emerging markets.  Rather than wait for this to slowly develop in Zambia, we at Zoona want to be at the forefront of creating the successful mobile wallet.  2) Growth: We invest in skills and technology that drive growth in our company for our customers and stakeholders.  This partnership with Airtel gives us the opportunity to gain 4 million new customers in Zambia alone.  3) Change: We challenge the status quo in the name of progress and development.  Currently, Zoona is growing and doing well in the money transfer business.  However, we foresee the future of branchless banking moving towards the adoption of the e-wallet, which will have more services and cheaper costs for consumers.  We are not afraid of change and will continue to adapt in the name of progress.  4) Impact: We will develop solutions that will scale across industries and markets.  At Zoona we are always striving to stay one step ahead of the competition, driving innovation and early adoption in the name of creating sustainable impact.  This partnership with Airtel will allow us to have a more significant impact on the Zambian market and beyond. The past few weeks the staffs in Lusaka and Cape Town have been working long hours preparing for the launch.  On my end I have been working to put together a training packet for Agents and tellers to walk them through the new features that will be on the Zoona interface.  This partnership will benefit Zoona the most if we sign up a large number of Airtel’s 4 + million subscribers and have them begin transacting with Airtel money.  Keeping this in mind, we understand our Agent network is the key to having this venture be successful.  The Agent is Zoona’s customer, as we derive value from Agent performance.  We strive to provide our Agent network with the tools they need to succeed and grow their businesses.  We do this through trainings, marketing/branding, prompt customer care, and real-time payments/commissions to name a few.  At Zoona we believe we have a top-notch Agent network.  This is why we believe we can sign up one million new Airtel money subscribers by January 1st, 2014.  Now that the launch has begun, it’s all about execution.  Like CCO Brad Magrath said yesterday, “Today the real work begins everybody.”  I often joke with my friends back in America that I feel as though I won the lottery to have the opportunity to intern at Zoona.  The organization is at a pivotal point right now in its growing phase and I am working diligently to add value to Zoona during my time.  The next month I hope to continue to travel around the country like I have the past few weeks training Agents and getting valuable feedback on how we can improve the system for them.  Now, it will be more about listening to our Agents and customer feedback.  Then we will do our best to have systems and processes in place to meet the challenges we will face as the new product grows.  We are confident in our Agent network to sell Airtel money.  However, we are most excited about the opportunity this brings local Zambians.  We are striving to innovate and grow the mobile money financial services market in Zambia.  Now, Zoona is offering more services, for a cheaper price, to more potential customers.  This feeds directly into our vision of a world of cashless growing businesses… Everywhere.

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My Arrival in Zambia

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It felt wonderful to arrive in Lusaka, Zambia after 31 hours in transit from San Francisco to Washington D.C. to Addis Ababa to Harare to Lusaka. After waiting in the long line for an entry visa I was welcomed by the Zoona driver, Maxwell, holding a sign with my name on it. Talk about service! On the 25km drive to the Zoona office he pointed out some of the major points in the city as we passed them. Although I was jetlagged, it felt great to be back in Africa after a one year break where I was working in Phoenix, Arizona for the International Rescue Committee.  The partner agency I will be working with in Lusaka is the mobile money transaction company, Zoona. Recently, Zoona developed a one page summary of the company that I find helpful. Not only does it explain Zoona’s purpose, values, and vision but also its corporate strategy, goals, and business KPI’s. You can view a scanned copy of it here. With a rapidly growing agent base, superior access to working capital finance, and real-time payments for customers Zoona has its sights set on providing cashless services to help businesses grow in emerging markets.  Housing has proved to be a bit more difficult to find than I was anticipating. Zoona has been kind enough to let me stay at their company 2 bedroom flat about 200 meters from the office while I lock in a place to live for the next six months. Having some cross over with the current MEDA intern, Jenn Ferreri, has been very helpful in helping me meet people in the community as well as getting up to speed with everything Zoona and MEDA.  In my first week I have been learning about the Zoona business model, what my role will be in helping add value to the company during my time, and visiting local agents to work in performing transactions with customers. This was helpful to understand the process of sending/receiving money via one of Zoona’s agents. I was placed on the busy Cairo Rd. near the city center with Zoona agent, Misozi. It was a lot of fun hanging out with her four tellers and learning the ins and outs of Zoona transactions. I was a little slow at the start, but was getting the hang of it after a few hours behind the booth.  Thus far things have been splendid in Lusaka. The weather is also a nice plus coming from Phoenix in August. I am excited to be working with MEDA to help scale a growing entrepreneurial business with a bold vision of a “cashless Africa.” In my next entry I will go into more detail as to what my role will be with Zoona as I am now beginning to finalize my TOR (terms of reference) for the upcoming six months. 

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Those who can't post...link to other people's blogs?

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Ok so I know that my next blog is long overdue, but it is definitely a testament to how much I have been enjoying myself in Zambia!  Since you heard from me last I have been to Chobe National Park in Botswana for a camping trip/safari, Livingstone twice (still without mustering up the courage to do the bungee jump), the Harare International Festival of Arts in Zimbabwe for music/arts and horseracing, and to South Luangwa National Park in Zambia to see the Mzungu All Stars football team take on the local Zambian team, raise money for conservation projects and not see any leopard upclose.  All in all, not too shabby. I have had the opportunity to see more of the amazing countryside in this part of the world. 

On my non-weekends, I have been working on training materials and editing videos while are nearly done. Stay tuned as I will share a bit more about the process of editing and developing training materials next.  But to wet the appetites, I thought I would share a post from Michelle, our visiting Kiva fellow, documenting one of the amazing success stories of Zoona.

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Kamikaze Video Shooting in Zambia

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What do you get when you mix a rural microfinance intern, a Canadian multimedia specialist and adventure travel/documentary videographer  from Livingstone?The answer – hopefully, some wonderful training videos.Pictured left: Mike Q, Zoona CEO, Tony & I, on locationSo, for the past two weeks I have been running around the Copperbelt, Lusaka and Southern provinces trying to collect video footage of agents transacting, agent and client testimonials, branding in action, and good and bad business practices.  I have been interviewing, storyboarding, scouting locations, hiring actors, playing chauffeur, helping set up dollys, holding bounce cards, getting multiple waivers signed, and playing producer/director/screenwriter for a tiny production that will later become Zoona’s new agent training videos. Needless to say it has been quite an adventure. Here is a little run down of the process. The Process…Prior to mapping out the video process, the MEDA and Zoona teams worked on looking at what types of  content we could deliver via video, what the overall content for the agent training program should be and how receptive our prospective and current Zambian agents would be towards a video as the first touch point of joining Zoona.  Since I thought it was key to get feedback from the current Zoona agents, I traveled around a bit of Zambia interviewing agents and tellers. The questions I asked them primarily focused on: (1) how they had received training in the past, (2) what they thought the key components of a training should be, (2) what they thought about video as a mode of delivery, (3) what types of technology would be useful in making their Zoona businesses more efficient and profitable, (4) which customer care issues they deal with most often, (5) what the drivers of growth in their business are, and (6) how they manage their account in a given day and set targets for growth.Having sat through a week of the formal training program when I first arrived in Zambia, I had an idea of what the feedback might look like. Surprisingly, though, most of the agents and tellers I interviewed had not even gone through any kind of training and had instead been introduced to the platform by either an agent or a predecessor.  It therefore became clear that video would be a great supplement to the hands on training that most Zoona agents/tellers were receiving in the field.One of the other items that I learned during my research trip was that most agents or tellers were very clear on the type of technology that would help them process transactions faster.  Now since tablets are all of the rage in the development world, one would naturally assume that these would also be very popular with agents. BUT because the internet/network on a tablet is slower than on a laptop, the agents and tellers had a preference for the latter.   Agents and tellers were also quick to point out that the number pad attachment was also one of the key pieces of equipment that helped them transact faster because of the need for a customer to enter in a pin code for most transactions. Finally, I was also excited to get a chance to do some reconnaissance about the common customer care issues that agents and tellers deal with since I have used the feedback to script the customer care role plays for the agent training.Pictured right: Agents in action in NdolaApart from training content, it was really rewarding to hear first hand how becoming part of Zoona has changed many of the lives of the agents/tellers.  It was also a great opportunity to learn more about the Zoona business and see how many of Zoona's successful agents have developed regular customer bases and utilize word of mouth to gain new customers. Finally, as a side project, I took what I now know as B-roll, or footage of agents, tellers and customers transacting to include some variety in our video content. Based on the feedback I received from interviewees, I was able to work with another MEDA colleague, to draft an outline of the training content, associated goals for each training module, and determine the areas where video would be a value add.  Ultimately, there will be four training videos, including one focused on marketing and introducing the company and its products, one focused on customer service, troubleshooting and customer care, one focused on marketing, and one on managing your Zoona business and tellers.  These will be supplemented by two screen cast modules that show users how to use the Zoona mobile platform to transact and manage their accounts.Challenges...There are of course a number of challenges associated with doing my first ever training video production. The first being – planning.  During this process it has come to light that I am a “plan b” person….that is to say that I like to make sure that if something goes wrong we have an alternative in place to accomplish the same goals. Maybe this is a holdover from the Bear, Stearns days, but nonetheless, it is something I have taken with me.  It probably won’t come as a shock to most of you to know that that is not always possible here in Zambia. Luckily, I was able to have some amazing support from my MEDA colleague, Steve, to guide me through the shooting. We definitely developed some creative work-arounds when things were not going our way during shooting...most notably rain on a tin roofed booth interrupting sound quality, intermittent sunshine changing the look of video, and actors showing up late, various stray people wanting to interrupt filming. For the last one, it is amazing what an ambassador a free t-shirt can be as long as you don't give it out until the end. Pictured above: Actors hard at workBased on the advice of Steve and Rachel, I knew that having a comprehensive storyboard and shot list was key to getting the project off on the right foot and ensuring that we had enough footage for the final video product.  For those of my more video minded friends, I now have an even greater appreciation of all of the things that go into making a video possible. Part of the storyboarding process included scripting good and bad customer service scenarios and common customer care issues. For these items, we did live role plays with Zambian actors and our kamikaze film crew of 4 – me, Memory from Zoona, Steve from MEDA, and Tony, our videographer/cameraman on hire from Livingstone.  We tried to get as wide a range in ages and appearance as we could, but unfortunately the casting director did not come through at the last minute. Still, we managed to get some very professional actors that took their jobs seriously and succeeded in recreating the transaction process. It was definitely a different experience having actors come up to me and ask me about how they should be playing the role of agent or customer and asking about changing dialogue. While I had initially thought that filming in and around Zambia and getting various permissions would be the greatest of my challenges, I was pleasantly surprised when people were bending over backwards to make shooting possible. We were even able to film in the busiest bus station in Lusaka.  That's not to say that we didn't have our fair share of traffic, horns honking,  parade practices shutting down streets, and locals who wanted to run into shots....we even had a man ask us to film him while he was doing some Michael Jackson choreography.I am so grateful to all of the agents I interviewed for being so patient and open with me. I hope to use most if not all of their amazing feedback to make the case for the benefits of being a Zoona agent and show people how joining the team can impact their lives.Next Steps…Now that the shooting is complete, I am working on going through all of the footage and making selections for the first round of edits to be done by Steve. After that I will be working on the screencast portion of the training to be followed by putting together the user guide which will accompany all of the training materials.

Pictured right: Me in Livingstone in front of Victoria FallsOther Updates…In other news after much debate and deliberation I have decided to stay on Lusaka for another 5 months. It was a really difficult decision since I am missing my family, friends and partner, but ultimately it didn’t seem like I was quite done with my stint living abroad or any of the training projects that we are currently embarking on. 

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Patience is a virtue that I am working on…

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Maybe I can place some of the blame on my investment banking roots, but I know that even apart from that training, patience is a virtue that I have in short supply for most things (somehow this impatience does not extend to my ability to wait for hours to stream TV on our slow internet connection...go figure :)). During my MEDA orientation we discussed a lot about culture shock and adapting to being in a new environment. Although I was definitely concerned about living in Africa for the first time ever, I was confident that my previous experiences abroad would help me along in this process. This is of course not to say that I don't have my moments when I am missing my loved ones and my life in New York/Washington DC, especially being away while friends and family are dealing with turmoil in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I also am now equipped with some wonderful strategies to cope with homesickness and culture shock that I learned during the MEDA orientation, which certainly adds to my confidence. Nevertheless, what I am writing about today is the thing I was/am most concerned about (even back in that conference room in Waterloo) during this experience - the adjustment required when working in a different culture. Though I have had some experience in this area (working on project finance deals in Mexico, traveling to Russia to do financial and organizational capacity assessments for the SEEP Network; working remotely to gather indicator information from partners in Africa and Latin America, or doing online webinar trainings for microfinance associations) I have always found it the most challenging of development work. Whether it is coordinating different work styles, working with different time lines, terminology, wait times or simply put, work hours, it takes a while to figure out how things run or what is appropriate work behavior in the country you are working in. About me - I am definitely used to a "time is money" mentality, meaning that I am used to running around in crisis mode, all the while trying to maximize my efficiency... mean, I worked at a firm where the CEO wrote a book on how paperclips were wasteful.Since arriving here in Zambia I am very much of aware of the clash of work cultures I am experiencing. Some of things I have noticed: #1) it is not uncommon to have to ask someone to do something several times before they will actually do it. I don't think this is actually considered rude, though, which is nice. It does make crossing things off on your to do list a little difficult, though :). #2) Face time is also not a requirement here...therefore it is also not uncommon for people to make their own work hours, as long as they get their work done (although deadlines don't appear to be that formal either). #3) Healthy fear of the boss doesn't exist here - people don't seem to be intimidated or alter their behavior based on their manager's presence. #4) There is a more laid back sense to things getting done...you almost never see anybody rushing around to get something done. In fact, I think they find me quite strange since I do that already quite frequently here. Simply put, if something doesn't get done today, there is always time for it tomorrow. And finally #5) people don't appear to get flustered, frustrated or worked up when something is done incorrectly. They simply just say oh well and move on from there. I often get stressed out when I am the one finding the errors in things since I am the newest person here and probably the least qualified at this point to do so. However, people here would just say "good thing we have you" and move on, which just may be the most healthy approach to life there is instead of stressing out about it :) Other work differences I have noticed - generally, customer service in Zambia is very different than in the U.S. Here, you often enter a business and can wait around for a long time, watching people make coffee, staple things, or sit at their desk doing nothing, before they will ask you if you need assistance. For instance, the other day I walked into the bank to get a check cut and ended up standing in the lobby for about 20 minutes since the people at the desks in the front of the bank would not engage me. I finally had to approach a teller to ask if there was anyone who could help me with a bank check. When they told me the branch manager had gone and no one else could help me, and was told that the Bank Manager wasn't there and nobody knew where she was, so I needed to go to a different branch. Compared to many banks in the U.S. where the second you walk in, there is either a sign up sheet or a person to greet you and ask you if you need help. It could just be that many of these services are still luxuries and so it is not like the businesses are competing for customer attention. I think customer service is understood as tending to a customer's needs, but it certainly does not mean approaching someone in a lobby to ask if they need help when they walk into an office.In fact, the mentality is much more like you should be thanking the person for their help, which definitely may take some getting used to.[1] For me going forward I think I will try to take a step back and maintain a sense of perspective, especially when I realize any of these things are happening. Come to think of it, the work culture clash from the U.S. to Zambia is probably not unlike the work culture clash between the U.S. and Italy, France or Spain. People aren't living for their work, but working so they can live. Suffice it to say that apart from the material knowledge related to mobile banking, I am looking forward to growing my patience in the months to come! Do you have a good way of dealing with cultural work differences that you want to share?
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In typical Ferreri fashion...

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As life would have it, there was a curve ball waiting for me when I walked into work two Mondays ago…I was asked to fill in at the last minute for a colleague and assist on rolling out some financial education trainings for loan officers of a large microfinance bank in Zambia. Since the trainings were going to be decentralized by region, it would require flying to some pretty remote areas of the country on progressively smaller propeller planes, and also give me my first taste of bus travel in Zambia. Even crazier, though, is that I would only have 24 hours to get up to speed, buy, print and assemble all of the materials for the trainings, pack AND learn enough about Zoona so I wouldn't embarrass myself as their representative at the trainings. I, of course said yes, although I am not sure I had much of a choice ;) In the end it probably ended up being the best thing for helping me learn about the mobile banking business, the challenges and opportunities that mobile platforms have for microfinance, and allowing me to learn a little more about the country I'll call home for the next 6 months and the wonderful people who live in it.Starting from the beginning though, I was to fly to Ndola in the northwestern part of the country, also known as the Copperbelt, for our first training. Well, I almost fell over when I saw the 10 seater aircraft with two propellers that was responsible for getting us across the country. After some reassuring words from my new travel partner, Jackie from Microfinance Opportunities, I tried to push the terror aside and remind myself that i was lucky because "at least we weren't going on the plane next to us that only had one propeller" (more on the 1 propeller plane later ;)) For a person who loves rollercoasters, I don't know why the same movement on an airplane makes me want to try like a baby. Suffice it to say, the shaking, incredibly loud humming of the plane's engine and sudden drops made me ecstatic to jump off the plane after we landed. The most interesting part about plane travel in Africa, though, is getting to observe who is able to use this form of transportation. I think it is important to note that in the cost of my airline tickets (for 4 flight legs) was 5.2 million Zambian Kwatcha or $1,020.[1] That's right to fly to 2 places in Zambia it cost more than my flight to Zambia, excluding the taxes or which is even more frightening roughly similar to the Gross National Income (GNI) per capita.[2] Sadly, this does not even include the passenger charges that we had to pay at each airport of departure which were another $12/each. Now, despite the fact that I am a scaredy cat when it comes to flying, I know that it is an incredible luxury and it makes me feel uncomfortable when I think the median income of Vision Fund clients who will be the beneficiaries of this financial education program. But, since Zambia is such a big country (larger than the state of Texas) and road travel is not always the easiest, fastest or safest, this is the only way we can fit in all of the trainings in a week and half's time. Since we were heading to the mining belt, it is no surprise that there were a few mining/businessmen types on the flight. Many of the mining guys (they are always men) are Aussies and are wearing jeans, Oakley sunglasses and cell phone holsters. Then, there are the impeccably dressed African business men; the very casually dressed tourists (although not sure why tourists are going to the mining region), and then there are the NGO crowd, usually laden with materials or bags with packets etc. In this particular instance…this is us. Once we arrived in Ndola, we had about an hour's drive to Kitwe (the second largest city in Zambia) where the training would be taking place the next day. Being that we were in the Copperbelt, it seemed apropos that we ended up staying in a place that was smack dag across the street from a big mountain of ore or something. Thankfully, the warnings of my Zoona co-workers about the air quality never ended up being an issue. Since we were staying a little ways out of the city center, I can't give too many impressions about Kitwe, except to say that it is expensive! I was shocked at what $57/night ($290,000) gets you. I was told that the mining concessionaires and the constant influx of people keep the prices high. I did have A/C and hot water, which was a blessing since it was hot during the day. The first room I saw, though, did not have a toilet seat ;) I think the most memorable parts of the stay in Kitwe were (a) my first meal with Nshima served without utensils; (b) my first introduction to Zambian time…everything is always 10 minutes, even 1 hour after the fact; (c) having to provide an introduction to Zoona and field questions during the challenges with the Zoona platform section; (d) seeing the enthusiasm of the loan officers when they were presenting lessons on financial education; and (e) the twice daily power cuts that made planning your shower all the more important. It was also very clear after our first training that I was not only incredibly fortunate to be seeing so much of Zambia in my second week on the job, but also because I was going to learn so much about the mechanics of training, adult learning, and financial education. Just as a background, Zoona is working with an MFI to do client loan disbursements. Formerly, the MFI disbursed loans in one of two ways - (1) loan officers had to travel around to loan groups with large sums of money which was neither safe nor cost effective, or (2) clients would have to travel long distances to get to their nearest MFI branch to pick up their loans at their own expense. While all of the operational challenges of this partnership have yet to be sorted out (I am hear gathering feedback about these challenges and disseminating updates about progress), Zoona's mobile agent network has the potential to make loan disbursement much easier in terms of time and cost for the MFI and clients. I was really impressed by the first training, the material was not only engaging, but you could also see how interested the loan officers were in learning how to train their clients on financial education. Some of the topics that were covered were lessons on: (1) When is a loan good or bad?; (2) Tracking your business and household expenses; (3) Ways to Save; and (4) Using Zoona to manage your money. Although many people were familiar with Zoona's money transfer services, it was great to be able to talk about some of the other services that could be useful to their clients...i.e. as a safe place to deposit your money, using Zoona to pay your bills or even to repay your loan. I think I will save the part about the challenges of the Zoona account for Part II of the blog since it gets more into the nitty gritty (or mechanics) of mobile banking. After a successful 9 hours of training and a good night's sleep, though, we had to head out to our next stop on the financial education tour - Kasama. Kasama is in the northern province of Zambia, very close to the border of Tanzania and Lake Tanganyika. Based on the reactions of Zambians when I told them where I was going to next, I would also venture to say that Kasama is not a place that many people travel to for work or otherwise. This is where the trip starts getting a little more interesting/challenging as the planes start to get a bit smaller. This time we were led to the tarmac where there was a single propeller plane waiting to take us back to Lusaka , so we could then fly to Kasama. At this point I wasn't sure I could do it...the look of panic on my face was something I couldn't even hide from our pilot who actually asked me if I was going to be okay. Obviously I made it, but I was definitely counting down the minutes till the flight was over and relied on the music from my ipod to get me through the two long trips. That's before I even realized that we had to land on a red clay/dirt runway, my first ever. You can short of tell what type of town you are arriving in by the red dirt runway and singular airport building…Kasama is sort of one horse town. There are only two flights into town per week and it is about a 10 hours to Lusaka by bus or car. Since we arrived on a Thursday, we have to stay in Kasama for the weekend until the next flight date - Monday. There are also not a whole lot of mzungus (Swahili for white person) so I definitely attracted a little bit of attention when I walked around the town. Kasama has one main drag with a few strip malls, a few ATMs and a ShopRite, which makes Kasama the place where people come from around the smaller towns in the Northern province to do their shopping, commerce and banking. Hence, it is the perfect town for a Zoona agent. I am excited to say that this was my first visit to one, apart from the training center in downtown Lusaka. I got to sit with him for a little bit of time and ask him about the challenges he was facing as an independent agent. After being in Kitwe for the training I had a little more context related to the challenges of using the agent/mobile money platform for microfinance loan disbursement from the MFI side of things, but it was great to get an agent's perspective on the challenges.

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Part II of the Zambia Financial Education Tour!





Picking up from where we left off...One of the things that came out of the Kasama training is that the mechanics of mobile money and the agent network are a little difficult to wrap one's head around. I will be dedicating one of my next posts to the mechanics of mobile money and the agent network, but since this posting was about our trainings I thought I would include one of the diagrams I ended up drawing during our trainings to show how an agent manages his/her float or cash liquidity.

The other part of this equation is managing the funds in an electronic bank account so that he or she can transfer on behalf of a client. I mean in reality, the agent is like it's own little bank...an agent must ensure that it has enough cash on hand to meet customer demand for it (for money transfer or loan pay outs) while at the same time having enough funds in an electronic account to transact (really, transfer) on behalf of a client to a third party or savings account (i.e. money transfers, or Consumer to Business bill payments, loan repayments or air time purchases).

There is a constant deposit and withdrawal of money, and shifting of money from cash in hand to electronic in this agent model. Not being an expert in mobile banking (yet?), the biggest issue an agent faces is not having enough money for payouts, with the second one being not having enough electronic funds in his/her bank account to transact for clients. To this end, they are constantly converting cash funds into electronic or vice versa. As I mentioned in part I of my blog post on the topic, the financial education trainings also included educating the staff of Vision Fund Zambia, a microfinance institution, on how clients can use Zoona to receive and repay their loans, as well as receiving feedback on the challenges clients had with the platform. You may already be able to guess what I am going to say...but the more you think about it, the more you realize how much stress loan payouts can exert on an agent's liquidity, especially if loans are disbursed in groups. I will undoubtedly be addressing ways to combat these challenges during my time here in Zambia, but needless to say it is one of the big hiccups to growing mobile banking/payments too quickly. This is even more true when you are trying to support small and medium businesses as agents, where access to working capital is severely limited, if not non-existent. I am happy to report that the trip also gave me an opportunity to do some some wonderful sight seeing in the Northern province, thanks to our weekend layover there. We were told that a trip to Chishimba falls could not be missed and as you can see from the pictures, they were right :) The falls certainly did not disappoint and we were some of the only people there....well, that was at least until we stumbled upon a church choir who was recording in front of the falls. Left: Mutumuna, my MEDA bag, and me - up close and personal The church choir was gracious enough to let me snap a million photos of them and even take a few recordings that I will try to upload soon...well, all for the small fee of taking a Mizungu picture with every one of the male members you see to the right. Not sure why I have that kind of appeal, especially with the beautiful nature in the background, but I guess I am the exotic thing in the remote area of Zambia. Even so, such a small price to pay for such a gift.  The other must see in Kasama is the ancient rock paintings. I was initially drawn to see this site after reading in the Lonely Planet that "Archaeologists rate these paintings as one of the largest and most significant collections of Ancient Art in Southern Africa." Sadly, the paintings (who I suspect are not all that well visited) are starting to fade and the tourism infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, our guide didn't feel see the point of taking us to any more than two of the painting areas since there were pictures of the paintings in the visitor center and it was pretty hot out. :) After having traveled around a bit, I am now very much aware how much I had taken for granted the tourism infrastructure which is commonplace in the U.S., Canada and Europe.Had I not been so rudely interrupted by a massive wasp sting that left me writhing in pain, I was hoping I could press our guide into showing us more of the painting sites. Oh well.... After removing death grip from the plane arm rest, I was finally able to snap a photo of the view from the flight.
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