HomeBusiness StrategyRe-Imagine Rural (Part 4) : Ask, seek, knock... Seeds are already being...

Re-Imagine Rural (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 #People and #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. . .

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