At Zoona, we exist to help communities thrive. How do we do this? We empower entrepreneurs, especially women, to provide essential financial services to their communities – allowing them to earn an income while building financial inclusion.

We have built our entire business model around unlocking the potential of these emerging entrepreneurs, by giving them all the tools and support they need to succeed. It has enabled us to grow to a stage where we have over 1,500 agents who have created more than 3,000 jobs and serve more than 1.5 million consumers every 60 days. Cumulatively, they have processed over USD $1 billion in mobile money transactions since inception.

We have seen women entrepreneurs consistently achieve better results and greater impact in their communities. Tweet This Quote

From the onset of our journey, we have seen women entrepreneurs consistently achieve better results and greater impact in their communities. In November 2014, Zoona was selected for the inaugural Girl Effect Accelerator (an Unreasonable Group and Nike Foundation initiative). Zoona was invited to participate as one of the top 10 startups in the world best suited to taking women and girls out of poverty. I attended the accelerator with Mike Quinn, Zoona’s CEO. Here’s a video of Mike presenting at the closing of the accelerator:

We left the Girl Effect Accelerator with many lessons learned and insights gained, and we spent 2015 working with consultants provided by Unreasonable in laying the groundwork for how we could systematize and unleash the impact of the Girl Effect in our business. We started executing on our new Girl Effect strategy in 2016, and our focus revolved around the following three key areas:

  • Our Agents and Agent Pipeline
  • Our People
  • Sharing the Girl Effect Story

So, one year on, it makes sense to take a step back and see what we have accomplished through the lens of each of these areas.

Annetty Chama (C) processes a mobile money cash transfer for a client at the Zoona kiosk where she works in Lusaka, Zambia. Photo by Jennifer Bruce.

Our Agents and Agent Pipeline

We have restructured our entire approach to Agent recruitment. Now, we appoint a specialist team in each of our markets to particularly seek out young women from poor communities who exhibit high potential and entrepreneurial spirit, yet often lack opportunity, and recruit them to become Agents. In both Malawi and Mozambique, we also established partnerships with women’s groups and associations for this purpose.

Our recruitment process requires that short-lists for any position at a senior level must include at least one woman. Tweet This Quote

In Zambia, we took it a step further and expanded this drive to the workforce hired by our Agents. We developed a program through which young high-school graduates from poor communities, who would otherwise have limited opportunities, go through a training and development program we have aptly called “The Girl Effect Accelerator Pilot.” In the program, they receive computer skills, business management, life skills training, as well as instruction on the use of the Zoona system and the running of a Zoona outlet. They are also mentored by successful Zoona female entrepreneurs (like Misozi, who Mike mentions in the video above). At the end of the program, they can sign on to be placed for employment by our Agents.

Once placed, they are put on a fast track to becoming Zoona Agents in their own right, so they can start creating opportunities for others like them.
To date, 41 girls have gone through the program – and the impact is humbling. Annetty, from Lusaka, went from unemployment to becoming the main breadwinner for her family in a period of 6 weeks.

Annetty Chama (L) with her mother, Blessing Musonda, at their home in Marapodi Compund in Lusaka. Annetty became a Zoona kiosk teller following a ‘Girl Effect Accelerator’ training course with Zoona. Photo by Jennifer Bruce.

Our People

This commitment to the Girl Effect continues within our organization through our drive to continue building diversity in our team. Our recruitment process, for example, now requires that short-lists for any position at a senior level must include at least one woman.

We do this not because we want to introduce gender quotas, but rather because we firmly believe that there is a wealth of qualified and talented women in Africa and the world, and we want to make it our business to attract them to come and work for Zoona, so they can help us in our mission of helping communities thrive. As a result, over 70 percent of our senior management team is comprised of women.

We firmly believe that there is a wealth of qualified and talented women in Africa and the world, and we want to make it our business to attract them. Tweet This Quote

Spreading the Girl Effect Story

At Zoona, we have the privilege and the responsibility of being a living example of the Girl Effect in motion. We are a data-driven impact business and can point to the impact of the Girl Effect in the success of our operations. Over the last year, we have made it our mission to share these insights and learnings with the world so that more businesses can deliberately commit to empowering women entrepreneurs as a key component of their strategies.

In the last month alone, I have had the privilege of speaking at the African Business and Social Responsibility Forum in Mauritius alongside the President of Mauritius, as well as the G20 Summit on Financial Inclusion in Germany. On both occasions, I shared Zoona’s commitment to the Girl Effect. This has become a core element of our narrative as a company.

We seek to empower all willing entrepreneurs, and we don’t exclude anybody. But we do deliberately seek out women entrepreneurs and continue to improve our processes to ensure we are positioned to keep attracting women. We do this so we can continue to replicate the impact that young women like Misozi and Annetty can have on communities across Africa – and call on other startups to do the same.

About the author

Lelemba Phiri

Lelemba Phiri

Lelemba Phiri is an award-winning financial educator, writer, keynote speaker and finance and development professional. She is the Chief Marketing Officer for Zoona, an African mobile payments business that helps communities thrive by enabling emerging entrepreneurs within the communities to provide financial services. She is also the co-founder of Africa Trust Academy. Lelemba has a Masters of Commerce in Development Finance (with distinction) from the Graduate School of Business at the University of Cape Town, and she is a Chartered Accountant (FCCA, FZICA).