Meet Zambia’s Fastest Growing Mobile Money Startup

Zoona is the number one mobile-money operator in Zambia and strives to be the best at providing business solutions to emerging entrepreneurs in Africa. The company’s core product is a mobile-based Zoona Account that enables entrepreneurs to process money transfers, access working capital financing, and manage their businesses.

This is the Girl Effect in practice. There’s now a third path for girls in Zambia. Tweet This Quote

Their impact on Girls in poverty? Meet Sandra Jere. She began working with Zoona when she was 19 and unemployed. She was given a Zoona booth and a start-up loan, and four years later she has nine outlets and employes 15 other Girls. Today, Zoona has over 600 entrepreneur outlets that service 600,000 unique costumers and process over $25 million per month in transactions.

This post is part of a series profiling ventures in first accelerator program dedicated to impacting the lives of millions of girls in poverty. For more information on the program, check out the Girl Effect Accelerator website.

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  • storres001

    This really is impressive, while it doesn’t seem like they started off to specifically help girls, they were blessed with Sandra as an example of how they can. Giving girls jobs that they can do with little to no education and grow their own businesses is awesome. It not only will give them that confidence and funding they need to keep going in their education but also put them as esteemed business leaders in their communities.

  • dbickel

    Great idea here. Creating a service everyone can use! However, I do have a few questions. Will Zoona only be hiring females as employees? Where will they keep the money once they get it into the booth? Is this really safer? What does the risk look like for the building owners and workers?

  • kgallaher

    Zoona is proving that it can really impact girls in poverty. It obviously changed Sandra’s life for the better. My only question is how will Zoona affect others? Sandra was able to make a living from it, but she is just one woman. I wonder if the results would look the same for all Zoona employees? Also, all of Zambia is in poverty. It’s apparent that women have it much worse than men, but how would Zoona affect Zambian men? I could see pretty large social barrier between men and women, especially if Zambian women start making more money than their husbands.

  • asprain

    Great simple idea that helped people transfer funds and turned out to help and change lives. Amazing outcome for women in Zambia and further helping those around them as well.

  • pouls29

    It’s a great story! I had a few thoughts and questions come to mind. It seems like it’s modeled on franchising a store. Do the agents get a “territory” to work? Or is it a first come/first serve? What about market saturation? How many kiosks can go in a certain area? What other products could they offer to diversify?

  • Matt48085

    This is amazing! Giving women opportunity in countries like this where there are little to no jobs other than getting married and having children. We in America take our rights and opportunities for granted, and I can’t imagine having to give up all of your dreams to be a maid or a child bearer as your only options.

  • epmcinty

    Very interesting story. Zoona has not only provided jobs and successful careers to many emerging entrepreneurs in developing countries like Sandra, but has also created a resourceful money transferring network and economic profit across many nearby African countries. My only side questions is how profitable was it for other young entrepreneurs other than Sandra and the highly successful individuals? Isn’t there a limit of how successful a person can become because of the emerging competition from this widespread company? Will it actually be able to continue to grow up until the year 2050 or will it hit a barrier? Other than that, Zoona seems groundbreaking and the results thus far are very impressive.

  • Erin Todd

    I find this idea to be really cool! It is hard because some countries are more pron to helping girls find jobs and diverse work. However, in Zambia it has been a little more challenging. Having Zoona is a great way to ease in the idea of women and breaking away from their traditional roles.

  • rschneider2800

    I was thinking about that too, but I really like when he said the quote about how they can choose when to marry and when to have children. We can hope that women empowerment will happen by single women gaining for financial independence or create role models for other women. We hope…

  • Jack Strader

    It’s amazing to think that simple financing options aren’t available to entrepreneurs in other countries. Zoona certainly gives them an upper hand in terms of competitive business and financing that without these options and services might otherwise fail. I’d like to see Zoona do more collaboration with other countries, not just Africa and provide more services and options for financing that will create a greater impact for these women and other entrepreneurs using the product.

  • amandaclaire94

    I LOVE this idea! I would never have thought that giving young girls the opportunity to work could impact the rest of their lives. Without a career, women are either forced to get married and have babies or have a small paying job. I completely support Sandra’s entrepreneurial spirit and business drive. I also love how it is not a charity, and is instead a self sustainable business. I am curious what the future will hold for Zoona and how it will continue to impact Zambia.

  • danphaw

    Companies love to social engineer in Africa don’t they? Why hire just girls and not men?

  • danphaw

    Capitalism works everywhere.

  • Wilson Mugabo

    This is a phemenon idea. From the country where I am from called Rwanda we kind have the same idea but it’s only owned by big telecom companies like MTN, TIGO and Airtel. I would love this idea to spread throughout the African continent allowing girls to express their innovative ideas.

  • Abbusse11

    What a great idea. I am so happy for the women to have such a great opportunity. Now this is just the tip of the iceberg. Young business women go go go.

  • Katie

    I think this is a great idea because young women in Africa have limited choices on their future even with an education. This provides great opportunity and I hope to see it flourish even more in the future. This allows girls to become young entrepreneurs and gives them a great experience of what it is like in the business world.

  • karnold001

    A very inspirational story! Women should not feel powerless; they should be able to choose when to marry and have children instead of feeling forced into it. Zoona is a great opportunity for women in Zambia to become entrepreneurs and make a living for themselves. This will change the lives of many women in poverty, while also providing benefits to the rest of the country.

  • Matthew Montoya

    I agree that this is an amazing idea, and it is awesome to see how this company is helping people in the place they are. Wilson, I am curious to hear your thoughts on the impact of having the large telecom companies run those organizations versus having smaller businesses provide working opportunities for the locals who can have an immediate impact on their communities. One of the major components of this project that I like is that it is so in touch with giving locals the creative freedom to open their own ports in the locations they choose, because they know the location and clientele best. Additionally, it may have a reciprocal impact on others to choose an entrepreneurial rout versus the traditional limited options available. Great Idea!

  • Gaby Perez

    I completely agree with you! I believe that women should be in control of their own lives–They shouldn’t have to depend on others. Zoona is giving women an opportunity to thrive on their own and also allowing them to become agents of change in their own community.

  • aburns002

    It is never easy to start up a business. In certain areas of the world it can be even more of a challenge. It’s great that Zoona provides opportunities to those who would have a near impossible chance without their aid.

  • Halea McAteer

    It’s awesome to see with Sandra Jere’s story how something like this can spread and help so many others in a community by first reaching just one. There is no denying that a drastic change needs to happen in these countries to stop the cycle of suffering for so many, and helping women help themselves by getting jobs and creating a source of income for themselves as well as their families is definitely a first step. These people don’t need or want handouts. Just like us, they need jobs and a source of income. Zoona is a great example of this.

  • James Callahan

    What a great and creative idea that not only helps women, but also creates businesses, jobs and entrepreneurs. Another example of finding a creative solution that solves a great need and provides a bright future for these women.

  • James Sullivan

    What zoona is doing is amazing. Like he said in his speech it was nearly impossible to get money to start up this company, however, they are running completely on their own and are profitable. This company is doing so much to equal out the power for women after hearing this women story and how she doesn’t have to live off of her brother. Hopefully zoona will continue to create jobs and distribute the wealth for all to achieve and spread. Finally, I thought it was interesting how this women only need a high school degree to start running this business and continue to spread other agents all over the country.

  • John Mulhern

    I wonder how plausible this technique is long term. How much will this truly set in on the culture? Will it make a social change? Will the girls remain safe? I think it is a brilliant pyramid business and will work well for the first few ‘business owners’ but I do question the longevity of the career for the majority of the girls involved in this business.

  • Katie Larson

    I agree with your amazement. I sometimes fail to recognize the untapped potential of markets in underdeveloped and developing nations. With so much opportunity for businesses and entrepreneurs, I am grateful that enterprises such as Zoona aim to not exploit the communities in their markets, but instead help to facilitate sustainable economic growth for the communities, their local employees and the country as a whole.

  • mpierson19

    I agree with you Katie, I believe this presents many new opportunities for young women as well as providing these young girls with confidence and hope!

  • kschwein

    I like this idea of giving these young girls a starting point to have their own business. I also like the fact that they aren’t just giving these girls the rest of their lives but rather giving them a starting point where they have to do the work and sustain their own lives. It’s a great idea to give them their own business to run where they have to do the rest. Very cool idea and interested to hear more.

  • conner_faulkner

    This is an amazing idea! What if Zoona was to expand to other third world countries? Such as the South Pacific. None the less, they are making a true difference!

  • kt_ford

    I agree that it is a really cool idea. I think this idea should spread to other parts of the country because other girls could really benefit from this program.

  • sadeakindele

    THIS is the girl effect. One of the first I felt truly addressed the issue of raising girls up in patriarchal societies. Well done. Supplying a country with a service they need while offering opportunities to women they otherwise would not have.

  • malopez93

    This is a great opportunity for young woman and giving them another choice, rather than what the culture had forced them years before this. So do the individuals just set up their own account the first time they visit on of these stands? And proceed to deposit money into it that way? How do they other people get the money? Does it let you transfer to personal accounts? Or do both people have to set up their own accounts? Handful of questions I wouldn’t expect to be answered in a short video, I will certainly be looking up their website and finding out more. It sounds like a fascinating idea. I do wonder what will happen when they saturate the land till there is one every so many miles. Will it still be as busy? Profitable?

  • kbell003

    I agree with how this is a great platform to hire women for. I do wonder how their culture will affect the jobs for women though. Are their cultural beliefs too strong in their community that women will not true to reach out for the jobs? Or will their brothers or the men in the culture take the jobs before the women will? I wonder if there is a way to make it a priority to hire women without making it an unfair business for men.

  • Arnthor Kristinsson

    I agree with you and that is what I thought about as well. It would be great to take this idea and expand to more countries, and make a difference there as well.

  • Alex_C_B

    The part that stood out to me in the video was the comment about extended family networks (around 4:30). The Zoona service is allowing families to become more stable, more connected and more prosperous. I agree that services like Zoona are strengthening the community and families as a whole. I think that this outcome is one that may not have been apparent at first. The success of Zoona is showing just how much the region needed this service. The very basis of the business deals with sending money to different locations, so it wouldn’t be hard at all to see which areas could benefit from Zoona kiosks. The business must feel like it has a life of its own. An entrepreneur can’t ask for a better situation than that one.

  • JuanFonseca1995

    Zoona is changing lives of many women in Zambia and its inspiring young entrepreneurs to achieve their dreams. Zoona gives young women an opportunity to change their lives, and the young women deliver with their best effort. Many positive changes and great results were displayed through the statistics the video showed. Zambia has an opportunity to get past the third-world moniker through Zoona, because Zoona is a catalyst for change in Zambia!

  • Will Carter

    I don’t really know anything about Zambian economics, but a quick search shows that the per capita gross national income in 2013 was $1810. Compare that to the $120,000 that she’s pulling in a year, and that’s quite a huge income disparity. I wonder how that affects the local community and economy.

  • jsims001

    The fact that Zoona provides a third, different path for girls in Zambia is a beautiful thing. Enabling these women to strive for more and sustain themselves, women aren’t forced to get married and have children so young. They can make their own path while breaking gender norms and gaining valuable business skills. When the speaker told the story of Clement and his sister with malaria, I was able to see the application of this company’s mobile money platform in action and how beneficial it is for the people who use it.

  • zoeantonow

    That’s an interesting observation–I do hope that she keeps where she started out in mind and gives back to her community; otherwise, this may start looking like the typical pyramid scheme…if she does give back, however, $120,000 could make a HUGE impact for an entire country such as Zambia.

  • Wilson Mugabo

    I would say that these big companies exploit people by making them over work with little compensation compared to having your small owned business which would not necessary bring a lot profits at the start. This however, would encourage other people who had the same idea of starting a business but they lacked motivation

  • 204Ted

    The community aspect was something that stood out to me as well. A lot of these developing countries are still extremely community focused so it’s great to see that it is being embraced and further developed to help advance their way of life.

  • fkrutsky

    After hearing how much profit was being made in the company it made me a little uncomfortable. It sounds like Zoona found this amazing market and are helping others in Zambian communities benefit as well but It makes me question how much they are charging per transaction to the people in these communities. It seems more cost efficient for the people to transfer money through Zoona, especially if they have no other means. The company is being a smart business and taking advantage of this. If other similar companies start to pop up, the fees and charges would have to decrease and the profit margin would shrink as well. I am curious to see what happens with this company and I hope it keeps benefiting everybody!

  • Jennifer Diaz

    This is a great video. The fact that they’re able to help a third world country and provide stability for Sandra is an amazing thing. Sandra is a great inspiration and leader to her employees and others like me. Its tough for women to be independent in a country where men make most or all of the income.

  • glmcguir

    Another great example of a company striving to help the livelihood of people in a third world country! It’s amazing how they gave these girls a third, and better, choice to what they can do with their futures. This definitely is opening a doorway not only for these girls, but for the country itself… as it is improving their economy.

  • mleano

    I’m not exactly sure what the message of this company is. It seems like a money transfer service but is also trying to portray itself as a charitable organization. I’m also curios as to the market for this company because of what the income of the population.

  • wschutt

    I cannot agree with you more! This post most definitely provoked a number of new questions as to the logistics and how far this could expand. Even though I agree, I must ask you–How many women do you think will resist this opportunity so that they may stay true to the culture that they have been surrounded by and raised upon? Do you think the younger and more revolutionary women will take advantage of this opportunity more?

    I think this is going to be a great stepping stone towards creating a new social norm of empowered women.

  • Slajoie23

    The app seems really cool, but other than the fact that is creating more jobs and ease of business for companies in Africa, what sets it apart from any other app that is similar to this? Perhaps that’s the point of the post? That, and the fact that it has grown to handle a large amount of transactions every month. Either way, it’s a cool idea and just goes to show that if you put your mind to something, anything is possible!

  • malopez93

    I agree with the point you bring up. As it is a great opportunity for young woman like you say some may not take it due to the culture they are raised in, and believe in. As more opportunities arise like this, you always have to ask who will be willing to step up and take a leap of faith on something that may have a lot of unknown to it.

  • Jessica Andrew

    Thank you for sharing this video! I really like how a lot of these companies are trying to help people in different countries. The video talks about The Girl Effect. My class is putting on a bake sale and giving all of the profits to The Girl Effect to help people. I am very excited to be a part of this great experience! I am glad that this money is going to people in need. I really like this company and its opportunities that it gives people to start their own business! Thanks again!

  • Seph56

    I really like this idea. I love how they helped families find work and they were able to support each other like how she hired her sister and her cousins. I know they are proving many jobs but I am interested in their costs for their service. hopefully this service continues cause it seems like they are keeping these girls and their families financially stable. I am also impressed at how the girl expanded their business by opening up many kiosks for them in different locations.

  • Seph56

    I agree with you mleano. I was also wondering because of how much the were profiting from it if they were actually helping the people or what. I was wondering what their costs were because that would determine if they were building up the economy or were they struggling to pay for their services.

  • Lauren Schlicht

    I love how getting a job as a Zoona teller is becoming a new norm that will be making an onset change to the culture. This new opportunity has the ability to allow for the girls to make money, have a career and be a role model for others. More importantly it gives girls the chance to make money to put themselves through school! I think it was incredibly powerful when this company expressed that “this is the girl effect in action.” This truly is an amazing, powerful idea.

  • CCzuchra

    This is a great business model but I wonder what the security of the kiosks is like? If they receive funds, transfer them to another kiosk where someone receives funds kept there, where is the money being kept at the end of the day? It might end up being a better idea to look at storefronts rather than kiosks to protect the employees and money.

  • rewebster3

    It seems to me that this venture with kiosks transferring money and being able to get money to other places in Africa easier would give way to perhaps having banks come into the country to better help with other services along with money transfers, perhaps to help them better invest their money or to save it with a steady interest rate.

  • JConklin805

    This is an awesome idea! I like how you were able to create a business that may eventually improve living conditions and create new jobs/alternative life choice for young girls.

  • ali Alamri

    Great idea to help people there

  • Abby2017

    The ability to create new businesses that help others and yourself is a marvelous thing. Giving girls a chance to make money and a living wage is a good thing. In third world countries that is very difficult.