Okejimi: Why Budding Entrepreneurs Must Be Encouraged

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Gbenga Okejimi, Country Manager, Nigeria and Ghana, WorldRemit, one of the global digital payment companies, spoke to Goddy Egene about the company’s operations with emphasis on its entrepreneurship programme across Africa’s markets: Excerpts:

How long has WorldRemit been operating in Africa and how would you rate the general impact of your operations on the continent?
WorldRemit was founded in 2010 by Ismail Ahmed with the help of co-founders the late Catherine Wines and Richard Igoe. Inspired by his own personal experience, Ismail made the decision to develop an innovative money transfer to provide a solution for those who send money to friends and families back home. For over a decade, WorldRemit has continued to expand across Africa and currently supports fund transfers from over 50 countries to 150 destinations dealing in over 90+ currencies across 6,500 money transfer corridors.

We like to think of our impact in terms of the socioeconomic contributions and corresponding economic growth we have stimulated through the role we play in improving remittances and contributing to financial inclusion. Also, through our platform, we have been able to aid the general living outcomes of many Africans. Research has shown that monies received from the Diaspora community are spent on education, health, household servicing and business expansion, giving recipients the opportunities to live more successful lives.

When the pandemic broke and countries were on lockdown, how did WorldRemit react during that period knowing that Africa is one of your major areas of operations?
As the virus began to spread across the continent and African governments began to make the hard but necessary decisions to shut down their economies and impose lockdown restrictions, we knew we had to quickly make plans to support our customers. The pandemic imposed a pause on many means of livelihood and as a leading fintech player aiding cross border transactions, our services meant Africans with families in the Diaspora could still receive support from their families and friends. We made arrangements for our staff to be able to provide a 24/7 global money transfer service for our customers.

We also engaged with all of our bank partners across Africa to ensure that all methods (cash pick-up, airtime top-up, mobile wallet and directly to bank accounts) of money collection continued to work and customers could quickly access their funds. The outbreak of the pandemic affected global economies and health systems leading to loss of lives and investments. As we look back at the events of the past months since the virus was first recorded in Africa, we are proud of all the efforts and progress that has been made by health practitioners and governments across the world. We remain committed to providing safe and fast cross border financial services to help the Diaspora community stay connected to their family and friends at home.

WorldRemit has launched its Entrepreneurship Programme across Africa’s markets, why is African entrepreneurship important to WorldRemit?
At WorldRemit, we understand how vibrant entrepreneurship is in Africa. With uncertainties facing the global economy because of the debilitating effects of the Coronavirus pandemic, there is no better time than now to empower and encourage aspiring and budding entrepreneurs to build or grow their businesses across Africa. As we enter a second wave of the pandemic, some governments have imposed lockdowns. For the second time there will be a negative impact on commercial activities which will leave people struggling to earn a living. As a global organisation, we are joining government efforts to provide our customers with the opportunities to make the dreams of their loved ones in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Zimbabwe come true by equipping them with the right tools to start an idea or grow their businesses.

Please tell us about the programme and how African entrepreneurs can be a part of it?
The WorldRemit Entrepreneurs Programme is a three-month programme, which started in November 2020 and is ending in January 2021. It encourages customers in the Diaspora to send money (a minimum of Great Britain Pounds (GBP) 50 or its equivalent in another currency) to their loved ones between November 2 and December 31, 2020. Senders need to opt into the competition and one transaction equals one entry. We will draw 100 lucky winners each in November and December. Winners will have the opportunity to nominate an entrepreneur in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya or Zimbabwe. The nominated entrepreneurs will receive a business booster pack with items to assist with the launch or growth of their business: a tablet, external hard drive, power bank, T-shirt, notebook, pen, and stickers. They will also have access to a digital training course that will be loaded onto an external hard drive, to strengthen their entrepreneurial skills, in partnership with the Nest. To make sure we support entrepreneurs in the best possible way, we have partnered with The Nest, an incubation hub open to all entrepreneurs across sectors, domains and industries, with a pan-African reach.

Post the January 2021 expiration of the programme, is WorldRemit looking at making this programme an annual one?
WorldRemit will continue to empower our customers in various ways by creating opportunities for them and their families through different platforms. We will keep you posted with our future plans.

Is this programme done in partnership with African governments and if not, why not?
The programme is an initiative of WorldRemit. As a leading global digital payments company, we understand that governments have put in place several initiatives to address the economic challenges arising from the Coronavirus pandemic. This program is therefore meant to further boost government efforts and offer support in our own little way.

What was the underlying motivation for decision to endorse Patoranking, a musician, as an ambassador and what does his role entail?
WorldRemit is an organisation that thrives on creating opportunities for our customers. As a digitally driven business, we disrupted a market that was opaque with less convenience and flexibility, thereby providing more opportunities for our customers to send money at a faster, cheaper and simpler way. We understand the entrepreneurial journey of Patoranking who of course is a successful artiste with pan-African influence. We are encouraged by his “grass to grace” story, his strong will to excel in music, and his passion to drive education and entrepreneurship. He will promote the partnership and encourage people to enter our Entrepreneurship program, highlighting WorldRemit’s role to empower African entrepreneurs.

African entrepreneurs face some of the world’s toughest business conditions, lack of electricity, political instability and lack of access to finance. Will the WorldRemit programme help entrepreneurs navigate these hurdles?
The business conditions in Africa are challenged with poor infrastructure. The WorldRemit Entrepreneurs Programme is not only providing tools to build or grow businesses, we have also partnered with an incubation hub, The Nest, that will provide digital training programmes that will assist to navigate some of these issues. They will also provide mentoring for the entrepreneurs to enable them to get the best out of the programme. Our booster pack contains a tablet, external hard drive, power bank, T-shirt, notebook, pen, and stickers. It is our expectation that the entrepreneurs will become big enterprises in a few years as they continue to positively impact society.

Before this programme, which other programmes have you embarked on to boost entrepreneurship or other business development on the continent and Nigeria in particular?

We remain committed to creating opportunities and facilitating development across Africa and we do this by supporting business growth and youth development. In 2019, we launched WorldRemit for Business, a service that enabled small and medium-sized business owners to instantly pay employees and contractors in 140 countries worldwide, including fast-growing markets such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, and South Africa. On the youth development side we have successfully run our Future Stars coaching programme, for two consecutive years, in partnership with Arsenal Football Club. The programme has served as a platform to celebrate the positive impacts that grassroot youth football coaches have on children in their communities, especially in helping them to develop life skills on and off the pitch.

In the second year, we had the first female winner from Nigeria in the 2019 edition, Chinasa Mandy Ukanda. She received an all-expense paid trip to London to take part in personalised training sessions delivered by Arsenal Football Development coaches. The training was aimed at equipping her, and the male winner of the competition, with additional skills to improve the development of the teams they coach. The future stars programme is on hold now due to the spread of COVID-19. We hope to revisit it in the near future.

What are the other WorldRemit future plans for Nigeria considering its huge market?
There are approximately 15 million Nigerians living abroad which presents significant growth opportunities that must be leveraged for us as a business and for the development of our communities. We have disrupted the market through our digital-led platform and will continue to do so by providing innovative solutions to keep our customers connected to loved ones and associates. Over the years, we have launched several partnerships with many banks and fintech players including GTBank Plc, First Bank, Access Bank, Pagatech, Opay and rolled out new services including cash pick-up. With the re-introduction of US dollar payout in Nigeria, we became the first IMTO to payout in dollar in Nigeria in line with the CBN directive.