Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Mobile Safari: How Africa's Leapfrogging

In March 2015, I had the amazing opportunity of traveling to South Africa with Columbia Business School as part of my international seminar.  While I could go on about all the awesome things I was able to see and experience, one of the most striking things was just how much people relied on their mobile phones.  According to a recent Pew Research report, cellphone use in Africa has exploded in recent years and is nearly on par with the US in many countries.  For example, 83% of people in Ghana have cellphones, just under the 89% of Americans.  Compare this to the fact that only 20% of Ghanaians have access to safe sanitation facilities.

Adults who own a cell phone, Africa

As part of our course, we were paired with local entrepreneurs to advise on a given business problem of their choice.  My team was set up with Quicket, an online ticket marketplace, who was seeking to grow their pan-African presence.  When it came to mobile strategy, whether to develop for cellphone applications wasn't even a question; mobile was integrally part of Quicket's business.  Not only is Quicket able to be seamlessly used and accessed via mobile, their entire ticket scanning platform was based on mobile tickets and was driven by a mobile app.  Every other company we met in the incubator had a similar mobile-forward approach.

The proliferation of cellphone use in Africa is especially striking given the complete lack of other communications infrastructure.  Only 2% of adults in the Pew study had a landline in their home.  From a digital marketing perspective, this a gold mine: an entire population of previously unreachable people (from a digital perspective) are now outpacing other more connected countries.  Compare the charts below that show African nations at the bottom of internet connectivity, yet leading many European and Middle Eastern countries in social networking usage.

Mobile payments have also taken off due to a combination of cellphone proliferation and general lack of banking options.  African nations comprise the most underbanked population in the world, with 80% of adults completely unbanked.  Yet despite this, Africa demolishes the global average for mobile financial services usage. 

As the rest of the world continues to move online and get mobile, Africa stands to have a fantastic leg up in the mobile game.  Whereas the rest of the world is focused on turning existing web applications to mobile, Africa has been forced to develop for cellphone use from the beginning.

No comments: