The value of seizing future opportunities now

Ten years ago, a young man saw the potential in the M-PESA platform and decided to grab a future opportunity

20th July 2017
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When you exist in the moment, it can be hard to do the same. Author Nassim Taleb calls these Black Swan moments. He believes that the moments when a new future is born are rarely seen or understood, but in some cases, these change the course of history. Let me give you some practical examples of this principle in action.

April, 1975.
Two young men in their 20s see a photo of a computer and think about how they can make that computer ‘talk’.
So they build a very basic software (in fact, it was actually called BASIC) that allowed the computer to accept commands and behave in a certain way.
It was the genesis for an operating system that today is used by over 1.5 billion people around the world. It’s called Windows.
So on that day in April of 1975, as two young men pounced on the opportunity they came across a magazine cover, they created their own Black Swan moment. And Microsoft was born.
Let’s look at another improbable moment in history.

June, 1995.
Two university students have a friendly argument. At stake is how the Internet is organised, and how easy it is to find data.
So they create a ranking system that measures the most important links on the internet and mapped which sources were important while downgrading those that were not. 
Two months after they meet, they borrow money to buy computers to house their search engine. And so Google was born.
Today it processes 3.5 billion searches per day and as a company, is worth well over $100 billion.
One last Black Swan moment.


March, 2007
.
Safaricom launched a service that would allow our customers to send electronic tokens to each other via SMS. M-PESA.
Ten years ago, a young man saw the potential of this moment and decided to grab a future opportunity that at the time had yet to be proven.
Then aged 32, Chris Gathingu decided that he could create a layer of services on top of M-PESA that would allow our customers to use the service more efficiently and conveniently.
Tonight, Chris actually wanted me to talk about how M-PESA has impacted financial inclusion over the years.
But there is another side of M-PESA that historians may look back at in the future and pinpoint as our Black Swan moment – that pivotal moment that pushed M-PESA from being a useful service to the essential platform that it is today.

Today, the M-PESA system processes two loans every second, and has ensured that over 26 million customers are rarely more than a kilometre away from an agent.
But did you know that M-PESA has been responsible for lifting just under 200,000 people (predominantly women) out of poverty in Kenya?
KPMG recently found that M-PESA is providing our customers with social value 3.9 times more than what they spend on a transaction.
This is the true value of M-PESA.

This value is brought to life through products such as SurePay, which we launched with Tangazoletu in 2015.
This service enables refugees to access food through a cashless system that facilitates secure electronic payments.
For me, Surepay’s true value lies in restoring the dignity of vulnerable persons such as refugees, who now no longer have to beg for food rations.
The solution creates employment and business opportunities for people in refugee camps.
It’s a business model that perfectly exemplifies the value of cross-industry partnerships that aim to meet the needs of the African continent through sustainable growth.
I am often asked what the future of M-PESA looks like.

I would like to think it lies in building similar partnerships that create solutions to some of our continent’s most pressing issues.
For example, 3.5 million Kenyans wake up hungry everyday.
Through a partnership with the Kenya Red Cross, we have worked to prevent nearly 250,000 people from slipping into severe food insecurity in drought-ravaged Kenya.
Using M-PESA, the Red Cross has given monthly grants of Sh3,000 to more than 41,000 drought-affected families spread across 13 counties over the past three months.
These kind of initiatives show that when we work together, we can start to use the mobile phone to tackle some of the most pressing challenges we face.
The GSMA has found that approximately 40% of people now use their phones to look for work, to help improve and monitor the health of their family, and to access information to support the education of their children.

M-PESA role will be to act as a connector for access to more services that were previously out of reach for our customers.
While I’m not attempting to say that M-PESA is or could be as significant as any of the inventions I mentioned earlier, what we do know is that it is already beginning to carve a niche as a sustainable solution that truly makes a difference in our lives.
That is why it is critical for your partners to believe in your idea for it to succeed.
Chris and the team at Tangazoletu clearly believe in M-PESA, as do many of you.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for your belief and support of our platform.And I call it a platform and not a product for a reason.
Our platform is enabling the next generation of Kenyan businesses to thrive.We see it as your enabler. Use it to achieve more growth.

As just one of the over 800 partners we work with everyday to Transform Kenyan lives, Tangazoletu is now eying regional expansion.
Neither Safaricom or Tangazoletu could ever have achieved these gains working alone.
M-PESA has evolved through the power of partnership, and will remain relevant only as long as our relationships remain strong and robust.
Chris’ story, and that of nearly everyone else in this room, is proof that when we come together, great things happen. Twaweza.

BC
By Bob Collymore