When he looks back, Patrick Macharia Maina thinks he has lived the lives of several men.
Sitting at the customer care desk in his shop in Nairobi’s Umoja One Estate, he can’t help but marvel at the path his life took after he placed a bet on a virtually unknown product one day 10 years ago.
His is a journey that has seen him move from being a cybercafé owner in downtown Nairobi to one of the biggest Safaricom dealers in the country.
It came by happenstance, he says, and of course some persistence.
To hear him tell it, he thought at first that the business proposition was perhaps the pyramid scheme of the century.
“Around January 2007, a colleague approached me with a suggestion that we form an organisation for tele centre operators which was meant to help us negotiate for better rates from the local telecom operator. We considered it as a great idea and hence submitted our business and staff details for this purpose,” Macharia says.
Little did he know that the colleague had some prior information that a mobile money transfer business was already being piloted and was now ready for launch.
“Instead of taking our details to the local telecom operator, he went to Safaricom and declared to them that all those listed cyber cafes were his branches, and just like that he managed to secure a contract to operate the M-PESA business. We became his sub-agents.”
Macharia was furious. How could someone do him so?
“To make it worse, the person who signed us up was talking about putting money on the phone, mysteriously sending it, and someone else being able to withdraw it. It sounded very dodgy,” he said.
But since he had already been signed up for this new thing called M-PESA, he allowed the agent to train his cyber cafe staff. But he kept off and refused to put any initial capital into the business. They loaded their own float and brought their cash to start off.
“There was no way I was going to be conned,” says. Having lost his job barely a year earlier, Macharia had learnt to be pennywise. And mobile money was nowhere near his financial sustainability plan. “It just didn’t make sense.”
Within three days word had gone round that there was an M-PESA shop around. Soon, numbers started coming in.
“Five months later we closed our cyber café with 20 computers and converted the space into a full M–PESA shop with three outlets,” he says. And the rest is what has become the back-story of Generations Insights Limited. An enterprise that at one time held a portfolio of more than 200 M-PESA outlets countrywide, outlets that created a ridge for Macharia to cross over into a world of financial security.
“I do not regret my move. I can proudly say that M-PESA changed my life for the better. From my commissions I have invested in property and transport. I can confidently say that I am now financially secure. All in a span of 10years.” Macharia
It is not only his life that has been affected.
The success of his empire has also seen some of his employees transition.
“Some sub-agents under me have quit their jobs to get into M-PESA full time. I am happy when I see them make strides in life and like me move from being zeros to making something out of their lives,” he says.
From his one roomed cyber café in downtown Nairobi, Macharia has seen proceeds from his M-PESA enable him diversify into other businesses such as construction, real estate and tours and travels.
“For me, M-PESA is more than a business. It has come to define my life, and the lives of those around me.” Macharia
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Like millions of Kenyans, Macharia’s life has been transformed by the world’s first mobile money transfer service.
Official data shows that there are an average of 600 transactions a second 10 years into its launch.
“Financial inclusion in Kenya is reported at 80 per cent, but when you remove mobile money this drops to 23 per cent. M-PESA has also lifted millions of people who have never set foot in a brick and mortar bank branch into the financial services realm,” says CEO Safaricom Bob Collymore.
“We have partnered with banks to enable savings and loans, again enabling millions of citizens to access these banking services,” says Collymore.
A recent report co-authored by an MIT professor found that it is used by at least one individual in 96 per cent of Kenyan households; with a total of five million households in the country, 96 per cent have a mobile phone.
“I meet people who knew me 10 years ago and they ask me when I stopped counting coins because now I count notes,” Macharia says of his changed economic fortunes.