By ANDREW BOURNE , Region Manager, Africa, Zoho Corporation
For a while now, tech companies and workers have been eyeing smaller cities to escape the exorbitant real estate costs, manic lifestyles, and endless traffic jams in traditional tech hubs.
The time is ripe for this trend to pick up as COVID-19 has induced massive reverse migration with employees moving back to their homes, closer to their families.
Another trend that the pandemic brought forth is expatriates returning to their respective countries due to job loss or other reasons. This reverse-globalisation goes hand-in-hand with the sudden rise in the demand for local goods and services.
Soon, delivering local solutions for local problems will become essential. At Zoho, we call this transnational localism – crafting localised solutions with a global mindset to create small, self-reliant communities. There are businesses that are bound to a geographical location because their customers are in the same area.
However, if you are a cloud service provider and serve national or global customers, there is absolutely nothing that binds you to a crowded city. With the availability of high-speed internet in smaller towns and rural areas, work can happen from anywhere. For startups, there are many more benefits of moving away from urban areas.
Lower costs give you a longer runway
Most costs are determined by the cost of the real estate. If you choose to be in a metro city, not only do you face exponentially higher office expenses, you also have to pay high salaries to support the higher cost of living. If, on the other hand, you choose to be in a small town or a village, you will be able to set up the office at a fraction of the cost, and also afford your employees a much better standard of living. The costs that you save will provide a longer runway for your company and also contribute to continued R&D investments.
In an industry like software, your geographical location is of little importance as you can serve customers from anywhere. With this belief, we opened Zoho’s first village office in southern India almost a decade ago, and even launched our customer support software (Zoho Desk) from there in 2016. We continue to manage the whole product from there, and have recently expanded our efforts in opening more rural offices.
Solving the talent problem
One of the often-cited reasons for businesses to stay in crowded metros is the dearth of talent elsewhere. The reality is that people from small towns and villages migrate to cities in search of better-paying jobs. By opening an office in rural areas, you will be taking the jobs to where the talent is. You can hire and groom the local youth, who can prove to be an asset to your organization.
In Zoho’s rural office, we run a branch of Zoho Schools of Learning, a programme wherein high school students are inducted and trained in computer programming for 18-months, after which they are hired. These students, who are today full-time employees at Zoho, have contributed in building products that are used globally. Empowering the rural youth with similar opportunities will close the skills gap in smaller towns and encourage people to stay.
Cross-pollination of ideas and overall development
Since the middle of the 20th Century, urbanisation has increased exponentially. The majority of the world’s population has lived in cities since 2009. Despite the benefits, there’s also been a cost for this. Around the globe, once-thriving small towns have either been killed by urbanisation or are shadows of their former selves, with declining and ageing populations.
By building smaller, distributed offices in these areas, tech companies can help revitalise these small towns and villages. Not only will their presence act as an incentive for people to live there, but they’ll also encourage growth of other businesses that support that presence. When smart and talented people get involved at the grassroots, they can apply their knowledge in solving local problems. This will help create a better future for rural communities, which, in turn, will contribute to holistic economic growth of the country.
Andrew Bourne is Zoho’s Regional Manager for the Africa region and is based in Cape Town, South Africa. He has more than 15 years of experience in sales and marketing, and has spent the last five years focusing on the implementation and testing of various business technologies. He is very passionate about Zoho and has exceptional insight into the business and marketing world.
MTN, FCMB Experts Task SMEs On Customer Engagement
Nigerian business experts from MTN Nigeria and FCMB Bank have asked small and medium-scale enterprise (SME) owners to take customer engagement seriously if they want to move their business to the next level.
The experts who gave their advice at the MTN Revv Masterclass session tagged Y’ello Clinic offered informed business advisory to participants. The virtual session featured 11 panelists and was moderated by the executive director, Retail Banking, First City Monument Bank (FCMB), Olu Akanmu.
While fielding questions on financing a business, the Chief Financial Officer, MTN Nigeria, Modupe Kadri explained the importance of SMEs to identify its industry, customers, the problem to be solved and how to solve them. He listed equity and loans as part of ways to fund a business that is hinged on a profitable idea.
Speaking on technology as a tool for business success, the Chief Enterprise Business Officer, MTN Nigeria, Lynda Saint-Nwafor, said, “The question is no longer whether we should promote adoption of technology tools and solutions. The question is can we afford not to do so? Whatsoever sector that you are in, the need to use technology to drive your business cannot be overemphasised.”
Furthermore, she informed that MTN is continuously exploring opportunities to build capacity in the SME segment. “We have developed specific propositions for SMEs that address their needs. We also provide ICT services that are adjacent to our core services.
“We have vertical specific propositions that are targeted to education, health, agriculture, and we do these solutions to support their client engagement, create digital access for their staff, and also to improve their operations. We have a PABX solution hosted in the cloud. You don’t need to invest in an independent PABX solution”, she said.
With hands-on experience in retail penetration and brand visibility, the Chief Sales and Distribution Officer, MTN Nigeria, AdeKunle Adebiyi highlighted other ways of adding value to a business including offering complimentary services.
“Your mien can determine whether you can be patronized. You must look clean and dress well, not expensive clothing but good dressing. Repeat purchase will come with your attitude and the quality of your service or products,’’ he said.
The Chief Customer Relations Officer, MTN Nigeria, Ugonwa Nwoye also revealed that paying attention to the feedback from customers can improve the brand identity and maintain customer satisfaction. In the same vein, Olubayo Adekanmbi, the Chief Transformation Officer, MTN Nigeria, remarked that social media followers provide pointers to SMEs as to how a business is perceived by the public, especially the target audience. According to him, SMEs can introduce loyalty cards with promised discounts on future patronage to retain customers.
In juxtaposing technical and behavioral competencies, the Chief Human Resources Officer, MTN Nigeria, Esther Akinnukawe said that the quality of staff lies in behavioral competencies which are personal attributes. In addition to relying on good recommendations to hire employees, the SMEs were urged to conduct background checks on candidates and their guarantors.
Other panelists emphasized the need for SMEs to manage stakeholders like the government and the community and obey the rules governing the area of operation.
Following the completion of nine high-impact masterclass sessions, The Revv Programme has trained over 10,000 Small business owners. On November 26, 200 SMEs will join MTN’s first accelerator programme, Y’ello 200 where they will enjoy exclusive access to a broad range of technology and productivity tools and expert advisory for six months.
WorldRemit To Empower 200 Entrepreneurs In Nigeria, 3 Other African Countries
WorldRemit, the global digital money transfer service said it will empower 200 entrepreneurs from Nigeria and three African countries to help them grow their businesses.
The company said, as part of commitment to creating opportunities and facilitating development in Africa, WorldRemit announced the launch of its WorldRemit Entrepreneurs Programme in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, and Zimbabwe.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 across Africa, the continent has experienced a significant setback with the businesses of many entrepreneurs taking a hit. These entrepreneurs control the Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) landscape, that have made significant contributions to the growth of the African economy especially through the creation of jobs. WorldRemit is kickstarting this significant investment to support and empower these small businesses to grow their businesses.
The programme will commence from November 2020 till the end of January 2021 and will focus on empowering 50 entrepreneurs each, from the four African countries. The training module was developed and will be delivered in partnership with The Nest, a pan-African tech incubation hub reaching entrepreneurs from all sectors, domains and industries across the continent.
The Entrepreneurship Programme brand ambassador, Patrick Nnaemeka Okorie aka Patoranking, said, the gesture will promote the partnership with WorldRemit and encourage people to enter the competition which will help to build entrepreneurship across Africa.
As a leading music star with a solid entrepreneurship background, he is well-positioned to support these businesses on their journey to growth.
Speaking on this partnership, Country manager, Nigeria and Ghana, WorldRemit, Gbenga Okejimi, said: “Much of what Africa is today is due to its entrepreneurship which is a key driver for socioeconomic progress through significant job creation and innovation. At WorldRemit, we want to be known for fostering the African entrepreneurship spirit. We want to be a part of Africa’s future prosperity. By helping build entrepreneurs across our African markets, we are enabling growth and development.”
To participate, WorldRemit customers from around the world are encouraged to send a minimum of £50 or its equivalent value in their local currency to Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya or Zimbabwe between November 2nd and December 31, 2020. Winners will be chosen through a draw to nominate the budding entrepreneurs living in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and Zimbabwe. The nominated entrepreneurs will receive the WorldRemit Business Booster pack, as well as access to the digital training course..
UBA Deepens Retail Products, Services through Digital Channels
United Bank for Africa (UBA) Plc has deepened its retail products and services with the aim to delivering services aimed at meeting the needs of its customers across Africa.
These services and product offerings, targeting at all classes of customers, have been specifically tailored to meet the unique needs of individual customers of the bank, in line with the Customer First policy of the bank.
UBA’s head of retail liabilities, Ogechi Altraide, who spoke in a virtual international media parley with a diverse group of journalists and publishers from all over Africa, pointed out that UBA was well prepared ahead of the Covid-19 pandemic and had rolled-out a number of products that enabled customers to carry out their daily transactions with ease from the comfort of their homes.
She said: “At UBA, we have developed very deep and customer-centric solutions that have given us number one ranking over time. Our retail footprint cuts across 20 African countries, where we serve over 20 million customers through well researched platforms including over 20,000 POS as well as 3,000 ATMs deployed across the continent. We have well over 10 million active cards, while our very active and highly applauded Mobile App and USSD platforms serve several millions of subscribers every second.
“Our retail banking platforms cater to all ages and classes with the Kiddies and Teens Account – where parents can earn rewards and bonuses for saving for their kids, while also enjoying support in terms of scholarships and health insurance; Next Gen Account – which caters for young adults; Mass Marketing segment – made up of low to mid income earners; Affluent Banking for the premium banking experience as well as SME banking, which caters to meeting the needs of a niche industry essential for the growth of any economy.”
Throwing more light on the bank’s increasing support for the MSMEs, she explained that the bank offers both financial and non-financial services to this all-important sector as well as access to loans, adding that “At UBA, we recognise that SMEs are important to economic growth, therefore our various offerings for MSMEs is positioned to support them in this regard.”
Altraide noted that other retail propositions the bank has developed to promote financial inclusion are Diaspora Banking where customers can enjoy the same quality of services in all locations around the world through UBA Connect and Africash; and Agency Banking, which makes use of digital channels that allow customers to access UBA banking services right in their neighbourhoods from its dedicated Agents.
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