Saturday, July 10, 2010

South Africa Shines

By: Sara Taylor (Lusaka, Zambia)

A few days after returning from Johannesburg, with Spain in the final and the sound of vuvuzelas still ringing in my ears, it is difficult to start with anything other than the World Cup fever that seems to have gripped this continent. No doubt this has been helped by the valiant efforts of the Ghanaian team who must have felt like they were playing on home ground, despite being many miles from Accra.

But although Ghana couldn’t make it all the way, South Africa has excelled in its mission, putting on an incredible show and taking good care of its visitors from the moment they set foot in the gleaming airport. Besides the first rate transport and organisation, including the brand new speedy airport train and efficient bus system to get to and from matches, the most striking thing is the enthusiasm and justifiable pride with which the South Africans have hosted this major event.

But Joburg is worlds away from Lusaka and this is evident when you fly out at night, leaving behind the sparkling lights stretching to the horizon in every direction, to arrive in a city surrounded by darkness. Tourism can play a major role in economic growth and poverty alleviation and no doubt the spotlight of a successful World Cup will attract visitors to South Africa, and hopefully other parts of the continent, helping to create employment and economic opportunities.

Back at the office after the public holiday, things are as busy as ever and I am learning as much about the world of a start-up as I am about Zambian regulation of mobile money. I share a round table with management and listen with interest as discussions turn from the detail of client projects to cash flow statements, agent training, a new IT based project management tool, web site design, potential investors and expansion into new markets. Despite the frustrations of the Zambian internet, there is constant communication between the Lusaka office and the Cape Town based IT and accounts team who run the core system on which Mobile Transactions’ business is based.

Next door, there doesn’t seem to be a moment when the customer care, agent training, marketing and corporate payments teams are not busy. But this does not detract from the general good humour as people seem to enjoy the open and dynamic office culture that Mobile Transactions has created. I notice my colleagues asking questions of employees, customers, agents, competitors and interns in an attempt to gain information and constantly improve the business. This is an inclusive environment in which feedback and participation are encouraged and responsibility and accountability are expected. A bit reminiscent of my short time at GBF!

It is difficult not to feel involved in this kind of effort. I find myself asking a taxi driver from Chipata (the capital of the Eastern Province, about an 8 hour drive from Lusaka) how he sends money back home. Through the Post Office, he tells me. “Have you heard of Mobile Transactions?” I ask. I seem to have caught the bug…


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