Obama Young African Leader: Some Things Just Aren’t Adaptable To Realities Of Africa

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Written by Ann Brown

This article is one in an AFKInsider series that follows some of the young African leaders chosen to participate in U.S. President Barack Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI). The initiative is a U.S. effort to invest resources in the next generation of African leaders and entrepreneurs.

Paying for things without cash can be a major hassle in some African countries. Some businesses just don’t take credit cards — one of the reasons mobile payments are on the rise on the continent.

Zimbabwean Taurai Chinyamakobvu is the co-founder of FloCash Zimbabwe, opening shop in Africa via a joint venture with a U.K.-based company.

For Chinyamakobvu, participating in President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) as a Mandela Washington Fellow was a transformative experience.

So much so, that it helped him develop and grow not one but several businesses in Zimbabwe. He attended Yale University for six weeks in 2014 as a Mandela Washington Fellow — one of the inaugural group of young Africans to participate.

Chinyamakobvu is passionate about innovation, e-commerce, and increased global trade in Africa. He’s all about bridging the gap between government and public policy, creating partnerships, joint ventures and organizations from the ground up. These include the FloCash online payments joint venture. He’s also advised large corporations.

Besides being a partner and investor in Flocash Zimbabwe, Chinyamakobvu is also the founder of Pazimba, an online marketplace and shopping mall. The platform enables Zimbabweans to open their own online shops and trade as sellers. He is also the co-founder of Neolab Technology, a startup that is working on bringing free Internet access to the public. He co-founded NeoEffect, a social startup working towards the empowerment of underprivileged youth through IT literacy in southern Zimbabwe.

Fluent in Japanese, Chinyamakobvu acts as a consultant to Japanese companies that pursue business opportunities in Africa.

Chinyamakobvu discussed with AFKInsider how his Young African Leaders experience helped his business.

AFKInsider.com: How did you get into YALI?

Taurai Chinyamakobvu: I was one of the 500 inaugural fellows selected out of 51,000 applications. It’s much harder to get into the fellowship than it it to enter an Ivy League university in the U.S.

AFKInsider.com: What did you get from the experience?

Taurai Chinyamakobvu: I got a chance to meet, share, and engage with other African fellows from across the continent. This is very useful for networking and exploring business opportunities across the continent.

We got a chance to learn from the best pool of skills available at an Ivy League university. We had access to some great learning resources, professors and outside facilitators at Yale.

I also made connections with a great network of people in the United States that I remain in contact with and I bounce ideas off on from time to time.

More importantly, I took away great lessons about social entrepreneurship.

AFKInsider.com: Were the things you learned transferable to the realities of your African country?

Taurai Chinyamakobvu: I am firm believer in the philosophy of adopting and adapting. So in many ways, a number of ideas are transferable to African realities. However, others are not. For example, the U.S. has a dynamic ecosystem for technology and start-up companies which does not exist in Africa. So in practice, venture capital, private equity financing, and angel investment opportunities are either few and far between or nonexistent.

AFKInsider.com: What about the experience was unique for you?

Taurai Chinyamakobvu: In my case, it was meeting Barack Obama himself.

AFKInsider.com: Why did you launch FloCash?

Taurai Chinyamakobvu: FloCash was established in the U.K. in 2010 with the vision to build Africa’s first open payment network. Today, FloCash has established a direct connection with financial institutes covering 39 countries in Africa and can reach 100 million account holders in these territories. In Zimbabwe, we launched Flocash in 2013 with a view to stimulating e-commerce by enabling and aggregating local payment solutions such as mobile money to enable ordinary users that do not have credit cards.

AFKInsider.com: How does Flocash work?

Taurai Chinyamakobvu: Flocash enables local and global businesses to accept mobile and card payments online in Africa while managing the risk of fraud that can arise.

Flocash secures and processes card payments such as Visa, MasterCard and UnionPay; local and closed-loop card networks issued by local banks; mobile payments (for mobile networks across Africa); and bank transfers

For businesses, Flocash simplifies the collection of funds online through a single connection and settlement account. A merchant can accept multiple payment options in local and global currencies, in the process giving merchant customers a wide choice. For merchant customers, they get a convenience and a wide choice of payment options.

AFKInsider.com: Did you face any obstacles being a young entrepreneur?

Taurai Chinyamakobvu: Yes, they are innumerable. They range from funding obstacles to ecosystems not supportive of entrepreneurship to over-regulation to an environment that is not ready for advanced innovations.

AFKInsider.com:  What has been your biggest business lesson?

Taurai Chinyamakobvu: Building business is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s also important to learn continuously from successes and failures.