“We are witnessing the birth of an African digital economy and this is just the beginning,” says Wari CEO
To what extent is your platform an African solution to a uniquely African situation?
We started Wari in 2008, convinced that Africa has a very specific role to play in the global digital sector. This was because Africa’s economic structure and culture lends itself perfectly to an ‘uberisation’ of employment and the economy as a whole – where people are all entrepreneurs. Even while working within another structure, they’re also working on their own behalf.
The world of work in Africa seems to be fertile ground for developing new digital services and new features that are having such an impact around the globe. We designed a platform that would allow us to approach this economic structure with a truly African standpoint, setting up a full range of services that would meet people’s needs.
This idea has been the bedrock of Wari and the reason for its success: it meets a need that people have. We decided to launch our activity in Africa initially because the conditions were perfect for it, but our vision was to also offer services globally, to everyone in the whole world.
How would you describe the services you provide – banking or telecoms?
Basically, each of us has our own business: banks offer financial services, and operators offer telecoms services to their customers. Wari is somewhere between the two, with the role of aggregator – bringing together and organising information from various sources.
We created a standardised service platform, bringing everyone together into a single ecosystem where each player has their own place to set up. This means we can offer the advantages of a completely neutral platform that helps to create jobs.
Let’s take Senegal as an example – although of course we have a presence in more than 60 countries in Africa and beyond – we’ve already created more than 18,000 jobs in that country alone. We have more than 500,000 hotspots, either directly or through out partners.
But beyond the figures, the most important thing is the ability of our platform to contribute to creating this ecosystem, which could be used in Europe, Asia or the US exactly as it’s being used in Africa. In fact, it’s this exact feature that makes Wari so strong and its future so bright.
How do all of the structures that have been added to your system interact with each other?
It works in a very simple way, in that it’s the client who is at the very centre of our strategy. The client only needs a service and convenience. It’s the same for everyone. We all need a bit more convenience.
Everyone needs to earn a bit more money, and to do this they have to be connected, with access to all the services that people are offering across the globe. Everyone on the platform offers some of these services.
This is the ecosystem that I’m talking about: the banks will be able to offer banking services and, through this platform, Wari will allow them to ‘tailor’ their services to make them more visible to the public. Society is in a position to ensure that, no matter who it is, what their role is or what field they work in, everyone can access a truly global audience through our platform.
How do you find the professionals with the skills you need?
Development is our bread and butter. The structure of the platform and services we want to offer are shaped by telecoms engineers, developers and systems architects. Each sector needs a huge range of skills, which we recruit through our platform or satellite companies, as well as through our partners.
What role does designing the firmware play?
An enormous part. It makes or breaks the whole thing! We start by analysing the markets that we’re looking to conquer, and then carrying out a detailed study of the habits and behaviour of the people to whom we want to be able to offer tailored services. It’s a crucial phase, which is why I am involved personally, to ensure that we stick as closely as possible to the needs of our target public.
Are you ready to conquer new territories?
The platform was never designed with just one area in mind. We have presence in 40 African countries, the majority of which are English-speaking, but we are also working in French and Portuguese-speaking countries, and the platform is available in Russian, English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, French and Arabic.
Our goal is for it to be used everywhere so it can work for everyone. The speed of market penetration depends on opportunities and circumstances. Our end goal is for everyone to have Wari with them at all times and for everything they need.
Are strategic partnerships critical for your expansion plans?
Without partnerships, it’s very difficult to develop throughout the world. Our idea is inclusive, because development of countries and services always involves inclusion and pooling of efforts.
Wari’s strength and uniqueness come from the fact that it is an open platform. It is completely neutral, and can bring together an almost unlimited number of services and sectors. Anybody who thinks that Wari might allow them to extend the reach of their services is welcome to join us.
Why did you buy Tigo?
Good question. Acquiring Tigo is completely in line with our strategy of offering more and more convenience to people in our target markets. We can’t reach people if they aren’t connected. Buying Tigo has meant that we can create a community and make Wari’s services available everywhere with no limits or communication barriers.
However, the move also sends out a strong signal to Senegal. The President of the Republic has shown his support for Senegalese employers and citizens rallying around their champion. It’s also a signal for Africa as a whole. African employers need to start realising that we have to fight together to develop the continent, to make it a unique market, and one that doesn’t punch below its weight in the global market.
What do you make of how the continent is changing? Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
I have a positive outlook. We are witnessing the birth of an African digital economy. What we’re seeing right now is just the beginning. In the rest of the world, Europe especially, this transition has been a difficult one because it needs to replace existing systems.
In the future, people will work in companies, but still be their own boss. They will have a company within a company, and will be able to work for multiple companies. But change is inevitable, and we have to welcome it positively.