Africa's mobile operators should do more to support entrepreneurship argues Afroes founder

Operators in the African region are not capitalising on an opportunity to foster entrepreneurial skills and provide opportunities to young people, according to Anne Shongwe, founder and CEO at educational games developer Afroes. Speaking at the Entrepreneurial Incubator Hub at AfricaCom, she said that convincing mobile operators to support her business has proven to be challenging.

Afroes creates uniquely African mobile applications and tools for social development agencies and corporate enterprises addressing issues such as gender equality, child abuse and sustainability. The firm has seen success with games such as ChampChase, aimed to raise awareness about child abuse. The game sets the user a series of missions to locate and rescue children across South Africa using child protection resources such as the Childline number. It has already generated over 5,000 downloads and since its launch, the average number of calls to the childline number has risen 32 per cent.

However, despite seeing such success Shongwe feels that mobile operators have been risk averse in supporting such start up projects, when they could play a key part in their success.

“We have had a lot of support from Nokia, and now Blackberry too; we are having very interesting discussions with them, but with mobile operators, it has been a struggle,” she said.

“We are now beginning to get some support from SafariCom, but in general, with the operators it has been very difficult.”

In her talk, entitled “Turning an idea into a business”, Shongwe outlined firm’s business model and explained how it puts operators at the heart of the transaction process. One of the payment methods for playing the game is by using premium SMS, another is a mobile payment subscription service and although Afroes has experimented with advertisement-funded free gameplay, it soon realised that this is not a feasible model as consumers in the region do not click on ads.

“By building operator relationships, we can create quality interactive content. Operators are important to businesses as they build the lines of communications, and they can help build entrepreneurial skills in Africa.”

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  • I cannot agree more with this article. Mobile operators operating in Africa including South African based have had no intention of helping African start-ups to grow. They usually hide behind group contracts that are usually signed at the HQ with an Asian or western company, thus excluding African entrepreneurs from taking advantage of the growth in Africa ICT to build the next “made in Africa” Ericsson or Huawei . It’s a really pity. This needs to change.

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