How a subsistence farmers’ problem led to the launch of Wala, a digital banking platform for Africa


Wala is a digital banking platform for Africa making banking FREE for everyone and completely changes the way consumer’s access, engage with, and use financial products and services.

From accounts, to payments, to insurance, Wala aims to make personal finance easier or more affordable for all. It’s philosophy is different. By working in partnership with banks and other financial services providers, Wala can offer zero-fee and below market rate products to mass market consumers. The Wala platform sits in between banks and customers eliminating many costs thereby creating a more efficient system for everyone. Building a savings culture is imperative! Wala’s number one priority is to protect customers and ensure they get zero-fee banking and affordable financial products so they can get on the path towards financial stability.

TechMoran caught up with Tricia Martinez, Wala’s Co-founder and CEO and this is what she told us.


What inspired you to launch Wala? Is Wala a result of your work in Uganda?

My work in Uganda absolutely influenced me to start Wala. I was spending time in Kitgum, Uganda where I had launched a mobile cash transfer solution for subsistence farmers in one of the most underserved areas of the country. We were doing some really incredible and impactful work, but I was conflicted. The women we were providing cash transfers to would receive mobile payments, go to an agent and pay a fee to cash out, and then place that money in cash boxes in their huts. They had no safe place to guard it, to grow it, or create more value from it. Whether a subsistence farmer living in rural Uganda or an Uber driver in Johanessburg, South Africa the problems remain the same- financial services are extremely costly and generally inaccessible due to reasons of inefficiency and distribution.  It was my time in Uganda that I realized banking was the problem, but also the answer. And from here, Wala was born!

Wala team

What have you done before Wala?

Prior to Wala I founded two companies and devoted my time to socially innovative initiatives in areas including microfinance, economic development, and women’s empowerment. My previous work ranges from cash transfer solutions in Sub-Saharan Africa to the development of an investment fund for underserved markets. I received my Masters of Public Policy from the University of Chicago’s Irving B. Harris School with a concentration in Development and Behavioral Economics. It was there that I began learning how small scale improvements could make lasting impacts through methods of financial innovation.

How does it work?

Once a user registers and download the app they can digitally register for a current account. At minimum, a user needs an ID book to register. Users can then open savings accounts. From here, users can deposit and withdraw money through partner ATMs and agents, receive direct deposits and inbound payments, send p2p payments to friends and family in the Wala network, buy airtime and pay bills, and login to check balance, move money between accounts, get insights into spending habits and history.

In the future, users will receive debit cards/prepaid cards to transact directly with merchants, get access to insurance, international payments, loans, and credit all through the Wala mobile platform!

Do you think South Africa is the right market for Wala? Why did you decide to launch in South Africa first?

While consumers throughout every African country need better banking and financial services, we strongly believe that South Africa is the best country for Wala to launch in given the customer base and financial industry.

The most important part of Wala is creating what I like to call a “consumer-driven” financial solution. Everything we do is for consumers and our goal is to provide zero-fee accounts to all Africans so financial empowerment becomes a reality. Over the last 10 months, we have seen a huge increase in our customer base specifically in South Africa. We have almost 1M South Africans who have signed up for a Wala financial community via Facebook and given how quickly that number is growing we want to focus our energy here.

Additionally, South Africa is the financial hub of Africa. Most banks are headquartered in Johannesburg, industry experts reside throughout the country, and the banking infrastructure is developed and very advanced. We need to make sure we are not only close to our partners, but also valuable resources that will help us grow.

What is Wala’s business model?

The beauty of the Wala business model is that we make money when our customers save more money! We work in partnership with banks and other financial services providers to offer free or below market rate products. The Wala platform sits in between banks and customers eliminating many costs thereby creating a more efficient system for everyone.

We don’t generate revenue by charging fees on transactions or cross-selling products. Instead, our partners pay us for bringing assets into their banking system. We built our model this way so that we always stay in line with the needs and financial stability of our users. If they improve their financial lives, Wala succeeds.

Do you have any investors?

Wala is currently backed by angel investors that recognized a massive opportunity to innovate the banking industry throughout emerging markets while also solving a global problem impacting billions of people.

Do you have bank partners?

We are working closely with a number of banks and financial services provider so we can provide zero-fee banking and below market rate financial products to our users.

How is Wala helping to improve users savings culture?

The Wala philosophy is different from most financial companies. Rather than focusing on lending we focus explicitly on savings. There is no shortage of companies that are willing to offer consumers loans and that’s because they can do so at high interest rates that end up costing people an arm and a leg. Loan businesses are very profitable as long as they are run properly and loan businesses that target the poor or people with bad credit can even be predatory, making it worse for the consumer long-term.

Of course there are banks and companies that do provide good loans but we believe financial health starts with something more basic: a bank account. A bank account allows you to safely store your income, grow your savings, and even hold your loan money. Having an account helps you build a financial history, which will allow you get loans at lower interest rates in the future. With Wala, consumers can easily send payments to their community, pay bills, and access other great financial tools. But again, it all starts with a bank account!

Wala CoFounder and Chief of Product, Samer Saab.

Any plans to launch in new markets?

Of course! We plan to expand throughout Africa in the coming years to markets including Nigeria, Uganda, Ghana, Mozambique, Egypt, and many more. Wherever customers are in need of better banking, Wala will be there.

Which services compete with Wala and how is Wala unique from them? How different is Wala from a basic debit card or mobile money account?

Wala is the only company that can provide ZERO-FEE banking. From traditional banking to mobile wallets and payments to loans, most financial products in Africa are transactional-based meaning they charge consumers for any type of transaction. If you use mobile payments with a telecom provider you will incur fees to send money, receive money, hold money, withdrawal money, etc. But with Wala, we cover all fees for you and make the experience convenient through a digital only tool so that you don’t have to deal with the additional financial stress. No more hidden fees. No more long queues. Just Wala.

What have been your biggest challenges so far?

Change in any form is extremely difficult to accomplish and we are pushing boundaries on multiple fronts- banking, technology, policy. Everyday we have a new challenge, but we have an incredible team driving forward every step of the way.

As a financial company, most startup founders would agree with me when I say the greatest challenges are:

  • Acquisition- It takes time to build trust when you are dealing with people’s money. Fintech isn’t like building another social media app, it’s creating solutions for the most important asset in people’s lives- money.
  • Policy- Many regulators are risk averse and implement policy for a reason making it often times difficult to navigate complex systems. It can take a long time to build relationships with regulators and to get them on your side and in the startup world time is our most precious commodity.
  • Fundraising- Even if you have the greatest idea, solution, product, customers, etc. investors always want more especially when you are in underserved markets so you need to figure out how to stay lean and continue to build and grow with limited capital.



Andela Opens Applications for its 1st all-female Bootcamp in Uganda


Andela has opened its first all-female fellowship in Uganda giving young girls a full-time employment opportunity to hone the skills their need to become global technology leaders regardless of their previous career choices.

The four year intensive learning and real work experience exposes the applicants to the world’s leading engineering teams where they learn and master the professional and technical skills needed in the digital age.

Kampala Uganda is Uganda’s third African market after Kenya and Nigeria where the firm is building high-performing engineering teams with Africa’s most talented software developers.

“The Kampala tech scene is vibrant, growing, and full of entrepreneurial spirit and untapped potential,” says Andela Chief Strategy Officer Wambui Kinya. “Andela is excited to support and contribute to the growth of the Ugandan tech ecosystem by providing a hub for brilliant minds to learn and collaborate.”

Founded in 2014, Andela has raised $40M in venture funding from investors including Mark Zuckerberg’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Spark Capital. With more than 80 current company partners and growing demand, Andela is on track to nearly double its base of elite, Africa-based software developers by the end of the year.

Andela Uganda Application Deadline is 5th October 2017.

M-KOPA Solar connects half a million homes in East Africa | Rolls out M-KOPA Solar TVs in Uganda & Tanzania


M-KOPA Solar, the region’s leading pay-as-you-go energy provider to off-grid homes has today announced that it has connected its 500,000th home to its affordable solar home systems and rolled out its M-KOPA 400 – the company’s larger solar system that includes a digital TV – has been available in Kenya since Q2 2016 and now also being rolled out in Uganda and Tanzania.

According to Jesse Moore, CEO and Co-Founder, M-KOPA, “Half a million customers is a terrific milestone for the M-KOPA team and the entire off-grid power sector. We’ve reached this point thanks to high quality products, a relentless commitment to customer service and a conscientious approach to pricing and credit.”

The company is also announcing that it has reported over 250,000 credit scores in Kenya through the Credit Information Sharing initiative of the Central Bank of Kenya. Ninety-two percent are positive credit reports of loans that have been completed, or are in good standing. This enables customers to access additional financial services from M-KOPA and other financial institutions.

Dorothy Nabawesi became M-KOPA’s 500,000th customer when she purchased a M-KOPA 400 system at the M-KOPA Shop in Mukono, Uganda. She says, “I don’t have the money to access the grid. For so long, the good things have been passing me by, like watching national and international news on TV. My grandchildren used to go to a neighbour’s house to get information about the world. Now with M-KOPA, I have better lighting for them to read, plus extra power to charge my phone, listen to radio and watch TV.”

Customers can purchase a M-KOPA Solar TV either by acquiring a M-KOPA 400 system, or by extending their $0.50/day M-KOPA solar home system payment plan and upgrading for more power and a solar TV.

In April 2015, M-KOPA launched its own upgrades service for productive assets – including water tanks, energy-efficient cooking stoves and smart phones.  In the two years since launch, it has sold over 150,000 upgrade products.

Moore says, “Our customers don’t just need a panel and a battery. They are looking to M-KOPA to provide products and services that help them be more connected, productive and financially secure. With half a million households now on board, we really understand customer needs and aspirations. We plan to grow our customer relationships for many years to come.”

M-KOPA has also established a separate business unit – M-KOPA Labs – to conduct research and development of additional products and services that run on its power and finance platform. It currently has research projects underway with several strategic partners and is looking at new products and market extensions across a range of sectors.

On the basis of having connected 500,000 homes to solar power, M-KOPA customers now enjoy over 62.5 million hours of kerosene-free lighting per month and they will save over 600,000 tonnes of CO2 over four years.


Inside the surrender & death of Kenya’s peer-to-peer learning platform Shakili.com


Despite having Dr. Bitange Ndemo, former PS; Ministry of Information & Communications as an advisor and mentor, Shakili.com,  a peer-to-peer learning platform that aimed to connect educators to students and experts to professionals around their talents, careers, and interests never took off.

Founded by Nest Africa magician Muthuri Kinyamu, and friends Zack Kiuna and Nick Stewart, Shakili was coined from Share and Akili Swahili for knowledge as a knowledge sharing platform.

Kinyamu told TechMoran that Shakili woukd enable users to set up e-schools and create courses online and share knowledge and content with peers and their educators, researchers, motivation speakers like me and not-so-fanatic religious leaders.

On the eve of the Shakili’s launch he said the start-up expected to ease digital content sharing and networking among varsity students and educators.

SHAKILI LOGO(1)“Through Shakili educators can create, upload and share digital content in various formats with students to make learning more fun and mobile and make learning possible beyond the school borders,” he said adding that it was a great idea as none of the local universities meet the recommended teacher-student ration.

We believed him until he took up another magician job at Growth Hub and became so vocal on Twitter forgetting to help lecturers connect virtually with their students-an intrusion students abhor to death.

“Our curriculum needs to be progressive to current needs of industry and marketplace. Shakili.com provides a chance for industry to also offer courses. Professionals are looking for ongoing learning and career development without necessarily incurring the costs of a traditional education. Shakili allows users to take up self-scheduled courses that allow flexible learning at their own pace.”, the team said.

Shakili’s primary target users were universities & colleges where lecturers or students create e-schools and courses to upload & share study content and aggregate already existing educational content from the web to the courses created.

Research Institutions, Corporate entities and NGO’s that want to share educative content in a social could also use it as well as speakers, coaches, tutors and consultants and bloggers and content creators.

Shakili’s value proposition was the magic of presence – with peers and teachers, the almost infinite access in the virtual world and the democratization of education by offering access to high quality content for students and giving experts a platform to share knowledge with interested learners.

The platform aimed at offering people the opportunity to expand knowledge & pursue their interests without dedicating fixed periods of time to fit in a university schedule like what Eneza Education is doing with Shupavu; but in a controlled environment.

With the potential to change lives by making the process of learning fun and mobile, Shakili never hit step one of their mission particularly because higher education in Kenya is limited to the physical contact and the lecturer determines the format of learning. Digital platforms are only used to send students notes and class assignments.

At the time of launch, the education sector was highly closed from one university to the other. Universities never shared knowledge even though they shared lecturers and tutors. Shakili was also never well marketed and might never have on boarded any university students or lecturers and even if it had; user on-boarding in institutions of higher learning for education is not an easy feat especially when the founders are not lecturers.

Adults, non-traditional learners or people that just need a little extra skill to advance in their careers had hardly heard of a browser leave alone an online learning platform.

Competition from platforms such as Blackboard among others have made entry into the virtual classroom industry not as easy as it appears.

Kinyamu, might have been overconfident about his venture with somehow strong connections then as the lead strategist at Social Edge Africa; a social media agency and as the troublemaker at SocialPRO social media clubs for universities which both doing so well.


Finland’s GoSol.org launches in East Africa to provide clean energy & create wealth for SMEs in rural areas


 Two Finnish firms Wärtsilä and Solar Fire Concentration have launched GoSol.org, a new off grid energy technology that aims at breaking the cost-barriers currently limiting the deployment of solar thermal technologies in local entrepreneurial applications in East Africa.

GoSol.org promises to not only provide clean energy but also help local entrepreneurs save money, increase local wealth, create job opportunities, reinvest in their communities, protect the environment, eradicate poverty and improve their health leading to their overall empowerment.

According to Mr. George Oywer, Energy Solutions, Business Development Manager, Wärtsilä, “With the GoSol project, we have an opportunity to help African micro entrepreneurs especially in the rural areas, who are the basis for a good society. The use of solar power in the project is aligned to our corporate vision of providing access to clean energy hence our decision to sponsor the GoSol project”.

GoSol will be operating in Kisumu and Turkana area and is partnering with the NGO World Vision through their Weconomy program.

Kenya’s demand for power is currently at 2200 MW while installed capacity is 2400 MW expected to rise approximately to 7500 MW by 2030, and while the government is making commendable efforts to meet the future demand, there is a need to provide such off grid solutions that can impact livelihoods and help alleviate poverty in rural areas.

Eva Wissenz, Managing Director, GoSol project said, “The electrification ratio in Kenya is low: national electricity access is at 32%, rural electrification access is at 19%. This means that there are a lot of households and small entrepreneurs especially in rural areas that are still dependent on biomass to fulfill their energy needs.”

The SOL models capture direct solar energy and make it usable at low cost over a large temperature range. The models can generate energy up to 6KW and its applications can vary from roasting 20kg of peanuts in 3.5hrs or roasts 15kg of cocoa beans in 2 hours or bake 100 scones in 35 minutes or bake 30 200g loaves of bread in 40 minutes.

Uganda’s MamaOpe wins [email protected] 2017 competitions


Uganda’s MamaOpe, a biomedical application for diagnosis and continuous monitoring of pneumonia patients has been declared winner of the 2017 [email protected] competitions beating Kenya’s Kuza Automotive and Nigeria’s Tuteria.

Established by the Duke of York less than three years ago, [email protected] helps entrepreneurs to take their businesses to a global audience of influencers who can catapult it to the next [email protected] has helped over 247 businesses grow, with some now enjoying huge global success.

Business selected to compete at [email protected], were invited to attend a Boot Camp, where they received support and guidance in developing and sharpening their pitches and their business needs. [email protected] gives investments, introductions, strategic guidance among others.

MamaOpe designs a smart-vest and biomedical application for diagnosis and continuous monitoring of pneumonia patients. The vest is specifically designed for children under the age of 5 years who are most affected by Pneumonia which is normally misdiagnosed with malaria, asthma and tuberculosis.

MamaOpe promises a cheaper solution to most of the alternative solution available, is easy to use,  promises shorter time for diagnosis and supports telemedicine.

Kenya’s Sanivation, Nigeria’s RecyclePoints & SA’s iDrop Water Competing for $1m Chivas Prize


Kenya’s Sanivation, Nigeria’s RecyclePoints  & SA’s iDrop Water are among 30 global startups competing for $1m Chivas Prize set to be held in Los Angeles in July.

Founded by Dickson Ochieng, Sanivation installs container-based toilets in people’s homes for free, and then charges a monthly fee to service them. The Sanivation team treats waste as a resource, by transforming it into a clean burning alternative to charcoal.
Their sanitation services are improving health and dignity in urban communities of East Africa, as well as refugee camps.

Nigeria’s Chioma Ukonu founded RecyclePoints to help consumers to create value from their everyday waste. RecyclePoints uses an
incentive based model, collecting waste from registered members and rewards them with points, which they can use to redeem or shop for cash and household items at the iRecycle Store.
RecyclePoints use Electric Cargo Tricycles to collect the waste, ridden by members of the team called ‘WasteBusters’.

South Africa’s James Steere on the other founded iDrop Water to change the way water is consumed and sold in Africa, through vending units which purify and dispense water in store.
The water is sold in refillable containers, reducing plastic waste, while being 80% cheaper than bottled water. iDrop splits profits equally with shop owners, so they are boosting economic activity in communities with every dollar they make.

Chivas Regal Unveils 30 Finalists Pitching for its $1m Global Prize


Chivas Venture, a global search to discover and reward the world’s most promising social entrepreneurs, has released 30 startups as finalists of its $1m third edition global competition out of almost 6,000 applications across six continents with Sanivation representing Kenya.

The 30 finalists will travel to Los Angeles in July where they will compete for a share of $1 million to make their dream of creating a better future for the world a reality.

According to Richard Black, Chivas Regal Global Brand Director,  “We were blown away by the calibre of entries for this year’s Chivas Venture competition. The businesses are a great example of the ingenuity and passion of entrepreneurs across the world who are committed to creating a better world for generations to come.”

One finalist will represent each of the 30 participating countries. The 30 finalists are attending a five-day Accelerator Week programme  to develop leadership skills, take part in practical workshops and be inspired by global experts on critical topics that affect social startups at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship within the Business School at the University of Oxford.

From Monday 1st May to Sunday 4th June, the public will be able to show their support for their favourite finalist through a live vote. Over the course of five weeks, the public’s vote will determine how the first $250,000 in funding is split among the finalists.

The winner(s) of the remaining $750,000 in funding will be decided on Thursday 13th July at the Chivas Venture Final in Los Angeles, after a high-stakes pitch in front of the judges and a live audience.