Viola A. Llewellyn is the Co-founder and president of award-winning Ovamba Solutions, Inc., Africa’s first FinTech company to create technologies to serve African SMEs with innovative Sharia-compliant finance products, eCommerce, and logistics services. Ovamba’s technology gives global accredited and institutional investors the opportunity to invest in the fast-growing African private sector.
In other words, Ovamba provides short-term funding in emerging markets to the trade and commodities sectors. Ovamba also raises capital from global institutional investors with an appetite for returns in these markets. The company’s goal is to solve the need for democratization of financial services in Africa. It is already acknowledged, that Ovamba is a booster rocket for SMEs in Africa. So, what can we learn from this case? What is the essence here?
Written by Lauma Berzina
To spot the problems and opportunities
“In Africa, there is plenty of space for innovation, it is a great demographic area, with a lot of tools to be developed to solve some of the most interesting challenges, all of these challenges represent opportunity and return on investment, but nobody seems to want to come there”. Viola points out, that it is about the time to join them because many companies say that they have global exposure, but yet they don’t have anything on the continent of Africa at all. Or they say that they are in Africa, but only in Kenya and the HQ are located somewhere outside of Africa. This really is not how it works for Africa. And neither could it work for other continents in a similar situation.
In fact, Africa is larger than Western Europe, Eastern Europe, China, India, and the United States combined. Africa’s population by 2040 will rise to 2,5 billion people, but the statistics show that the continent has received only 0,3% of global venture capital and Tech investment in 2016. As Viola emphasizes, it is a critically small amount from what Africa needs. So, this is already a great case-study to look at by understanding the issue on a global scale.
Keep in mind the mission
The goal of the company is to democratize finance for all by using FinTech. Ovamba is something by people for people that has nothing to do with banking but with the velocity of capital using tech. Because African technology adoption cycles are fast, they need something that can be used instantly. Exactly this is why African tech companies have a chance to become “The” industry – not just an alternative to something that already exists.
Africa is critically underserved despite massive demand. As Viola states out, 75% of the African continent’s population lacks access to formal banking services. So 12% of Africans already use mobile money accounts compared with just 2% worldwide. Nevertheless, Ovamba is the only sharia-compliant certified FinTech platform in Africa today. “Seek for the obvious in every situation” – that is the lesson. What is obvious here is that banking solutions are not helping, but other economic and trade-enabling solutions can, especially in the presence of tech innovation.
Facing other challenges
As with every enterprise, Ovamba has faced many challenges. As one of them, in Africa there are more than 2000 different local languages, making it one of the most linguistically diverse places on the planet, that leads to the point where many are underserved because of functional illiteracy. Ovamba defines functional illiteracy as the ability to read and write on a grade school level, enough to get by but not to be able to read, write or comprehend complex or business syntax. To meet this challenge and solve the problem, Ovamba formed a partnership with Microsoft to invent a chatbot for all who need to access financial services but would prefer to in their own language. Cooperation can be the solution for many difficulties throughout the implementation process. The real question here is how and with whom? And Viola can tell a lot about that.
Take in notice some conditions
Regarding the processes of democratizing financial services, Viola accents that you must be able to do certain things better than anyone else. In this business a deep local knowledge is crucial and an urge to solve a real problem that will help many people immediately has to be kept in mind. Also, culture matters. Africa has often been the recipient of charity & solutions that were created somewhere else and imported onto the continent with no regard for the culture of the individuals. When you build culturally sensitive solutions and technology you are systemically important to the ecosystem. You just need to meet the people where they are. It has to be remembered, that it’s a marathon, not a sprint and that you have to be a world class from the day one. That is the how Ovamba sees the FinTech evolution in Africa. Llewellyn says that “wars have been fought in the name of democracy, technology and innovation are the new battlefield – this time we are all on the same side”.
Ovamba – first of a kind
Ovamba has offered a solution that includes a whole end-to-end mobile forward ecosystem that manages every aspect of the business, making it truly a ‘’mobile first’’ enterprise. That is Ovamba’s innovative approach (Growth-As-A-Service®) drives financial inclusion for the small and medium enterprise. Growth-As-A-Service (GaaS) includes onboarding/engagement through verbal computing and facial recognition, visibility into business operations, and control of inventory and key business assets.
Ovamba’s investors love them because they provide transparency, control of assets, and return their investment as high as 16% net-of-fees. And they do it on a truly digitized platform where everybody can see the deal flow, customers, applications, etc. A transparent blockchain powered solution – where cryptocurrencies eliminate much of the inter-African trade barriers will be the next innovation in 2018. Many African countries have currency controls and logistical challenges which makes cross-border trade difficult. It is very important because nowadays Africa is all about trade. The urge here is to connect those in need to be connected. And here we can ask ourselves the question, whom could we connect and how?
FinTech future in Africa and beyond
As in Baltics and other regions, the potential for FinTech is widespread. For example, Ovamba is designed to fund not just African businesses, but businesses in other emerging markets, as well as provide an alternative to traditional banking methods, in a climate where traditional banking still facilitates financial exclusion amongst certain demographics, rather than inclusion. Through Ovamba’s experience, Viola has been able to offer solutions to some of the least addressed challenges in these sectors.
About Viola Llewellyn
Ms. Llewellyn has served as an honorary member of the board of trustees for the “International Women’s Think Tank” since 2014 where she guides IWTT on STEM issues, gender diversity and globalization, and was listed in the 2016 “Digital Undivided Report” as one of only a handful Black or African American women in the USA who have ever raised more than $1 million for a tech company. She is amongst the top 200 “Women in FinTech Power list” a global list of female industry leaders published by Innovate Finance in 2016, and placed 13th on “The Innov8tiv’s Top 50 Visionary Women in Tech To Watch in 2017”.
To meet Viola A. Llewellyn, and hear more about Ovamba, secure your TechChill 2018 pass now!
Photo courtesy of Slush and Kai Kuusisto