SUNDAY PROFILE with DOREEN NAWA, Lusaka
WHEN she was 19 and could not afford college fees, she had two options – to get married or take a low paying job.
Today, Misozi Mkandawire, 27, is the managing director for Zoona, a mobile money company that provides electronic transfer services enabling consumers to send or receive money in Zambia.
Misozi’s highest qualification is a diploma in accounting from the National Institute of Public Administration (NIPA).
“My childhood had humble beginnings,” says Misozi, the youngest in a family of five. “I lost my father at age of eight, and things turned bad for me, my siblings and my mother. My mother worked as a tailor, making women’s clothing in the house we grew up in. [But] she always pushed hard work and education on me and my siblings and that had a positive impact.”
In 2002, Misozi was selected to Grade Eight at Nyumba Yanga Basic School in Lusaka before going to Kabulonga Girls Secondary School for her Grade Ten. She completed high school in 2006.
But because of financial challenges, Misozi could not immediately get into college.
After three years, she enrolled at NIPA after her brother assisted with fees for the first year as she pursued a diploma in accounting.
But it was tough, so she started working as a sales executive at Zoona. However, after working for two years, her contract as a sales executive was not renewed.
“I used the gratuity K5,000 from my previous job [Zoona sales executive] to start up as an entrepreneur, a Zoona agent,” she says. “I registered my own company called Fappis Solutions in 2012 with the Patents and Companies Registration Agency and Zambia Revenue Authority which enabled me to apply to become a Zoona agent.”
After seeing how well she did in the first year, she decided to invest even more money in the business. And over the next five years, she expanded from one Zoona outlet to 43.
“I started my own business as a Zoona agent at the age of 22, knowing very little about business,” she says.
“My work entailed providing financial services to primarily unbanked consumers in urban, peri-urban, and rural areas of Zambia. This is through money transfers, bill payments, bulk payouts, vouchers, airtime sales, and international remittances.
“My first Zoona outlet was opened in October 2012 and I had one employee. The first few months were very challenging as we had to work hard to bring in customers since very few people had heard of the business Zoona in Zambia and what products we offered.”
But through sheer hard work and determination, Misozi built her business.
“I had 43 employees, 38 females and five males, all under the age of 35,” she says.
“I empowered five former employees to become Zoona agents operating their own shops independently, which has allowed them to increase their incomes. The majority of my employees were female.
“I am most passionate about women empowerment and women supporting their fellow women. I also worked to train my employees with basic business skills so they can move up in the business and eventually become Zoona agents, go back to school, or start up other businesses.”
In the last five years, Misozi has been presiding over an empire of Zoona kiosks across the country.
But now, she is country managing director for Zoona in Zambia.
Appointed in the position last month, Misozi is now overseeing over 3,000 agents and a staff of 22 at the headquarters in Lusaka.
As a mobile payment company, Zoona prides itself in transforming how people and organisations send and receive money in Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique. It provides clients with an easy, safe, and quick way to transact with their family, friends, and service providers. So far, clients have used Zoona to send more than US$500 million.
“At the beginning of this year, I was approached by Zoona and asked to be the Zoona Zambia managing director,” she shares.
“I’m very excited to see where this part of the journey takes me and to use my experience as a previous agent to help other entrepreneurs thrive. After seeing the positive impact that Zoona has had on my life and some of my own employees, I gladly accepted.
“I believe my experience as a former agent will greatly support the Zoona agents and Zoona mission to help communities thrive and spread financial inclusion where it is needed most. I will also continue to further my studies and work towards an MBA.”
In April, The Economist ran an article titled ‘A different approach to mobile money in Africa’ in which it gave insight into the workings of Zoona and also mentioned Misozi, who was by then not yet at the helm of the company.
“Money-transfer businesses are proliferating in Africa. But Zoona is unusual. Unlike M-PESA, the best-known in Kenya, it is not run by a phone company. Nor is it owned by a bank. Instead, Zoona has built a business from scratch. It processed US$200m in transactions last year and bubbles with ambition: Mike Quinn, its [Canadian] chief executive, talks of reaching 1bn customers,” the article partly read.
“Zoona was founded in Zambia in 2009 by two brothers, Brad and Brett Magrath. As a startup, they were at a disadvantage, having to recruit their own agents. Zoona did so by seeing them as its core customers, giving them credit and training to set up their own franchises. Some are impressively successful. In central Lusaka, Misozi Mkandawire presides over an empire of kiosks. She started with Zoona while at college. Her profits can now reach 50,000 kwacha (US$5,200) a month. That is exceptional. Last year the average agent made $548 in monthly commission, before costs. Globally, nearly half of mobile-money agents have not processed a transaction for a month; 97 percent of Zoona agents do so every day.
“The right location helps. Zoona puts its lime-green booths in canny places, like markets, bus stations and even a hospital. They are often flanked by booths for Airtel and MTN, two phone companies offering similar services. Zoona is not the cheapest—the sender pays about 10 percent on small transactions—but competes on coverage and reliability: for example, ensuring its agents have enough float to cash large amounts.”
Misozi has her work cut out. But she is up for it.