Posts in Scribbling Sage Posts

A Few Lessons from Kenya's M-Pesa

In the course of a research I am currently participating in, I came across some facts about the success of M-Pesa in Kenya which gave me food for thought about how business success can come about. First of all, in my experience, whenever someone mentions M-Pesa, it is typical to think about Kenya! Meanwhile, there are several countries which speak Swahili in southern Africa and several countries where the service has been deployed or tried. Kenya stands out because of the incredible success story surrounding the product. Here are some key contributors to the success of the product:

The Unknown Innovator

There is an unverified claim by one Michael N Gichuri that M-Pesa was originally develooped by him. If this is true then it is a case of Esau selling his birthright. Many young entrepreneurs sell out too easily to the highest bidder. I think it makes sense to ask an investor to let you have shares in the product you have developed rather than selling out completely. That is if you really believe you have come up with something of value. That said, I want to add that often, new thinking from young people can be the key to a large company’s next breakthrough.


M-Pesa was launched through a partnership between Safaricom and Vodafone. There are scenarios in business where a heavy financial, political backing or other similar strong influence is necessary to get that bright idea of the ground. Partnership could also take the form of collaboration with other young entrepreners who offer services related to your primary product. Maybe you can patronize each other, do trade by barter or even form a consortium to pay for external services such as advertising or office space together. The survival of your idea should be more important than the desire to boast that it was your idea.

Thorough Testing

In the official version of the history, M-Pesa operated in pilot mode for two whole years before the Kenyan government approved “go-live” in 2007. This is critical in any endeavour both for big companies and startups. In this day and age of stiff competition and disruptive innovation, it is important that the first impression the public has of your new product is not negative. Thorough testing or at least public awareness that the product is still in the trials phase will help to win trust and guarantee a product that will last long.

Meeting a Valid Need

Kenya had a bonafide financial inclusion problem. A large percentage of Kenyans did not have bank account and many in this category lived in the slums or in the villages which were often difficult to reach. If your product does not really meet a genuine need, it might as well be a hobby not a business! It is easier to sell a customer what he really needs that to educate him of a great discovery you have made to improve his life.


During the year 2008, quite a lot of Kenyans were apprehensive of moving too far away from their families due to post-election violence. Thus M-Pesa was a convenient way of sending money without endangering oneself. In addition, people had lost trust in the banks due to discord among bank executives bordering on ethnicity. It thus became wiser to save money in Mobile Phones!

Wrap Up

In summary, a great idea brewed at the right time has a good chance of making huge impact once the right partnerships and due diligence are in place. A little lesson on copying is worth touching here. Copying is a great way to leverage what has already worked elsewhere but we must copy intelligently! It is important to understand as much as possible the hidden details of the original otherwise the copy will prove to be a far cry from the original. I sure hope this has been of some use. Let me know your thoughts!

Power Distance and Culture

Two weeks ago I did a Facebook Live post where I talked about leadership. I made reference to the tendency of certain kinds of leaders to try to control their followers by exerting unnecessary force, threatening them or being verbally abusive or intimidating. My position was that a leader need not try to prove that he is a leader for his “followers” to respect him. He needs not prove that he is superior to his follower if he really is. And in my opinion a leader is not necessarily chosen because he is better than all his followers in all aspects of life. A leader needs to know that and take advantage of the reasources he has within his team to make the betst of his organization. He must be humble enought to enquire (sounds like Edgar Schein’s book).

After I shared this video on my Facebook page, my boss drew my attention to another video where Malcom Gladwell, the writer of the book, Outliers gave a talk in a church about Power Distance. It was an intriguing discussion because he started the discussion with a particular plane crash and went step by step through a series of events that led up to the plan crash. He then settled on the conversation that ensued during the last moments of the plane being airborne as was captured by the black box. That conversation revealed the real reason the simple problems could not be solved quickly enough: communication.

The Asst. Pilot was not communicating clearly that there was an emergency and that lives were at stake. In talking to the control tower, he was using mitigation in his speech and the control tower perceived it as if he was saying things were fine. He didn’t want to sound demanding or commanding and this ended up ending people’s lives. Gladwell alluded to the fact that this Power Distance problem also showed up as an issue of culture. In some cultures, people are more likely to defer to authority than in others. What struck me really was the dire consequences of something so trivial.

I think any leader who wants to hear the truth from his “followers”, really inspire people and be remembered not regretted needs to reduce that so called Power Distance between himself and the people. I believe the onus lies largely on the leader to change the culture and create the enabling environment for authentic followership. As we have seen, the effects are significant. What do you think?

60 Million Ghana Cedis in Your Face

Last Friday we heard the sad news of a collision between a bullion van and a trailer in Techiman, Ghana which killed the trailer driver and spilled a significant portion of 60 million ghana cedis on the motorway. The story has it that instead of making efforts to help the wounded, quite a number of people rather helped themselves to the free money that had suddenly flown into their space without any any effort made on their part to make it happen. The question is, if you were there, would you have taken your share of the money? Would you have justified it as mob action?

Come to think of it back in the day, one could hear the “testimony” of someone who had picked up a small sum of money that someone else had lost at a public place. As far as he was concerned, it was God making a way for the finder. Well, we could argue about that in several directions but what makes it wrong to pick spilled cash from a bullion van if one can pick lost money and claim it is a miracle. The point here is, what would you do under the same circumstances?

We can stretch this thinking to other scenarios. We have recently had some bruhaha over the Comprehensive Sexual Education content design by global organisations to deploy in Ghana and maybe other African nations. The decision as to whether or not to adopt this content now lies on the current government and maybe the next. As much as we are quick to discuss these matters in our homes and other fora, I also like to ask, If I were the president of a nation, what kind of pressures would be on me to accept such content and what would my decision be? How would I communicate my decision to the nation and to the rest of the world who may perceive my disposition as being intolerant or archaic? These are the questions on my mind this morning.

I think that the decisions we will take in the face of such dilemmas are determined by what we do now to form our character and shape our values ahead of time. The values we imbibe when we are not yet faced with complex decisions will help determine how we take those decisions. It is obvious by now that coming into contact with large amounts of money or a significant position suddenly can easily change a person depending on how strong that person’s values are. So before we discuss others and their decisions in their circumstances, we need to examine ourselves, realise we are possibly going to be exposed to similar temptations and then take our position firmly before the time comes.

A Distant God

I got into a conversation with a colleague last week on how certain things that occur in our lives that appear negative are actually blessings in disguise. While making reference to the fact that the orchestration of such things could be from an external entity he referred to this external entity as “Nature”. He went further to explain that he is of the school of thought that believes one should reserve references to “God” for more serious matters than the  matter he was discussing. He preferred to say “Nature” orchestrated the events.

While the above sounds very reverent, according due respected to the eternal Supreme Being there are number of thoughts that came to me within and after the discussion. One of them was the fact that we could be rather disrespecting to by attributing to “nature” or “the universe” like some others say things that were actually orchestrated by a living and Intelligent Being: Almighty God. If that is the case then our sense of reverence is somewhat misplaced.

Another thought that occurred to me is the distance we place between ourselves and God with our “reverence”. When the Lord Jesus taught us to pray, He taught us to refer to God as “Father” not the “Most Holy, Omnipotent, Immutable Creator of the Infinite Universe who Dwells in Unapproachable Light and Has no equal in Heaven or Earth”. I am sure the Lord’s Prayer would have been much longer if He had used the latter. He simply used “Our Father”.

I am told that the original for the expression the Lord Jesus used for Father was “Abba”, an expression which was even more personal and informal than “Father”. Maybe “Daddy” or “Dad” or “Papa”. Jesus was introducing us to a more personal relationship with the Infinite Creator of the universe than the Jews were used to. He opened a door to Heaven that closes the huge gap between us and God. God came down to our level.

I respect the sense of reverence my colleague was alluding to in his school of  thought but I also think we must humbly accept the privilege God has given us and call Him “Daddy”. It may even be a much higher form of reverence than otherwise.

Behind a Thumb

In his interview with the BBC on the series 13 Minutes to the Moon, Jim Lovell described how amazing a view the had of the earth from the moon. He said that at a point he put  his thumb on the glass through which they looked and realized he could completely hide the moon behind his thumb. The message delivered to him in that experience must have been how small the earth is compared to the Milky Way and compared to the Universe. In fact he said that in comparison to the Universe, the earth vanishes into oblivion!

Isn’t it amazing that every piece of gold we could ever mine, every grand structure we could ever build, every piece of clothing we could ever make or wear and all the accolades we seek in this world can be hidden behind a man’s thumb. All the wealth that men kill each other and themselves for is smaller than a man’s thumb. The whole thing is an issue of perspective.

Exposure to a larger scope always gives us a new perspective. I had a short discussion with a friend a few weeks ago who alluded to this by saying that people who are widely travelled are typically less tribalistic. Tribalism, xenophobia and racism on large scale can be traced to minimal exposure in certain cases. When we have never gone through the experience of the other party, we tend to exclude them are foreign to us.

A South African who has never lived as a foreigner thinks of everyone that crosses the border into his country has a leech coming to suck his country dry. A Fulani who has never lived as a trader in Southern Nigeria thinks of all Igbos as threats to his existence. All of it is an issue of perspective. A Christian who has never lived in the Middle East considers all Muslims armed terrorists.

Perspective changes our pattern of thinking and can help change the way we relate with other people. Let’s work on increasing the scope of view of ourselves and possibly that of our children. You can listen to the BBC Podcast here:


Sun, Stand Still in Twelve Words

“Then Joshua spoke to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel:

“Sun, stand still over Gibeon;
And Moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.”
So the sun stood still,
And the moon stopped,
Till the people had revenge
Upon their enemies.

Is this not written in the Book of Jasher? So the sun stood still in the midst of heaven, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. And there has been no day like that, before it or after it, that the Lord heeded the voice of a man; for the Lord fought for Israel.”

A few days ago at church Rev. Alex Botchway made reference to the above scripture in his sermon. He describes a little how in Physics the force required to stop a moving vehicle is expected to be the equivalent of the force moving the car forward but is applied in the opposite direction. In his analysis, he further posited that the earth is a moving body, revolving around the Sun and also rotating on its on axis. I would add here that the earth is revolving around the Sun at the rate of about 107,000 km/h and rotating around its own axis at about 1,674.4 km/h.

Rev. Botchway highlighted that Joshua’s declaration on both the earth and the moon implied that the earth should stop moving! The church erupted at the realization of the magnitude of force required to stop the earth for the period of time Joshua needed to finish the battle. The Reverend Minister pointed out that this is why the writer of the Book of Joshua considered this day a unique day compared to all other miracles that had been recorded such as even the parting of the red sea. Joshua achieved this with twelve words prayer! Twelve words.

The part of twelve words is what amazes me. It took Joshua twelve words to stop the earth on it 107,000 km/h revolution around the sun. I dare say the moon must have stopped as well! All in twelve words. It is astounding to me because we typically try to get things done spiritually these days with tremendous amount of effort such as a hundred days’ fasting or thirty days of all night vigils. When we were young we used to compare and be amazed at people who could pray for six hours, eighteen hours, twenty-six hours non-stop. But Joshua stopped the earth with twelve words.

Breath-taking. In fact I just took a breath as I entered this paragraph. The whole episode raises a big question in my mind as to how the supernatural really works. Did Joshua get such an amazing response because God already wanted to stop the earth’s movement and needed a man to declare it? Did it happen because Joshua was in God’s perfect will regarding the cleansing of Canaan? How does it really work? In twelve words, Joshua stopped the earth…. I am still contemplating.


Love Bothers Me

My two-year-old son has the habit of putting his left thumb in his mouth. Often when he does this, he also reaches out to me or his Mom with his right hand and fondles any part of our body that he can reach. It often has a great feeling experiencing him do this. It could happen while one of us is carrying him and rocking him to sleep or when he is lying in bed and trying to sleep off.

A few days ago he woke up about 4:00 AM and began doing this to me. I really wanted to catch a little more sleep so it was a bit of a disturbance to at that time of the morning. Once in a while I would push his hand away and try to sleep but he wouldn’t budge. I did this over and over until I gave up and left him on the bed to go and sleep for the last thirty minutes of my night on the carpet. Less than five minutes later he came down from the bed and lay on my back! it was almost funny but for the time of day.

Some people have a similar experience with their spouses. They get a call every hour or two from their spouse while they are “busy” at work and it seems to be a bother. On the other hand some people never hear from their spouses till they get home. Go figure. Others always hear their spouses yelling at them to come home earlier or pay more attention to them.

The whole point of these two stories can be summarized in two ideas. One is the fact that while your family may express their love for you in diverse ways, it is important to realise that what is being expressed is actually LOVE. Love is something that many people in this world do not experience so we must value it when someone finds us important enough to them to pinch us or yell at us to come home. The comedian Kasime Anne joked that singleness may seem like great freedom but you realize you may have to get home and shout “Hello” only to have the walls of your huge house echo back to you “Hiii”! Or maybe you have to buy two mobile phones so you can call yourself!

Paul Kofi Mante said in a recent presentation that work is like a rubber ball while family is like an egg. If you drop the ball, it will bounce back to you but if you drop the egg, it is likely to crack. Value the love you receive from your family even when it seems to be a bother. Respond to the love in your own way and make them feel valued too.


A Vision for the Future

Before leaving home this morning I told m wife I am looking forward to the day when I would wake up, pray, have breakfast at about 7:00 AM and then sit out in the balcony to read a good book. At about 10:00 AM I would go to consult with a large company and earn $10,000 for working with them for an hour. At about 2:00 PM I would go give a talk somewhere and earn another $10,000 then be home by 4:00 PM to do some writing. All this could be a daydream or a possible reality (a reality that has already manifested for some people my age in this same world anyway) depending on what I do with today.

It is important that we paint a picture for our future and keep that picture in front of us consistently. Let it be the driver for our routine tasks. Let the vision be the determinant of our engagements. Let the vision be the reason for how we spend our time. How much is today’s activities contributing towards to vision? Can you see five years from now? Ten years? Twenty years? Or are you just taking one day at a time as it comes. I know it is possible to predict the eventual outcome of our lives to a reasonable degree of accuracy because people have done it already. Why not us? Are you willing to take the necessary steps to make the picture in your mind a reality? Think about this deeply.

The thoughts in this post are further developed in my upcoming book It I Were to Live Again. #IfIWere2LiveAgain

Told What to Do

The route from my home to the office runs over a railway intersection at a place called Avenor in Accra Ghana. Once in a while I see a middle-aged man using a pickaxe to remove the deposits of sand choking the steel rail. The first time I saw this I wondered to myself if this was the best way to do this> This bothered me because the rail line tended to be a bottleneck because of the fact that the railway sleepers had been badly damaged thus creating a sort of pot hole at that point on the intersection.

In my layman’s opinion, solving the traffic problem at that spot could just be a matter of filling the portion in between the two steel rails with gravel but I guess this might negatively impact the trains. But the more reason why I am doing this post today is that when I passed there this morning (21st May), it occurred to me that the gentleman cleaning the rail line was just doing what he was told. He probably had no idea why he was doing what he was doing.

The man at the railway crossing is not alone in this quagmire. A large number of individuals who work for large companies also find themselves simply doing as they are told. This passive approach to work arises from the fact that most people are working simply to get a salary, they bring nothing new into their routine tasks, ask very few “WHY” questions and have no long term vision asides from looking for how to please the boss enough for a promotion.

Do you find yourself in this mediocre group? I hope not. Bringing passion, thoughtfulness and innovation to your job is a gift you give yourself. The most valuable takeaway you will gain from your current workplace is knowledge and experience. Being fully engaged will give you that.

Multi-level Marketing

A friend of ours asked us in a WhatsApp Group about a certain new pyramid scheme that promised a lot of money. To most of us it just seemed like another Ponzi scheme so we advised against it. Part of what came across in the question was the desire for more money (which most of us naturally have) and the natural tendency of human being to fall into other human beings’ tendency to take advantage of their friends and acquaintances.

Multilevel Marketing has been around for a long time and many people are already full abreast with the basics. Many people have also tried their hands on a number of options and gotten stuck or scammed along the way. Typical challenges are the unwillingness of people to join after a while, bad experiences of those who have gotten themselves involves in fake schemas and the high cost of the products marketed by companies using Muti-level Marketing.

I recently came across a book called the 45 Second Presentation written by Don Failla and available here which opened my eyes to the possible reasons people do not succeed at Multilevel Marketing. I must add here that key figures in the financial freedom world such as Dave Ramsey and Robert Kiyosaki both acknowledge genuine Multilevel Marketing as valid means of growing wealth if done correctly.

Both Dave Ramsey emphasize that many people give up along the way. (But think about it, many people give up or fail in every kind of business). They also both emphasize two key things about Multi-level Marketing:

* Valid Multi-level Marketing companies ALWAYS have a high quality products that create profit which pays members

* What really makes successful Multilevel Marketing Ambassadors is people who can recruit and train other members

One key conclusion that I have come to is that you must be very cautious when exploring Multi-level Marketing opportunities so you don’t fall into the wrong hands and if you discove r that the system is not for you, move along and find what suits you. If you are already involved, then make the best of it but do not be dishonest about the realities and challenges and please do avoid turning all your relationships into transactions.

If you would like to learn more about a specific opportunity that I am involved in, do send me a private message. Please note: it’s not for everyone.