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New Mastercard Whitepaper Shows that Digitalization is Key to Unlocking SME Growth Potential in Middle East & Africa



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Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region are recognizing digitalization as essential to staying competitive in a transformed business and economic environment.

The insight is one of many in a new white paper by payments technology leader Mastercard, which explores the way small businesses are viewing digital payments, online presence and the benefits of an evolving cashless economy.

The white paper, titled ‘The Digital SME: How Are Small and Medium Enterprises in the Middle East and Africa Embracing a Digital Future?’, is an in-depth follow-on study from the data-rich Mastercard MEA SME Confidence Index 2021. This piece of research released findings about the importance of digitalization and rising confidence levels as SMEs across sectors, products, and services in the region, adapt to the new and evolving economic landscape.

It revealed that SMEs in MEA recognize faster access to revenue as the biggest benefit of a cashless economy to their business (44%). Other benefits identified include the ease of not handling or processing cash (50%) and having more convenient ways of paying suppliers and employees (50%).

Overall, 67% of MEA SMEs say e-commerce will have a positive impact on their business. A highlight from the study is that 89% of SMEs in Kenya, 81% in West Africa, particularly Nigeria, and 73% in the Ivory Coast believe the same.

The white paper also found that digitalization has progressed globally since 2018, but has seen higher traction among larger corporations and financial institutions than among SMEs.

It accelerated in 2020-21 to enable continuity of business, with the OECD estimating 70% of SMEs globally intensifying their use of digital technologies due to COVID-19 restrictions. Currently, according to the Mastercard MEA SME Confidence Index, digital payment methods used by MEA SMEs include mobile (59%), online (49%), and cards (48%).

“An empowered SME sector is a growth engine for the economic development of countries across the Middle East and Africa. But the challenges are many, chief being access to funding and digitalization which have emerged as huge needs. The Mastercard MEA SME Confidence Index found that 89% of SMEs in the region see potential in digitalizing their business which is encouraging for everyone within the digital economy,” said Gaurang Shah, Head of Products, Middle East and Africa, Mastercard.

Increasingly, SMEs are recognizing the practical benefits of digitalization in day-to-day operations, as opposed to viewing it as a long-term project for the future. There’s a solid case for this when data shows that 41% of SMEs that implemented digitalization initiatives, had stronger revenue growth in 2020 than non-adopters. Digitalization of SME operations also brings the benefit of generating data that institutions need to view an SME as a “real” business with potential and make more informed credit decisions. This helps bring small businesses into the financial mainstream.

Partnerships play a key role in the digitalization of SMEs

The white paper also found that partnerships play a key role in the digitalization of SMEs. A stable, growing, connected small business can be the key to financial inclusion for the whole community.

“As a technology company, Mastercard has leveraged the power of partnerships to deliver inclusion by providing financial, technology, product, and services support to SMEs across the world.

“Connecting businesses to one another within the ecosystem, to help them grow and prosper, is a key objective for Mastercard. For a neighborhood vendor or store, there are simple solutions to reduce the risk and cost of cash, and open up sales to more customers.

“At Mastercard, we continue to leverage our technology, insights, global expertise and partnership approach to empower every business, especially SMEs, everywhere to grow digitally, become stronger than before, and prosper in a more connected, equal, and inclusive world,” said Amnah Ajmal, Executive Vice President, Market Development, MEA, Mastercard.

MEA SMEs reclaiming confidence after COVID 19

Although challenges related to the COVID-19 pandemic remain, small businesses in MEA are reclaiming confidence. The Mastercard MEA SME Confidence Index found 74% of SMEs in the region are optimistic about future growth, guided by the potential for digitalization, better data, access to credit and upskilling.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), up to 70% of SMEs globally have intensified their use of digital technologies in the wake of COVID-19. However, the gaps in SME digital adoption have not been filled.

The challenges include access to infrastructure, lack of a data culture and digital awareness, and financing gaps for transformation costs, among others. Access to financing remains a key concern for SMEs worldwide, with the IFC estimating an unmet need of USD 5.2 trillion per year.

Through technology services, cyber assessments, insights, grants, digital training, mentoring platforms and knowledge initiatives, Mastercard will contribute $250 million over five years to support small businesses’ financial security globally.

As part of its goal to build a more sustainable and inclusive world, Mastercard has committed to connect 50 million small businesses, including 25 million women entrepreneurs globally, to the digital economy by 2025.



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Ugo Onwuaso is an ICT enthusiast. He believes technology should be used for general good. He holds a Master of Public Administration (MPA) degree from the Lagos state University. Dear Reader, Your support matters. But we believe that technology makes life more exciting and helps improve the lives of people around Nigeria and indeed the world. That is why, we have devoted our energy to independent reportage of technology and finance and how they affect lives. Our incisive and analytical view of how technology news affects the daily life help individuals and organizations make up their minds. Quality journalism costs money. Today, we're asking that you support us to do more. Kindly support our effort to deliver technology and finance journalism to everyone in the world. Donate as little as N1,000. Bank transfers can be made to: UBA Plc 1017156876 Communication Week Media Ltd

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FG says 4m MSMEs Benefited from N150bn Funding



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More than four million Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises have benefitted from various schemes of the Federal Government, amounting N150 billion, targeted at uplifting the sub-sector in the country.

Mr. Laolu Akande, Senior Special Assistant to the Vice President on Media and Publicity, in a statement, said beyond providing interest-free microcredit loans to petty traders, the various social intervention schemes of the Buhari administration have made significant impact in the lives of millions of ordinary Nigerians.

He quoted Professor Osinbajo, as saying: “This is a shining case study of what President Muhammadu Buhari strongly believes: that Nigerians will solve Nigeria’s problems. This is an example of what we can achieve when we unleash the best of our people – especially our young – on the toughest of our challenges, and give them the free-hand to deliver results.”

Osinbajo spoke at the launch of a Bank of Industry Business Growth Platform.

The BOI Growth Platform includes interventions schemes such as the renowned Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) loans (MarketMoni, FarmerMoni and TraderMoni) – regarded as Africa’s largest fully-digitized micro-credit scheme, the MSME Survival Fund under the Economic Sustanaibility Plan (ESP), the North-East Rehabilitation Fund, the recently launched World Bank $750million NG-CARES programme, and state-based interventions, among others.

He said: “This demographic was far too important to ignore. We had to start solving for them, especially having been left far behind historically,” a reason he noted led to the implementation of intervention schemes through the BOI’s Growth Platform for MSMEs.

“What might also not be obvious is the sheer scale of impact that has been achieved with these programmes, as over four million Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises have been direct beneficiaries of the over N150billion deployed in the past five years.

“57 percent of these MSMEs are owned by Nigerians below 35 years of age, and close to 60 percent of the beneficiaries are women. What is even less glaring is that the team of Nigerian professionals behind this work is largely young, with an average age of 28 years old.”

Highlighting the transparency and impact of these microcredit schemes, particularly the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP loans – MarketMoni, FarmerMoni and TraderMoni) under the SIPs, Prof. Osinbajo recalled his interaction in 2018 with a petty trader, Jafar Abubakar, one of the Tradermoni beneficiaries at Abubakar Gumi Market in Kaduna when he visited to launch the scheme in the State.

He narrated: “Jafar Abubakar, who trades in ginger and garlic was one of 5,000 or so traders who had just received N10,000 to advance his business in that market. What struck me was what he said about how he was selected to get the credit.

“He said ‘I just applied. I didn’t know anybody. They came here and captured my data last week and I got the alert yesterday.’”

The VP added that Jafar then “showed me the alert on his phone. Stories like Jafar’s have become all too familiar to me over these years. It is a consistent tune I hear as I engage thousands of beneficiaries of our intervention programmes.”

Indeed, the TraderMoni scheme, which provides N10,000 interest-free & collateral free loans to petty traders, mostly with an inventory of less than N5,000, had made huge positive impact nationwide. This includes enhancing the small businesses of beneficiaries, improving their families and contributing to the informal economy.

“This is perhaps for me one of the most satisfying things about the way our social intervention schemes are deployed. That there is a platform that can process applications from potential beneficiaries, pay out credits or other benefits, maintain auditable records seamlessly. It is those people and infrastructure that make this happen that we are celebrating today,” Prof. Osinbajo noted.

Osinbajo further highlighted the nationwide impact of the Administration’s Social Investment Programmes, which he noted was the “most ambitious social intervention project in Nigeria’s recent history, with a series of people-centric programmes.”

“This is a journey that only began as an idea six years ago: that we can build systems that will serve everybody fairly and justly and bring credibility to government programmes. One of the biggest barriers we identified was the ability to reach people directly, capture and digitize their information (even if they are illiterate) and process a benefit to them directly in a way that is transparent to all. Our vision set out to solve this.

“For some programmes, the everyday Nigerians were young graduates who would benefit from a direct stipend and employment placement from the government. For others, it would be pupils for whom a reliable meal per day would make the difference between staying enrolled in school or skipping school to earn money for that meal.”

Prof. Osinbajo also praised the infrastructure and transparency behind the BOI Growth Platform schemes. For instance, he recalled his visit to the Growth Platform’s Command Centre, which now has “22,000 agents, living across all LGAs in Nigeria and equipped with its proprietary mobile technologies, receive mandates to capture and digitize businesses eligible for its growing suite of programmes.

“Every detail of each business is trackable centrally at the Bank of Industry, down to biodata, geolocation, images and facial IDs of every micro, small and medium entrepreneur where applicable. This has greatly simplified the profiling and decision-making processes that have allowed for direct outreach and impact on Nigerian MSMEs at tremendous scale. And this is being done with entirely home-grown solutions and an ecosystem of institutions, donor partners, service providers and technology companies in Nigeria.”

The Vice President also commended the Managing Director of the Bank of Industry, Mr. Olukayode Pitan; as well as the BOI Growth Platform team led by its Executive Director, BOI, Toyin Adeniji; with Uzoma Nwagba as its Chief Operating Officer.

According to the VP, “they have brought to bear the best of experience and bold thinking, the depths of innovation and youth, and a detailed understanding of the Nigerian spirit, to build an operation and impact that have become a national pride. The over four million micro, small and medium enterprises impacted till date, and the several more to come, are a direct testament to their hard work.”

Adeniji and Nwagba are the co-authors of the “Aid for Productivity” report, which they formally presented at the launch.

The VP also applauded pioneering partners, particularly the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for providing the much-needed early support to the Bank of Industry to build this operation to the large scale it is now.

In his remarks, the BOI Managing Director, Mr. Olukayode Pitan, restated the impact of its programmes, noting how programmes such as GEEP have won several local and international awards, including the award at the 2019 African Bankers’ Awards as the most impactful Financial Inclusion program in Africa.

The event also featured closing remarks by representatives of BOI partners: including Mr. Ahmed Rostom, Senior Financial Sector Specialist, World Bank; and the country director, Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, Dr Jeremie Zoungrana.

Prof. Osinbajo also commended the commitment of Nigerian financial institutions, technology companies, service providers and programme partners who he said “have given the best of their expertise to this work over the years.”

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Showmax to Stream Nigerian Idol Season 7 Across UK, Italy, France, Australia, New Zealand & All African Countries 



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Nigerian Idol fans are in for a thrill as Showmax will air the show in all countries across Africa, the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

Nigerian Idol will start airing the seventh season on Sunday, February 6, 2022. Viewers across these countries can follow all the excitement and drama from the auditions to the theatre week to the live shows, which begin on March 20, 2022, via Showmax.

Speaking on this development, Dr Busola Tejumola, Executive Head, Content and West Africa Channels MultiChoice Nigeria, said: “Fans of Nigerian Idol in the United Kingdom, in Italy, in France, Australia and 23 other countries will be able to stream the talent show on Showmax. This is in addition to the series being available across Africa via our streaming service.”

The three-month-long music reality show will follow the lives of talented and aspiring musicians who undergo rigorous training to become the next music superstar. The winner will walk away with 100 Million Naira worth of prizes. This is the highest reward for any singing competition in Nigeria. In addition, Showmax will air highlights and audition processes from the Nigerian Idol season 7 show.

Showmax has gradually become the home of entertaining original content, with shows like ‘Ghana Jollof’, ‘Baba Twins’, and its latest Kenyan series ‘Single Ish’ premiering on the platform on January 20, 2022.

Subscribe to Showmax today for as low as N1200 to stay updated on all the action from anywhere you are.

For more information, visit and follow the official Nigerian Idol handle on @NigerianIdol on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more updates.

Season Seven of Nigerian Idol is proudly sponsored by Bigi Drinks and Binance.

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Azentio Software Appoints Aliza Knox as New Board Member



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Azentio Software (“Azentio”), a global information technology company, is pleased to announce the appointment of Aliza Knox as a Non-Executive Director to the Board.

Aliza brings to Azentio a wealth of knowledge and expertise with over three decades of broad international marketing and management experience.

She is most recognized for building and operating successful businesses in complex and emerging sectors including financial services, consulting, mobile, SaaS, while covering markets across Asia, Latin America, and Europe.

Aliza has held several leadership roles in relationship development, sales and operations, as well as strategic partnering. Most recently, Aliza was Head of APAC for Cloudflare and previously was Chief Operating Officer at Unlockd. In an earlier role, she held the position of Head of APAC for Twitter, having joined the digital enterprise after Google, where she was Managing Director of Online Sales & Operations in APAC.

Aliza has extensive financial services experience at eminent companies like Visa International and Charles Schwab Corporation. She was the Vice President and Director – Asian Financial Services at Boston Consulting Group.

Aliza has served on the boards of listed companies in Australia, Singapore, Germany and UK. She was an advisor to the ANZ Bank Board Technology Committee.

As a Non-Executive Board Director and advisor, she is dedicated to empowering the next generation of leaders, to build successful global businesses. As one way to do this, she has written the forthcoming book ‘Don’t Quit Your Day Job’ (Wiley; April 2022).

Commenting on Aliza’s appointment, Tony Kinnear, Chief Executive Officer, Azentio Software, said, “We welcome Aliza to our Board. Her extensive operational experience as a senior executive in marquee global firms and her knowledge and insights in customer-driven technology businesses will add depth to the Board’s competencies as we continue to execute on our ambitious growth plans and drive value for our clients”.

“I am honoured to be joining Azentio at such a challenging and exciting time”, stated Aliza Knox. “As someone who is passionate about technology, I am confident and excited about the direction that Azentio is taking. I look forward to working with the Board and the talented leadership team on accelerating our core business initiatives and shaping a robust, sustainable growth path for Azentio”, she said.

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