Telecom & IT / Zimbabwe

A conversation with Douglas Mboweni

What are key factors behind Econet’s accomplishments?
Econet was opened for commercial activity on 10 July, 1998. It is a subsidiary of the Econet Wireless Group in Johannesburg, South Africa. The dollarization and the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in 2009 allowed the company to harvest revenues in US dollars. This automatically gave us the capacity to buy additional equipment. We used the group’s position outside Zimbabwe to secure guarantees for the facilities we were accessing from our suppliers and funders.

Between 2009 to this day, we have invested more than $650 million. The money we have spent in this organization has reached the $1-billion mark. First, we set up the hard infrastructure to support the investment. Secondly, we got the right people to develop the infrastructure. Strive Masiyiwa, the founder of this company, is a visionary. We are innovative and when we like an idea, we move forward with speed. Time is money, and we do not waste it.

The literacy rate in the country is one of the highest in the continent, and that is key to a product’s success. You need people to be able to appreciate those products. The government’s policy in fast-tracking education has been one of the crucial attributes behind some of these developments.

How do you maintain your leadership in a competitive market?
Being competitive is a given. We broke the monopoly many years ago. As an operator, we have to provide the best linkage to the rest of the world, so that people chose Econet to do business internationnally. We are also expanding the national capacity. Our infrastructure must be such that we are the best in offering capacity. Last but not least, we offer multi-functionality. People can use our products and services for voice, data, and anything else that impacts on their lives. I am excited about the product Eco Cash system because it makes transactions easier. It has been one of the major attractions for our subscribers because all they need is their mobile device.

What is your vision for the company in the next 5 years?
Our company slogan is, “Inspired to Change the World”. We are changing the lives of our citizens in ways that have never been done before. We intend to distribute solar lanterns, solar chargers, solar panels, and solar-powered mobile units. We also mean to participate in the country’s on-going transition to solar-powered traffic lights. The move towards solar energy hopes to provide constant power supply for people. It allows them to access energy, even during a scheduled power outage.

Solar light is not new, but our own people have developed the things we have built around it. In the past, people waited for innovations from overseas. In Econet, we believe that we should write the specifications of what we need. After all, what applies in London may not apply in Harare. This is where Econet comes in. We are so close to the people that we know what they need. My ambition for the company is for it to stay in the space of innovation to support our vision.