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SA start-ups get Catalyst boost

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Two South African companies are included in a cohort of six African start-ups selected by a global fintech accelerator, Catalyst Fund, which is investing R226-million into a global programme.

The Fund, managed by BFA Global and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors (RPA), recently announced a new £12-million GBP ($15 million USD) commitment from UK aid and J.P. Morgan to advance financial inclusion for underserved people across the world. Over the next three years, it will support the growth of 30 additional startups across five key emerging markets for fintech innovation: Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, India, and Mexico. 

Its latest cohort includes:

  • Pesakit – Kenya-based app for mobile money agents 
  • Kwara – Kenya-based online and mobile banking platform for Savings + Credit Cooperatives (SACCOs)
  • Cowrywise – savings and investment tool targeted toward Nigerian youth 
  • Meerkat – South Africa-based debt counseling and savings product 
  • Farmart – India-based digital credit platform for farmers 
  • Spoon – South Africa-based savings and credit offering for women-owned, subsistence enterprises 

The two South African companies both include savings products, but approach financial inclusion from different perspectives.

Spoon Money (www.spoonmoney.com) is a savings and credit offering for women-owned subsistence enterprises. It is an impact-driven commercial enterprise that capitalises credit-worthy group saving and credit schemes (i.e. stokvels) in order to support their financial growth, and bolster economic activity in informal communities.

Meerkat (www.meerkat.co.za) is a “new-generation financial wellness business” committed to making a difference in the financial lives of customers. Their vision is to help the customer do more with their money through simple solutions, with savings at the heart. They help customers gradually reduce their reliance on debt and improve their financial health. They say they’ve changed thousands of lives through their professional and confidential debt counselling service that can be conducted over the phone. They’re currently putting together the finishing touches to their simple savings solution and funeral plan, which will launch early 2020.

“We’re thrilled to enter the next phase of this journey, building on lessons learned over the last four years, to position ourselves as the best partners for innovators building affordable, accessible and appropriate solutions designed to improve the financial health of underserved populations in emerging markets,” said Catalyst Fund Director Maelis Carraro. “The additional support from UK aid and continued support from J.P. Morgan will enable us to deepen our local footprints and ecosystem development role in each of our key markets, as well as welcome new partners that can support our mission.”

Catalyst Fund is focusing on specific markets because of their vibrant fintech industries, which house a significant number of early-stage startups across Africa, Latin America and Asia, and because of the need to address critical challenges faced by local underserved consumers.

This new commitment will enable the program to apply lessons learned from accelerating startups in emerging markets over the past four years and focus on:

  • Providing critical pre-seed capital and bespoke venture building support;
  • Broadening the pool of investors who receive 1:1 connections with Catalyst Fund companies;
  • Accelerating the innovation ecosystems in each market to improve startups’ access to capital, corporate partnerships and talent; and
  • Sharing best practices toolkits, learnings and insights with the global fintech community to spur innovation across markets.

“With the support of UK aid, Catalyst Fund is connecting more fintech start-ups in emerging African markets with expertise and investment from the UK and around the world,” said UK Minister for Africa Andrew Stephenson. “This innovative work is crucial to changing the lives of people around the world by providing access to basic services like pensions, lending and health care.”

 “Financial inclusion is the cornerstone of resilient communities and households,” said Carol Lake, head of international markets philanthropy at J.P. Morgan. “As part of our $125 million global commitment to financial health, we are supporting the development and growth of innovative fintech solutions that can help underserved people across the world save, reduce their debt and improve their lives.”

 Catalyst Fund was created in 2016 with support from J.P. Morgan and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to support entrepreneurs building solutions that improve the financial health of underserved communities. It is supported by the Department for International Development (DFID), which leads the UK’s work to end extreme poverty. 

To date, Catalyst Fund has accelerated 25 fintech startups, who have so far raised over 10 times the amount of grant capital they received and are serving over 1.2-million customers globally. Based on learnings so far, in the next phase Catalyst Fund will focus more on businesses that are building solutions that go beyond financial access and inclusion, to improve the overall financial health of underserved consumers.

“Catalyst Fund is itself an innovative example of collaboration across sectors and assets,” said Melissa Berman, president and CEO of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. “We are proud to be a part of an initiative that combines mentoring from impact investors, grant capital from committed donors and advisory services from expert consulting firm BFA Global.”

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TikTok takes on COVID-19

The fastest growing social media platform in the world has also become an epicenter of public education about the coronavirus, attracting more than 30-billion views, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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The young have been getting a bad rap for wanting to party on while COVID-19 sends the world into lockdown. But a different movie is playing itself out on the social platform that is growing fastest among teenagers: TikTok.

Awareness campaigns by TikTok itself, collaboration with the International Red Cross, and spontaneous videos made by TikTok creators have combined into a barrage of information, education, awareness and social consciousness around the coronavirus.

Both globally and in South Africa, TikTok’s COVID-19 campaigns have gone viral.

The local #HayiCorona challenge, designed to remind people not to touch their face and wash hands regularly, has passed 1.5-million views. The TikTok collaboration with the International Red Cross, the #WashingHands challenge, has passed 12.6-million views.

One of the best-known participants in these challenges is the past year’s icon of South African talent, the Ndlovu Youth Choir, took up the global challenge with a 20-second hand-washing video. It put together a performance that brings tremendous energy to what can be a clichéd message, and ends with a punt for the Department of Health’s WhatsApp information service. The video can be viewed below.

@ndlovuyouthchoir

Our community has limited access to running water. Follow these instructions on how to safely wash your hands using a bucket. ##coronavirus##washinghands

♬ original sound – ndlovuyouthchoir

“On a global scale, TikTok also partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to ensure that, while creators are still having fun and expressing themselves on the platform, they stay informed with COVID-19 information coming from a reliable source,” a TikTok spokesperson told us. “Through the partnership, the WHO has created an informational page on TikTok that offers information to curb the spread of the coronavirus as well as dispelling myths.”

The page can be viewed at https://vm.tiktok.com/GHTEGf

TikTok has hosted a number of livestreams with WHO experts, attracting users from more than 70 countries, tuning in for live question and answer sessions. It has also introduced labels on coronavirus-related videos, to point users to trusted information. Resources are also offered directly in the app and in a dedicated COVID-19 section of TikTok’s Safety Center, at https://www.tiktok.com/safety/resources/covid-19.

If users simply want to explore videos on the topic, they can search via the #coronavirus hashtag, or click on https://vm.tiktok.com/swKbn4. The hashtag has had an astonishing 33.8-billion views, indicating the scale of activity and interest around the topic on the platform.

Read more on the next page about how South Africans have embraced the campaign.

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On World Backup Day: backup, backup, backup

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It was World Backup Day yesterday, 31 March, at a time when business continuity is threatened as never before. That makes calls for protecting email and defending against ransomware all the more urgent.

The global coronavirus pandemic has brought into stark relief many organisations’ lack of business continuity plans and policies. With more than two billion people around the globe in forced lockdown in wide-ranging government efforts to stem the tide of infections, an unprecedented number of employees are working remotely.

This interruption to the normal way of work is precisely what an effective and resilient business continuity strategy should plan for, says Heino Gevers, cybersecurity specialist at Mimecast

“Companies need uninterrupted access to critical business applications during times of disruption, including safe and secure web and email access for workers that are now operating outside the normal perimeters of the organisation,” he says. “In addition, comprehensive backup and archiving solutions should be ready to restore access to critical business applications should there be any unplanned downtime to ensure continuity until the crisis passes.”

According to Gevers, the current global crisis is likely to push business continuity up the list of priorities for many organisations that have been disrupted by the effects of the coronavirus.

“Organisations are facing new challenges to their productivity; for example in terms of technical support. If a remote user is infected with malware or ransomware, how does the IT team restore that device or do any remediation without being able to physically access it?”

Gevers advises that organisations implement tools that enhances the data protection capabilities of commonly-used tools such as Office365 and can leverage archived data to provide quick recovery of email data in the event of accidental loss, malicious attacks or technical failure. 

“As adoption of cloud-based business applications grow in the wake of forced lockdowns around the globe, companies need to ensure they have the tools to recover in any situation,” he says. “This includes a data management strategy that combines archiving, backup and data protection capabilities to allow for quick restoration of critical systems and applications in the event of disruption.”

Jasmit Sagoo, head of technology at Veritas for the United Kingdom and Ireland, warns that this is a golden age for cybercriminals looking for ransomware opportunities.

“As the global cost of ransomware continues to grow, this World Backup Day, Veritas is saying: ‘don’t pay up, back up!’,” he says. “Ransomware is said to generate an estimated annual revenue of $1 billion a year, and companies who are not consistent in backing up their data are allowing criminals to line their pockets.

“Ransomware attacks exist only because some businesses can’t survive unless the hackers give them back their data.  So, the key to survival is removing that reliance and being able to regain access to data, without engaging with the cybercriminals.  The best way to do that is with a sound backup strategy.

“Sagoo advises organisations to create isolated, offline backup copies of their data to keep it out of reach of any attackers.  They then need to proactively monitor and restrict backup credentials, while running backups frequently to shrink the risk of potential data loss. Businesses should also test and retest their ransomware defences regularly.

“Ransomware strikes without warning and it doesn’t discriminate between its targets – it can happen to any organisation, large or small. Despite their best efforts, most companies will fall to at least one attack. What distinguishes one victim from another is the ability to bounce back, which ultimately depends on its backup strategy.

“When ransomware hits, organisations that aren’t prepared often feel helpless to do anything other than to submit to their attacker’s demands.   That’s why we’re urging all businesses to use World Backup Day as a catalyst to get ahead of the situation and get their data protected.”

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