Mobile money could help shut down state graft: Business Day

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In October 2015, I was a guest of MasterCard, at the fascinating MasterCard Innovation Forum in KL, Malaysia.

The rate of change and innovation around digital payments is startling, and exciting, and holds huge opportunity for changing the way we operate – as businesses, consumers, and even as states. Below is an extract of a story I wrote for Business Day (published both in the print edition and on the website) focusing in on one particularly compelling aspect of the conference – financial inclusion:

“MOBILE money systems not only lift people out of poverty, they can also aid in closing down opportunities for state corruption, improving the lives of all.

The World Bank estimates that more than 2-billion adults globally do not have a bank account and remain outside the formal financial sector. In developing economies, only 41% of adults have bank accounts.

Being “banked” offers people certain protection. It enables them to save more effectively, distribute money to dependants more efficiently and across distance, and can be a path to accessing regulated, affordable credit and employment in the formal economy.

It is often a major stepping stone in the transition out of poverty, making it a primary goal for many philanthropic organisations.

SA enjoys relatively high banking penetration for a developing nation, with seven out of 10 adults banked and little gender disparity. Lower down the economic ladder, though, 57.8% of the poorest 40% of South Africans are banked, and only just more than half of young adults.

Two of the biggest drivers of inclusion figures — up from 45% of the population in 2004 — were the introduction of Mzansi accounts (low-fee transactional bank accounts) and later the South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) initiative.

According to the FinScope 2014 report, a third of the banked population have Sassa cards (linked to Grindrod Bank accounts) through which they receive state benefits.

Only 14.4% of South African adults have mobile-based accounts, according to the World Bank — and the GSMA Mobile Economy Africa 2015 report pegs this even lower, at 7.6%. In Kenya, where 75% of the population is banked, 58% have mobile accounts and more than 50% of adults use their mobile devices to pay utility accounts.

Digital payment systems allow for a saving of up to 90% on the cost of transactions, according to Sacha Polverini, a Gates Foundation senior programme officer and a panellist at the MasterCard Innovation Forum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last month.

To read the full article, click here.

Finance company takes cue from nature: Business Day



Now this was an inspiring interview! I recently had the chance to interview academic and enrepreneur Idriss Aberkane for Business Day. The following is an extract of the article, but you can read the full thing on the BDlive website.

IMAGINE an economy with no waste and no unemployment, a market in which the supply meets every demand, and commodity exchange makes both parties happier and wealthier.

Academic and entrepreneur Idriss Aberkane argues that this is no fairytale, an economy like this exists and can be found all around us — in nature. Nature, he tells audiences around SA, is a library. Instead of reading its vast stores of knowledge, humanity is burning them. Despite his knack for a sobering metaphor, Aberkane is earnest and upbeat. The French scientist is in the country as a guest of Alexander Forbes, and we meet after he addressed 175 staff members and fellow young scientists as part of their Leading Conversations series.

His topic is biomimicry and innovation in the knowledge economy. Aberkane, 29, is an entrepreneur with three doctoral degrees — in Geopolitics, Applied Neuroergonomics (how neuroscience applies to ergonomics) and Comparative Literature. He is also the co-founder and CEO of neuroergonomic gaming company Scanderia, and cofounder and board member of Eirin International, an interest-free microcredit company based in Senegal.

The link between his diverse fields of study is a focus on knowledge itself: the geopolitics of knowledge, how neuroscience can change the knowledge economy and comparing western and eastern literature, “concluding that humanity is one big brain (left brain and right brain”.

“The unity of my fields of interest is my life. To me, knowledge is food, and the moment you realise that education is an all-you-can-eat knowledge buffet, you see it differently. I eat a lot. I like knowledge gastronomy; I like fusion cuisine,” he says.

Here’s the link to the full article again:

Health care – A star is born: Financial Mail


I really enjoyed writing this piece for the Financial Mail on the mHealth initiatives being employed locally. Here is a short extract. You can read the full article here. This piece appeared in the print edition (on 28 August 2015) and on the website.

BY 10am the antenatal and postnatal section at Soshanguve Community Health Centre, north of Pretoria, is packed with women — some heavily pregnant, others cradling newborns or shushing toddlers. The women shuffle along a winding series of chairs in a linoleum and facebrick hallway, moving one seat closer to the exam rooms. Deliwe Mahlangu is here with her son Junior for his three-day post-birth check up. It is an obligatory appointment, one of many necessary visits that will keep her here for at least a morning per visit.

Fortunately Mahlangu expects to spend less time at the centre with this her second baby, because she is linked to a program called MomConnect. “I don’t have to run to the clinic every time I have a question. I just ask a question by SMS, and they send the answer to me,” she says.

“If I have pain, or the baby has nappy rash, or whatever, they will say to me ‘just check the temperature’ or tell me ‘you should go to the clinic’.”

MomConnect is one of the health department’s mHealth (mobile-enabled health) services, intended to help reduce maternal and infant mortality, and empower women through the provision of relevant, accurate health information.

Navigating the tricky ethical terrain of big data: Business Day

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This is an extract of a piece I recently wrote on the ethics of personal data commercialisation. This piece appeared in the print edition (on 6 July 2015) and on the website.

TOM Cruise’s 2002 science fiction drama, The Minority Report, involved a world of sensors and machines that knew more about the humans they monitored than they did about themselves.

Interactive billboards at shop entrances scanned shoppers’ eyes before greeting them by name.

Elsewhere, sensors collected information, tracking people’s movements and displaying personalised advertisements. This bombardment of information about goods for purchase, personalised for each consumer, is almost a reality today — thanks to big data.

Data use is not new in marketing; companies have long kept databases on customers’ preferences. What is new is the scale of data now available, and the technological means used for its collection and analysis.

Although much of the data is held by individual companies in standalone databases, rather than the cohesive and ubiquitous collection in the Minority Report, it may well be more widely shared in the near future.

Google any product and advertisements will pop up on the websites you visit afterwards, displaying advertisements for that item. People with loyalty cards from retail chains or who are members of insurance-linked wellness incentive programmes, such as Discovery Vitality, are handing over large amounts of personal data.

Wearable devices — pedometers or training watches — all collect personal data for commercialisation.

“It is the natural progression of where we’ve been going since Gmail first popularised giving up personal information in return for a service,” says Dominic White, chief technology officer at SensePost, an information security firm.

For the full article, visit:

Please back my Contributoria proposal: Can art save this city?

Drostdy Arch, Grahamstown

I’ve proposed a story on Contributoria – a crowdsourcing journalism platform backed by the Guardian (UK). Now I need your help, dear friends and network.

You can see my proposal here:…/201…/556c5e21ffa4900016000040

If you like the sound of my idea, please consider backing me. In order to back it, you need to sign up at (it’s free). You get 50 points every month (on the free account) to assign to proposals you’d like to see turned into articles…

How to

The smart doctor and app that opens rural eyes: Business Day

Vula app


My first piece for Business Day was published yesterday – in the paper and on the website. I’m really happy to have been able to tell this good news m-health story, about a homegrown app and the amazing doctor who made it happen.

Here is a brief extract:

AT VREDENDAL North Clinic in the Matzikama district, Western Cape, ophthalmic nurse Elizma Anthonissen takes a picture of a patient’s eye with her smartphone and updates the patient’s secure records.

About 300km away in Tygerberg Hospital in Cape Town, ophthalmologist Dr William Mapham gets a notification; Anthonissen needs a consultation.

The two work collaboratively on patient care, using pictures and cellphone chats to discuss diagnosis, using a mobile application called Vula Eye Health. Vula means “open” in Xhosa and Zulu. Mapham is the app’s creator and Anthonissen one of its “super users”.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), 246-million people worldwide have low vision, and 39-million are blind. As much as “80% of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured”, says the WHO, but many do not get the treatment needed.

Cataracts, which are relatively easily treated through surgery, are the chief cause of blindness in middle-and low-income countries. Vula hopes to address this dearth of appropriate care.

For the full story, go here:

For more on Vula, visit

Wearable activity trackers: Financial Mail

Jawbone's UP 3 bandsI am  fascinated by the wearable technology that is flooding the market locally, so I pitched a piece to the Financial Mail asking if wearable activity trackers could really prompt behaviour change. It was great to compare so many trackers side by side — I usually have to do my reviews in isolation — and to look into the research coming out about these.

The full article appeared in the print magazine with a comparison table featuring wearables from Jawbone, Garmin, Sony, FitBit and Withings.

Here’s an extract:

IN 2010 The New York Times ran a column entitled “Stand up while you read this!” which opened with the line “Your chair is your enemy.”

The piece drew on medical research reports that warned readers about the inactivity-related ailments awaiting habitual sitters. It was the start of a wave of media reports along the same lines. Within a year the phrase “Sitting is the new smoking” appeared regularly in headlines — and the ripples continue.

It is technology that contributes to our sitting — in front of TVs, computers — and it is tech that we are told will save us. Enter the wearable activity tracker.

This category of gadget has boomed in the past few years. There are over 20 brands available in the SA market, many more globally, and new ones come out all the time.

There are two focuses: everyday activity monitoring; and fitness training. The latter focuses on data collection for serious exercisers and athletes, concentrating on metrics such as distance, personal bests and pace.

Still, researchers seem to agree that running (or gymming) every day doesn’t negate the sitting problem. Choosing to be sedentary for most of the day is what causes the harm, and movement at regular intervals should be the goal.

That’s why everyday activity wearables focus on lifestyle changes. Worn like a watch or as a clothing clip, they track steps against a steps goal, like a connected pedometer with extra functionality. Many of them default to the goal of 10 000 steps (though this is customisable) and most also encourage calorie-logging and are capable of monitoring sleep.

Some prompt you to move after a certain period of inactivity. Most synchronise with your phone or computer wirelessly. Some also monitor heart rate, both resting and working out, so as to log exercise that doesn’t involve steps.

Discovery Vitality Wellness head Dr Craig Nossel says Vitality is supporting wearable tech because it collects health data on individuals. “We believe that the ability to track and monitor one’s key health measurements … creates the potential for Discovery to help our members get healthier in a more personal and data-driven way,” says Nossel.

Read the rest here:

Surviving loadshedding: Financial Mail


I love when my professional research and personal needs overlap, and this story is one such example. As a freelancer working from home, I needed to research the various options for staying connected and staying working without electricity – and it is a story with huge “talkability” in South Africa at the moment, so it made sense for my client to delve into the topic.

Here is a short extract:

WHEN the lights go out, some consider it a simple inconvenience. But for others, notably businesses, it is as if someone pulled up the hand brake abruptly. Eskom has warned that load shedding is here to stay, but there are ways — and clever gadgets and tools — to reduce the impact on your lifestyle and business. 

1. Load shedding schedules

With several load shedding stages, direct and indirect Eskom customers, and stage-dependent schedules, it is easy to be taken by surprise when Eskom intentionally throws the switch. Fortunately, there are websites and apps to help. Major centres can get early warning alerts from www. and Android OS users in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban might benefit from the ShedAlert app.

2. Lighting

There is no need to find yourself groping for candles in the dark. Ellies has a chargeable LED lamp bulb that functions like a normal bulb when the electricity flows, but as emergency lighting when it doesn’t, providing five to seven hours light off a battery. It draws only a small amount of power when on or charging.

Read the full article:

“WORKSPACE: Coffice workers” for the Financial Mail


A freelancer working in a coffee shop, writing about freelancers who work in coffee shops. Life really does imitate art!

I recently wrote an article about the “coffice” trend for the FM Life section of the Financial Mail (South Africa). Here is a short extract:

SA — especially Cape Town and Johannesburg — has embraced the coffee culture so prevalent in the world’s developed economies and major international cities. Today’s professional stereotype involves clutching a disposable coffee cup in one hand and a mobile in the other. It’s not a big leap from that to the other trend taking off locally: settling in for a few hours’ work at your local coffice — a contraction of coffee shop and office. Chris Brown is a co-owner (together with his brother Andrew Brown) of corporate onsite coffee vendor The Daily Buzz and owner of Craft Coffee, a specialist roasting company. He has recently opened the Craft Coffee Café in Newtown, Johannesburg, both to serve coffee to the local business crowd and to showcase the roasting work they do. 

Brown argues that though some chain businesses that have been around for decades claim there has always been a coffee culture locally, their business model was really about getting people in for the food, “as opposed to your fast speciality coffee shop where you can grab and go, and get back to work, where the focus is specifically on the coffee”. “Though it certainly isn’t the leader in terms of quality anymore, Starbucks is the one that popularised the speciality coffee concept. A lot of [the increase in local coffee culture] is from seeing Starbucks on TV and the movies, and from people who have lived or travelled overseas,” says Brown. 

“It definitely has become a more trendy thing, to sit in a coffee shop. The spaces that are opening up all over the place are more inviting — where you can come and sit on a couch, not just a square table with four chairs. Or you can sit up on a stool at a bar and plug your laptop in and no-one thinks you’re funny because you are sitting there on your own.”

Read the full article:

Writing up travel “hot spots” for Getaway


Getaway Hot Spots

Travel writing isn’t something I do full time, but when I do get the chance to travel and write, I jump at it. Since going freelance last year, I’ve been lucky enough to do some sporadic work for the fabulous Getaway magazine, including the two “hot spots” in the PDF and image above – Mbotyi River Lodge in the former Transkei area of the Eastern Cape and Botha House in Pennington in KwaZulu Natal, both fantastic venues and highly recommended.

Here’s to more happy travel (writing) in future!