African Fintech Unconference 2018: Driving Industry Collaboration & Progress

Late last month, innovators and industry leaders gathered at the Spier Wine Farm in Stellenbosch for the second annual African Fintech Unconference (AFU18). The groundbreaking industry event was co-convened by African fintech pioneers Nomanini, MFS Africa and Tugende.

“This was an incredibly valuable event for the African financial inclusion sphere in that it produced crucial, peer-led discussions that addressed the most fundamental challenges that various stakeholders are now facing,” says Vahid Monadjem, CEO of Nomanini, a South African-based enterprise payments platform provider that optimises transactions in the informal retail sector. “There is a certain magic that happens when you have an agenda that you don’t necessarily control….”

As per the Unconference ethos, the topics for discussion were put forward and led by AFU participants. The topics covered a wide range of current and historic challenges faced by financial inclusion innovators, as well as key trends. These included managing growing pains on the path to scale; regulations and legal grey areas; providing analog vs. digital credit; developing industry partnerships; securing funding and choosing the right investors; the role of boards; and pursuing ‘responsible’ fintech solutions that don’t end up excluding people.

“There’s not a perfect solution, but positivity, passion and resilience; and seeing how others have used that to overcome obstacles, is really inspiring,” explains Michael Wilkerson, CEO of Tugende, a Uganda-based financer of income-generating assets for proven entrepreneurs.

Danai Musandu of Goodwell Investments adds, “AFU is essentially a type of therapy or support group for everybody in our industry, which includes both investors and startups.”

Indeed, unlike traditional conference formats, participants have free range to introduce the topics that are most relevant to their personal and professional journeys – and then to lead discussions themselves. In many instances, this unique format reveals both personal and professional vulnerabilities, but also establishes new and trusting relationships between industry peers.

“It is important to have a conference or gathering for practitioners, by practitioners, whereby we can drive the agenda and create a safe place to talk about the things that really matter to us,” says Dare Okoudjou, founder and CEO of MFS Africa, the largest mobile money interoperability hub in Africa. “Anyone who is working within fintech in Africa should be at AFU 2019, because this is the one safe place where we can truly engage.”

As we look forward to next year’s AFU, please keep an eye out for the full event report which pulls together the key findings and insights gleaned from the sessions. Please also make sure to sign up for the mailing list for AFU 2019.