Q&A with Charity Chanda Lumpa, Managing Director of Airtel Zambia
Africa Outlook spoke to the first female and Zambian Managing Director for Airtel Zambia, Charity Chanda Lumpa
Writer Matt Bone
Project Manager Donovan Smith
Tell me about Airtel Zambia's operations in your own words
Airtel Networks Zambia Plc is a leading telecommunications service provider that has the widest geographical footprint in Zambia. We also have the largest presence in the rural areas of the country as well. Airtel Networks Zambia Plc is a Bharti subsidiary which has been operational in Zambia for the last four years after the acquisition of Zain in 2010. We are a one-stop shop for all types of customers, specialising in all consumer needs be it corporate, Small and Medium Enterprises (SME's), high net worth and personal.
Airtel Zambia are also an equal opportunity employer currently employing 319 employees, 201 are males and 118 are females. Of the total Senior Managers and Executive Committee, 30 are females and 50 are male. We have 9 expatriate employees of whom 5 are of Indian origin.
What has Airtel Zambia been doing over the last twelve months?
In the previous year we have been concentrating on developments across our range of products and services, and focusing on expanding and enhancing network. The Zambia Information Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) mandated SIM card registration exercise, successfully concluded at the end of January 2014 with the company achieving 93% registrations. We have also embarked on a people development programme where we are enriching the skill levels of all our employees via interventions such as short term assignments and training as well as establishing a leadership academy that will make Airtel as a source for industry talent. Airtel acknowledges that data services are the next frontier in our market where we will see Voice revenues reduce while data revenues will increase. We have seen a steady shift in Voice via data services and an increase in the consumer appetite for internet related services.
What issues have been affecting the company and the telecoms industry as a whole?
The issues affecting the industry have been in part, the declining consumer disposable income, increased energy costs and fluctuations in Forex', government taxes and levy. Our biggest challenge is the cost of doing business on the back of these significant foreign exchange fluctuations, increased energy costs and stringent regulation.
It is characterised by promotions and an upsurge in data usage at both personal and corporate level and customers are more discerning. The industry is set apart by rig orous regulation, stiff competition and a tough economic environment. We are however well positioned to shoulder these challenges by tapping into the growth markets of data and a differentiated enterprise business offering.
Where have you seen the most success in the last year?
Under our Airtel Money platform, we have successfully registered in excess of 3.1 million customers. The service has continued to successfully facilitate the payment of incomes particularly daily commissions and allowances to companies who recruit staff working in remotely located areas such as road and construction works, and agricultural outreach organisations. Not only has this platform eased the payment solutions but has also facilitated for financial inclusion in rural areas and opened up employment opportunities. We have also increased access to internet services for many subscribers across the country by offering low cost internet enabled handsets. This will no doubt make Airtel Zambia the number one Internet company in the not too distant future.
Are there any areas where you strive for improvement?
Naturally like any business, we aspire to continuously improve our voice and data services with more data penetration across the board. The initial network improvement works commenced in May 2013 and other major works have begun and will conclude at the end of 2014. Capacity upgrades are to be rolled out in order to further improve 2G voice and data quality.
In addition, capacity expansion for 3G and second carriers will be implemented over a wide geographical area in line with the objective of infrastructure refurbishment and upgrade for all critical of all our sites. These continue to be a key focus for sustained quality of service. LTE testing is underway and will be rolled out later this year.
Tell me about the recent trends you've witnessed and how you intend to capitalise on them
We have noticed that customers are becoming more technology savvy and in recent times greater numbers of people have become reliant on internet and other technology services and innovation surrounding the usage of handheld devices for financial intermediation as well as communication. We are constantly seeking innovative ways of providing data and internet services to meet consumer demands and enhance lifestyle e.g. Free Facebook for all; Airtel Money; Airtel Insurance; as well as microfinance variants, we are aiming to make the mobile phone the start and end of all business and personal lifestyle interventions.
Tell me about your partners and vendors
Our supply chain is very important; we are heavily dependent on our partners and vendors to fulfill customer expectations due to the nature of our core business which is to ensure seamless product and service delivery. We have a combination of both local and foreign vendors that we use on a regular basis.
What are Airtel Zambia's aims, targets and projections for 2014 and beyond?
The company will continue to enhance its revenue and customer market share leadership as the network with the widest geographical footprint, offering its customers an unrivaled differentiated service and product offering. As I earlier stated, significant investment has been committed to enhancing quality and coverage by the end of December 2014. Needless to say that, investment in our network is an on-going priority. We are grateful to our loyal customers for their support and we wish to commit that we will ensure that we continue to remain focused on providing them a great customer experience.
Airtel Zambia is an award winning company, isn't it?
Yes, and we have won the following:
● 4 PMR Africa awards
● Telecommunications Companies – Diamond Arrow Award
● Advertising Campaigns – Diamond Arrow Award
● Companies/Institutions held in high esteem as good corporate citizens – Diamond Arrow Award
● Most Innovative Companies – Silver Arrow Award
We also won the 'Best Public Service & Utility Company' at the Copperbelt Agricultural and Commercial Show. Airtel Networks Zambia was voted the "Best Operating Country in Merchant and Bill Payments" amongst the Airtel Africa 17 countries.
How important are CSR initiatives to Airtel Zambia?
Airtel plays a leading role in CSR initiatives in Zambia and in this year we will contribute US$500,000 in support of our people and communities. Through Airtel Rising Stars and other various activities, we continue to focus on health, education and sport. We are the only organisation that has put together a programme that involves the adoption of schools across the country, providing not only infrastructure support but also computers and allied technologies to aid technological development of pupils. Airtel Rising Stars host an annual unique football property that supports talent by providing youths with a real platform to gain football skills and ultimately become stars, contributing to the community through talent development and exposure. The Zambian team emerged second runners up in the Africa inter-country championship.
Finally, what would you say is Airtel Zambia's secret?
Our people underlined by a robust and qualitative network and services are the secret to our success. As the leading network provider in Zambia, we are here to stay and have established our roots through the purchase of our head office building. We are constantly exposing our local staff to various Airtel countries as part of our focus people development plans, to enhance skills and experience of our valuable staff. I would like to say thank you to the entire Airtel Zambia team and to our loyal and valuable customers.