Fri, 31/07/2015 - 13:05
Vodacom has been creating opportunities in Congo for more than a decade; leveraging its influence as one of the world’s most renowned telecoms giants to enrich lives nationwide
Connecting People and Changing Lives
Writer: Matthew Staff
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
Since launching its activities in Congo 13 years’ ago, Vodacom has gradually and increasingly realised its promise of saturating the entire country with its market-leading telecoms services, combining its unparalleled technological expertise with an arguably even more significant social influence on a national scale.
Following its inception in May, 2002 the Vodacom Pty subsidiary has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in order to fulfil its aim of galvanising the levels of communication in the country, with the primary goal of making its full range of internationally-acclaimed products accessible to the entire Congolese population.
Built upon its “connecting people, creating opportunities and changing lives” ethos, Vodacom’s network in the country now envelopes 1,000 cities and 500 villages, comprising a total of more than 12 million subscribers.
The person entrusted with overseeing such an extensive influence is the newly appointed Managing Director (MD), Murielle Lorilloux, who has already signalled her intent to expand the Company’s network infrastructure on a business level, while continuing the positive influence that has been established nationwide.
“Vodacom has heavily invested in telecommunication infrastructures and has positioned itself as a data-leading company by providing to all Congolese the possibility to communicate and experiment the great power of 3G internet via the undersea cable,” the new MD explains. “Vodacom Congo is a socially responsible corporate that is involved in social welfare, health and education throughout Congo. It also has a privileged partnership with the Congolese government.
“That’s why the company is committed to assisting the government to achieve its objectives.”
Currently employing more than 1,500 permanent staff, and a further 25,000 indirectly, Vodacom’s position as market leader is firmly cemented, paving the way for the Company to focus on the ongoing marketing, education and unveiling of its trademark consumer services; comprising voice services, SMS messaging, 2G and 3G mobile internet, and its continent-famous M-Pesa mobile money solution.
Continuous network expansions
Bridging its three core customer segments across the mass market, youth, and high value consumers, the need to be diverse and proactive in regards to technological innovation still remains significant despite the country’s relative immaturity surrounding some of the more niche offerings.
The responsibility placed on Vodacom to therefore complement its products with a general enhancement of the national network has been paramount, and is something that Lorilloux is especially focused on improving further during her tenure.
“Vodacom DRC has been investing systematically in infrastructure and equipment of the latest generation to improve our customer experience,” she says. “From a voice quality, data speed and coverage perspective, our network has been deployed in such a way that it reaches the most remote areas of the country in a way worthy for DRC’s telecoms market leader.”
Prior to the Company’s 2014 unveiling of its ‘rural coverage system’ - a new, flexible technology which promises to bring improved coverage to the most remote areas of Congo - Vodacom had already invested $484 million into the country’s infrastructure.
The result: more than 7,000 kilometres of fibre optic network laying the groundwork for an end-of-2015 goal to achieve total network coverage across the nation.
Lorilloux says: “Continuous network expansions are improving our geographical footprint far into the rural areas of our country as well as improving our network deep inside the buildings of urban and suburban areas.
“Vodacom uses, to the maximum, all technologies covered by its different licenses; such as 2G+ (gsm, gprs, edge), 3G+ (hspda, umts), WiMax and WiMax Evolution, Point-to-Multi-Point solutions, fibre optic and satellite connectivity, and dedicated custom-tailored solutions for VIP and high-end corporate customers.
“We have also successfully tested 4G technology (mobile LTE) and prepared our network through a single RAN solution to be 4G ready.”
Keeping ahead of the industry curve, not just in Congo but on a continental scale, is something which Vodacom as a brand has always prided itself on, and currently fits within a wider two-year modernisation campaign being undertaken in the country.
“During the campaign, all network elements have been upgraded to the latest generation of telecoms equipment available on the international markets,” Lorilloux continues. “This modernisation covered our access, transmission, core, signalling, billing, IT and back office equipment. We effectively put, at the service of our customers, one of the most modern networks globally available.”
While network optimisation and world-class telecoms services are the bread and butter of Vodacom and Vodafone subsidiaries the world over, the Company’s notoriety in Congo and most prominent feather in its cap stems from its role in the communities and its commitment to enriching the lives of the wider population.
While this evidently comprises vast levels of corporate social responsibility initiatives outside of its technological domain, the enrichment process begins within the industry itself; addressing a core challenge engrained into the country.
Skills shortages have long been a bane of telecoms operators looking to reach international standards of working, but the Company has countered this through the development of its own HR Talent project.
“HR Talent is part of the human resources department at Vodacom Congo and is mainly in charge of talent acquisition, talent integration in the company and their development throughout their professional lifecycle,” Lorilloux says. “In regards to talent acquisition, in order to ensure that Vodacom Congo always attracts the best talent, HR Talent oversees the implementation of different recruitment programmes.
“Those programmes are mainly purported at maintaining a healthy talent pipeline and readily available pool.”
The two programmes subsequently introduced have been the Motomolo Bursary Programme and its tailored Graduate Programme to ensure that the most talented individuals available are not only being identified but are being honed and refined over the course of their academic development to gear them up for the working world.
The next stage addresses talent integration, as Lorilloux explains: “HR Talent activities around integration are summed into the orientation or induction programme for new staff in the company. This programme is currently organised once a month (HR induction) and once every six months (overall company induction) where possible.”
The delivery of learning and training programmes across the education element of development is then carried out in two formats; a structured basis as per the Company’s approved training plan, and an ad-hoc basis which is conducted more in line with dynamic industry demands.
In regards to the former, the “training plan is compiled as per needs received from various departments yearly and delivered through a three-year period as per priorities determined by the Executive Committee”, Lorilloux notes. “The training needs are identified in each function according to performance dialogue principles and agreed upon with line management and staff.
“An ad-hoc basis includes demands which rise outside training plans during the year. Those requests are dealt with through the formal submission of a duly approved training application form.”
Employer of Choice
Complementing Vodacom’s established talent development programmes are a series of more specific initiatives designed to develop tailored skills for individual departments within the Company.
Incorporating facets such as leadership programmes, finance education, managerial and supervisory skills development, and university-supporting bursary schemes; it is this dedication to formulating bespoke solutions to industry challenges which makes Vodacom an employer of choice within the sector and country.
“We launched our Employer of Choice campaign last August in order to reinforce the image of Vodacom as such in the Congolese market,” Lorilloux says. “The campaign has an overall external objective to strengthen the image of Vodacom as the best employer in the local market and attract the best talent to work for our organisation.
“We cannot achieve this objective without our own employees being ambassadors of that message externally.”
The campaign has consequently begun internally across two main focuses; improving efficiencies of key internal employee practices, and reinforcing the benefits attached to the “status of the employee”.
By creating this positive atmosphere and development culture within the Company, the knock-on effect that has subsequently been seen across the DRC has been made all the more concerted, consistent and sustainable.
Corporate social responsibility
At the heart of this positive culture created within the DRC is the Vodacom Foundation - the Company’s corporate social responsibility arm - and at the heart of the Foundation is the belief that Vodacom’s mobile communication technologies can address some of the most pressing humanitarian challenges in its operating countries.
“Our responsibility is to utilise our mobile technologies’ innovative ways to mobilise social change and improve people’s lives,” Lorilloux emphasises.
Launched in May 2013, the Alerte Rouge campaign was initiated to support victims of repetitive wars in the DRC based in the refugee camp of Mugunga III, located in North Kivu. Congolese from all across the country and abroad were engaged to financially support the campaign via SMS and M-Pesa; raising money to buy mosquito nets, blankets, tents and food distributions in the camp.
Since then, Vodacom has also aided the area through the assistance of female domestic violence victims, the support of females who have undergone reconstruction surgery and a forthcoming commitment to Heal Africa through the contribution of collaborating partners also. An intense engagement is currently conducted to identify potential donors to support the latter.
Humanitarian Free Calling Services
As part of the Alert Rouge campaign, in 2013, a free calling service was also deployed in the refugee camp of Mugunga and each family was offered a five minute call per month. Vodacom Congo extended this free service in 2014 and will continue to offer the same service in 2015. More than 90,000 people were able to make a phone call and 50 percent of them were able to reconnect with their families.
Since November 2013, Vodafone Foundation launched its tablet-based learning programme called Instant Classrrom in Goma, North Kivu. In partnership with Don Bosco School and Vodacom Congo, Vodafone built a learning mobile education centre within the school facility where 500 children from the refugee camp of Mugunga attend regularly that class apart from the regular Congolese scholar programmes.
Vodafone Foundation has also announced the deployment of five additional schools in three refugee camps based in the equatorial region of the DRC.
Refugees United Partnership
Vodacom Congo signed an agreement with the international NGO, Refugees United to enable Congolese to reconnect with their family members and friends.
Refugees United has created a search engine accessible via SMS and internet services where people can register and look for loved ones separated by war or natural disasters. Regular SMS broadcast campaigns are conducted to raise awareness of the platform and to encourage people to subscribe and to use the platform especially in areas affected by the war. Thousands of Congolese have registered to the platform and hundreds have reconnected with their separated ones.
Computer Literacy Programme
Education is a key strategic pillar for the Vodacom Congo Foundation. Numerous initiatives have been implemented to improve the education sector of the DRC and to support the government efforts.
The Company has similarly initiated a programme called the Computer Literacy Programme to give students in higher education the opportunities to become more familiar with computers. More than 100 computers were granted to the University of Kinshasa in partnership with the US embassy who provided access to a free virtual library. Vodacom Congo will implement a similar project this new fiscal year in Katanga.
Bench Donation Programme
Over the past 10 years, the Vodacom Foundation has supported the education sector in the DRC through its bench donation programme to elementary and high schools across the country. The objective is to support government efforts to improve the school environment countrywide. 1,000 benches were distributed in Bas-congo, South Kivu, Kasai and Kinshasa.
Identifying and displaying key differentiators in the telecoms market is something that all industry players must strive to achieve, and is something that Vodacom has succeeded in establishing across all parameters set out for a leading enterprise.
Lorilloux states: “Vodacom has done phenomenally well in DRC, maintaining its positioning as the number one telecom brand by all indicators, despite the entry of new competitors such as Orange and Africel penetrating the market with lower rate offers.”
This isn’t to say that there isn’t room for improvement though, with the Company identifying the youth segment as its next target for potential growth.
“Recent studies highlight youths’ preference on competing brands as they are offered tariffs which address their needs in terms of usage while clearing the key affordability barrier to staying connected with their loved ones and preferred activities.”
Vodacom defines its youth segment as a group of users aged between 15 and 24, and is convinced that the segment is a potential growth driver since it accounts for more than half of the country’s population.
The Company’s attentions have therefore turned towards leveraging the Vodacom brand and reputation to ensure it becomes the operator of choice amongst the youth segment also, via its Vodacom Planete Jeune (Vodacom Youth Universe) initiative.
Lorilloux continues: “Vodacom wants to provide a platform of unlimited possibilities through this campaign where it is positioned as an enabler to enhance youth experience with dedicated youth propositions around products, tariff offers, sponsorship programmes, training and job opportunities.”
The Company’s JS8 campaign further compounds this commitment to improving offerings to this segment of the population, addressing tariff concerns specifically through dedicated offers and engagement programmes.
Best of the best
KPIs across the youth segment over the coming months and years incorporate awareness, emotion, performance, uniqueness, value, leadership and consideration; all facets which have become synonymous with Vodacom’s rise in the DRC over the past 13 years.
The Company’s notoriety has reached such an extent that it now breaches the entertainment domain via its Vodacom Best of the Best singing competition which is now one of the most successful shows in the history of Congolese television.
Demonstrating yet another string to the Vodacom bow, the business is in a prime position to build upon this first decade of prominence as one of the most recognisable brands, across any sector, within the country.
The pressure now lies in ensuring that the Company never loses sight of the attributes that propelled Vodacom to such a commanding position in the first place; by being the best from a technological standpoint, and the most considerate in enriching the country at large.
“The next generation will be living in a society dominated by technology in all aspects of their daily lives. This futuristic vision has already started today,” Lorilloux concludes. “Communications, telecommunications, internet and data access, etc. will all be indispensable in one’s daily routines."
“Therefore, including such technologies and teaching our children how to deal with them is a moral and civic obligation.”