Digital drives dominance in Rwanda
MTN Rwanda has led the way in the country for more than 15 years and has no intention of resting on its laurels as it introduces its latest innovations
Writer Matthew Staff
Project Manager Donovan Smith
Since its inception in 1998, MTN’s Rwandan arm has been leading the way in telecoms, bringing commercial success and socially significant advancements to a country that was starting from scratch in the industry 16 years ago.
As the first private telco to begin operations in Rwanda, the pressure has grown over the years to maintain an innovative and forward-thinking approach in order to fend off growing competition in the market. The latest stage of the company’s development has incorporated technological developments, across both consumer and enterprise domains, every bit as advanced as those being seen in the global marketplace.
“In terms of tech evolution, MTN has seen it all in Rwanda, starting with 2G, migrating to 3G and in November this year we have also, working with another operator, begun offering 4G to customers,” explains the company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Ebenezer Asante. “We have also expanded our network and fibre project offering on the enterprise side, as well as having our first commercial launch of cloud services here in Rwanda.”
As part of the globally renowned MTN brand, there are always high expectations of each country’s individual operations, but few of the Group’s divisions can compare to the dominance that Asante’s team has enjoyed in Rwanda.
“We came from humble beginnings in to a virgin Rwandan market establishing less than a million subscribers initially,” Asante continues. “Over time, as the market grew, more and more competition entered the sector, but with the market growing at the same time, everyone is able to have a reasonable share as long as you can compete well.
“It keeps us on our toes and helps us to innovate and find new ways to firstly extract value and then give value back to our customers.”
Much of 2014 has consisted of a concerted drive into digital and data initiatives, capitalising on a global trend that MTN wants to be the first to bring to Rwanda.
“Digital and data is now our bread and butter, with voice revenue under pressure and people talking more but wanting to pay less,” Asante says. “The area of business available for us to make a difference in is in the form of digital, both from the point of view of revenue but also from the point of view of delivering exciting new services to help our customers’ lifestyles.”
The commercial and ‘feel-good’ combo is what MTN Rwanda is striving for through the introduction of its digital and data related solutions, but the company’s commitment to Corporate Social Responsibility has also led to a series of free offerings to ensure that the country as a whole is moving forward in line with the technological evolution.
“We have launched a lot of products that our customers have to pay for but have also introduced a range of services for free across the country,” Asante adds. “Firstly, if you come to Rwanda today, you will be able to access our 10 megabyte hotspots for free from anywhere in the country to increase mobile adoption and to make sure that affordability is not a problem.
“Secondly, we have also made Wikipedia free in Rwanda for students so that affordability does not hold them back from their studies, and this is free irrespective of how much time they spend on it.”
The final initiative encourages customers to carry out their social networking for free, through the launch of accessing Facebook for no cost, once again to increase the amount of exposure that the Rwandan population has to mainstream internet, and subsequently laying the foundations for enhanced understanding and usage of such functions in the future.
On a more commercial scale, across both consumers and enterprises, the same dedication to improving lifestyles is adhered to, and much of this appears in the form of the company’s mobile money services.
With more users than there are bank accounts in the country, MTN Rwanda is fast becoming the first port of call for the majority of the population in managing funds and keeping track of their commercial activities.
“Mobile money is one of the main reasons why my customers remain active on their network,” Asante explains. “In Rwanda your handset is not just for phone calls and the internet but it is also your bank.
“The beauty of this is you can receive money from every corner of the country and soon they will be able to from around the globe too. Even if you don’t have a lot of money you’ll be able to put it on your phone, and manage it the way you deem fit. This way we also promote micro savings which is a sine qua non for developing economic take-off.”
This forms part of the company’s drive to find ways to suit the ordinary needs of people, ranging across all incomes, from the executive in the office to, as Asante emphasises, the farmer in the fields.
“The farmer working on the farm can use his phone to read the weather and predict and plan his activities, or to know the price of produce 20 kilometres from the farmhouse, or to plan ahead in regards to stock levels.
“We can make a difference to this person’s life with digital. Digital itself can be so broad, exciting and extensive that not all of them suit the individual customer but we go in to understand what they are looking for and how the customers want their communications to make a difference to their lives.”
For larger enterprises, MTN’s offering also promotes the influx of foreign investors into Rwanda, providing a readymade platform of telecom and internet services for international businesses to come in and hit the ground running.
Asante states: “Companies coming in always look at the available communication needs for services that are needed offshore and in real time, and we at MTN help to offset those constraints.
“Investors in Rwanda are interested in the country now because the basic telecom infrastructures are available through us.
“Digital and data will deliver a high proportion of growth, turnover and profits in bringing a broad range of services to all our customers, and this is a key strategy and vision for us moving forward.”
Introducing advanced technologies to every corner of Rwanda doesn’t occur without its challenges, and as much of MTN’s work around the country has been in educating and marketing as it has been in regards to technological research and development.
Investing heavily into direct communications, advertising and community engagement has not only helped to instil unparalleled levels of trust and customer satisfaction but it has also helped garner an understanding of why these sorts of services are so beneficial to the people of Rwanda.
“Education is important because when you’re striving to innovate every year, you can imagine the amount of products that we are carrying,” Asante says. “At any point, the customer has to make a decision about which of these products and services suit them best, so we are there to educate about what service they should adopt.”
These services include, more recently, the introduction of 4G connectivity, an offering not completely available in some, more developed, western markets, signalling once again the forward-thinking approach that the Rwandan Government takes in regards to tech advances and innovations.
“For a business like us as market leader and differentiator in quality to customers, we can’t afford to not make sure the network is fully functional and fully available, so we drive our investment with that strategy in mind,” Asante states.
International Company, Acting Locally
Arguably the company’s greatest strength stems from the name itself, being able to leverage the technologies, reputation and skill sets of a brand as regionally significant as MTN.
With all services Group-driven – although carefully tailored then for the Rwandan market – the business is also an employer of choice within the country, having been the longest-standing telco with a presence there.
This has subsequently led to a large pool of talent and skills being developed over the years in association with local academic institutions, to the point where the percentage of expatriates working within the company is in single figures.
An ethos of being a big international company with the ability to act and influence locally also acts as the platform for MTN’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy which continues to make a difference in Rwanda year on year.
“Across the MT N group, CSR is taken very seriously, to the extent that it has a unique unit independent from commercial activities,” Asante explains. “Under the umbrella of the MTN Foundation, one percent of our profits are transferred to that unit to fund their own charitable projects.
“These projects primarily comprise work in education, health and economic empowerment. Thus while we do good business and honour our corporate civic responsibility like being a lead tax payer, we also touch the lives of the underprivileged and support individuals to realise their dreams and potential through the MTN Foundation.”
Enhancing levels of internet connectivity within schools, and presenting students with the necessary equipment is just two facets of the MTN Foundation’s educational focus, while the health drive includes a strong partnership with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health in sponsoring and donating equipment, and striving to bring first-class medical care to as many remote parts of the country as possible.
Asante adds: “The MTN Group is also contributing US$10 million to help fight Ebola, while also launching a campaign with the Ministry of Health to encourage others to contribute too.
“We do all this through the foundation, investing in their network while also giving the means to our customers to donate themselves where possible.”
This initiative in the country is part of an MTN-wide campaign where each region will carry out the same procedure, epitomising once again the levels of local care that has made MTN the success that it is in Rwanda.