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M-Pesa: The story behind the biggest mobile money service in Africa

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Vodafone Group plc is a British multinational telecommunications company. Its registered office and global headquarters are in Newbury, Berkshire, England. It predominantly operates services in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Oceania.

The idea behind the mobile money solution M-PESA

While working at Vodafone, Nick Hughes had the idea to start a mobile money solution: mPESA. When Nick pitched the idea to the senior management, he received pushback.

‘We aren’t in the banking business,’ they said.

However, Nick didn’t lose hope. Instead, he applied for a DFID innovation challenge and won, receiving valuable startup capital for the idea. He and his team went to Kenya and proved the model.

What happened in Kenya next helped shape M-Pesa. In the industrial town of Thika, M-Pesa was piloted as a micro-finance loan platform with several hundred customers, organized into groups – including people appointed as treasurers and secretaries.

“It was a very complex microfinance disbursement and recovery platform. Microfinance of course at that time was key… So we thought we were on a great thing in building this microfinance payments platform.”

However, a few weeks after the pilot of the service, Hughes and his team started to notice that their customers were loading more money onto their wallets than they needed to be able to pay their group’s treasurer.

“So we scratched our heads and followed the data a bit more and kept watching… The delta between the minimum loan repayment and the amount of money on the wallets was growing and growing and eventually, we got into the field and started asking them what was happening.”

Hughes quickly discovered that the customers had not only found the mobile wallets convenient when it came to paying the microfinance group treasurers, but had also used the wallets to pay friends and family within the test group.

“So of course, a light went on – we cut out all that complexity in the microfinance loan system and went to market with a send-money-home, person-to-person payment platform… and the rest is history. We launched M-Pesa in 2007.”

Hughes believes that part of M-Pesa’s initial success came from keeping the platform and its service offering uncomplicated. For example, it was launched with the simple slogan: “Send money home.”


Today, M-Pesa is Africa’s most successful mobile money service and the region’s largest fintech platform. It is the preferred way to make payments for more than 51 million customers across seven countries in Africa both for the banked and unbanked due to its safety and unmatched convenience.

Nick Hughes is an amazing example of an intrapreneur who stuck to the belief in his idea and evolved it based on data.

“Data can shape the very proposition that you offer a customer. In fact, if you don’t go in to offer a proposition based on real observations and data then I think you are going to get it wrong,” – Nick Hughes.

In our view, Nick shares the spotlight with all the other intrapreneurs who have done amazing work, be it Nitin Prajanpe at HUL, Mr. Sivakumar at ITC, Kara Wenger at Zurich Insurance, or George Swenson at 3M. These are just a few and there are countless others whose efforts changed the fortunes of their organization. Want to know the reason behind their success? Effective idea capture and implementation.

And you can get that for your organization too.

How? Get your hands on the best idea management software today.

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