The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is an up and coming region with respect to its wider economic development. Specifically, the region has seen a growth and importance in fintech, producing its own unique innovations, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the space. As The FinTech Times in September celebrates Women in Fintech we feature various female leaders from across the world. One of them is Lebo Mokgabudi from South Africa, an expert in fintech and specifically in building digital financial solutions.
Lebo Mokgabudi is a Digital Financial Services expert with over 10 years’ experience building digital transformation solutions in Africa and Asia. She was part of Fundamo, the company acquired by Visa, that expanded mobile money operations beyond Kenya and has since developed digital financial solutions that enabled financial inclusion in underserved communities. Lebo has worked with banks, mobile network operators and start-ups and has experience in building market entry strategies, partnerships for inclusive growth and building digital financial services embedded in the agricultural and retail sector. Prior to working in the fintech sector, Lebo founded Budi Shoes, an e-commerce platform and later merged her entrepreneurial and corporate experiences to support tech start-ups to scale across Africa. Lebo is currently the Catalyst Fund South Africa Country Manager. Catalyst Fund is an inclusive fintech accelerator that offers flexible grant capital and tailored venture building support to inclusive fintech start-ups in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Board appointments include non-executive director at Transaction Junction and Advisory Board member at African Women in Fintech & Payments and Akiba Digital.
Describe your career journey
My career started at Deloitte, Enterprise Risk Services, consulting to Financial Services clients in the areas of Information Risk and Information Security. I later joined a bank in South Africa and had the opportunity to learn how a bank operates, as a Business analyst in the Group Strategy team. My curiosity for business and ambition led me to complete an MBA degree at Gordon’s Institute of Business Sciences (GIBS) where a large majority of my electives were centered around doing business in emerging markets. These learning translated to practical application in my role at Fundamo, where I was part of the Customer Strategy Market Activation team, developing mobile money customer strategies in markets such as Pakistan and Nigeria and activating new markets such as Azerbaijan and Nepal. This role catapulted my career in the digital financial services industry and created a platform to help Financial Institutions to develop and scale relevant products for the underserved markets as well as help Central Banks with financial inclusion policies.
The organisation was acquired by VISA and my role as Director, Emerging Markets Digital, translated into learning the world of card payments and leveraging card rails for a myriad of digital, remittance and merchant solutions. I later moved to Nairobi, Kenya, joined a fintech startup operating in the agriculture sector and developed partnerships for scale. I also consulted to International Venture Capital firms that invested in startups in Africa, providing my payment expertise and advising their fintech startups. I moved back to South Africa and leading operations for Catalyst Fund, offering flexible grant capital and tailored venture building support to fintech startups providing affordable, accessible and appropriate solutions for the underserved communities.
As a recognised thought leader and a female, what difficulties have you faced in your career?
The challenges I have faced in my career include being undermined or having my technical abilities questioned by peers in various roles and had to firstly remind myself that I earned the right to be in a particular role and continue to demonstrate excellence in every career assignment. Different countries have different cultural dynamics and treat women differently which required me to learn the cultural dynamics in every country I operated in and whilst respecting the culture, learn not to take things personally. I have had to learn to stand up for myself and communicate assertively. Believing and investing in myself is a continuous exercise which helps me to develop confidence throughout my journey.
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in the region?
The trends that I see in the fintech sector is a growth of embedded solutions in other verticals, such as agriculture, retail and health. Payments and remittance solutions dominated the fintech sector in Africa and I think the future involves the use of fintech to digitise the informal retail sector in Africa, building m-commerce solutions that enable informal traders to digitally order stock and get it delivered, solutions that enable small businesses in Africa to digitise their financial records, develop a financial identity and access affordable credit. I think the future is leveraging fintech in the health sector, how do we leverage fintech and the ubiquity of the mobile phone in Africa to improve access to healthcare.
What advice and recommendations do you want to give future female entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are based in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region?
My advice to female entrepreneurs is to firstly believe in yourself, your greatness and your ability to make a difference through your business idea and solution and once you have developed the business, to boldly step out and put in in the market. There will be pitfalls, there will be mistakes but to be relentless in the pursuit of what sets your heart of fire. To not take things personally and always embody the attitude of learning. There are funders, investors and companies seeking to support female entrepreneurs so seek them out, partner and continue to grow.