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 Ms Patricia Zoundi Yao, from Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), who is an expert in fintech and particularly in providing access to financial services for rural populations.
Endowed with a fierce will to contribute to the development of the rural world, Patricia Zoundi Yao is an entrepreneur at heart, who defines herself as a “problem solver”. Born in Aboisso, Côte d’Ivoire in a family of farmers, she graduated in Business Law from the University of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Her entrepreneurship journey really begins in 2002 when she founded with her uncle a business Zenith Finances based on the use of Western Union‘s business model. In 2006, she founded her own money transfer company, Magnific Service. The experience, although unsuccessful, allows her to better understand the market environment, and bounce back.
In 2010 she found Quickcash. The start-up aims to make financial services, especially money transfer, accessible to all social strata of the population, particularly in rural areas where access to traditional banking system is challenging. Ten years later, the company is now present throughout Côte d’Ivoire, including in the most remote areas, with independent agents, as well as in Burkina Faso, Niger and Togo. Patricia’s determination and achievements as an entrepreneur have earned her numerous awards such as the Special Award from Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan, the Intelligent Capital Award, the National Award of Excellence from the Presidency of the Republic (Youth Entrepreneurship Category) and the recognition as a Knight of the National Order and Merit of Burkina Faso in 2014. In 2016, she received the Ivorian Quality Award, and has been working since 2019 for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development as an eTrade for Women Advocate. Today Patricia is on to another, even larger and more ambitious project: Canaan Land. This new challenge allows Patricia to combine her entrepreneurial skills with her dedication to rural communities, the empowerment of women and one of her passions: agriculture.
Describe your career journey
Entrepreneurship came early in my life, as a child, I used to go with my mother to the villages where she would sell her products. Thanks to her I took my first steps in that sphere, which I have never left ever since. Despite studying law I knew entrepreneurship was the path I wanted to follow. Since I grew up in a family of farmers, I have always been familiar with the agricultural world. After being given my first entrepreneurship opportunity in 2002, I knew I wanted to focus my energy to the rural world. Being in contact with rural populations, led me to realize that there was a real need for access to financial services, especially money transfers. This is the beginning of Quickcash. Today, I tackle with Canaan Land a new need. Women in rural areas are often involved in growing food crops and live in precarious conditions.
As a recognised thought leader and a female, what difficulties have you faced in your career?
I like to see these things differently, there are obviously greater obstacles for women entrepreneurs, but I tend to refuse to see them. I choose not to pay attention to them. From that point on, the main challenge is personal. You have to convince yourself that you are as capable as a man. This is one of my first victories, to recognize that I am as talented, as capable, if not more so, than any man. I must also admit that I have met men who have supported me in my career, first my father, then my husband, and who always pushed me to demonstrate my abilities.
Where eventually I encounter difficulties related to the status of women is in my work with rural communities. There, the weight of culture tends to maintain these barriers and prevents women from considering themselves equal to men and equally capable.
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in the region?
Africa is an untapped continent in terms of opportunities in virtually every business segment. This transformation is expected to take place in the next 10 years. And I hope that African women’s entrepreneurs, especially women, will be the driving force behind this transformation both economically, politically and structurally. Its true challenges remain but they are surmountable with a real will. Africa has certainly missed the industrial revolution, but it should not be on the margins of the digital revolution
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?
I remain convinced that entrepreneurship is a powerful weapon to change the world and this century is the century of entrepreneurs. My advice to women entrepreneurs is to be daring, they don’t need to wait until they have a very specific business model in mind, they need to believe in themselves, not be afraid of their ideas, dream big, train themselves and know their market well. Another piece of advice is to benefit from the support and backing of business incubators. They will provide you valuable help to develop your project and help you grow. Networking is also a key point of entrepreneurship. And finally, support other women. Support them in their project by mentoring them, by becoming a partner or even simply by being a client, but women must help each other.