Is West Africa Ready for Fintech?

Fintech investments come with significant cybersecurity risks which are mostly ignored and misunderstood in the race to accumulate customers and grow transaction volume. The legal, regulatory, and policy framework also present a host of landmines.These are the key takeaways from the cybersecurity discussion I led at Nigeria Com and West Africa Com, the leading conferences for telecoms in the West African region. Joining me was the preeminent IT lawyer in the region, Leon Patrice Sarr.

Consider these challenges:

–  You should not generalize about the quality, or even the existence of cybersecurity regulations, a regulatory agency, a legal framework, coordination between countries, or other capacities in West Africa.

–  A major Fintech objective is to build creditworthiness and provide loans to the “unbanked” – those who are traditionally excluded by the formal financial system. West Africans have always participated in peer-to-peer borrowing and informal savings schemes where participants are authenticated via social relationships. In contrast, Fintech systems must authenticate people digitally, often by collecting and storing sensitive biometric data. This is a big security risk.

– A lack of transparency in the legal, regulatory, political, and social framework in countries will remain a big challenge for the due diligence process.

Led by the boom of mobile money services in Africa and the opportunity to bring the traditionally “unbanked” into the formal banking system, investments in Fintech represent the bulk of over $2B worth of tech venture investments in Africa during 2019, according to Partech Partners. At the same time the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warns “There is a need to balance the trade-off between the benefits that Fintech technologies may generate and potential added risks and vulnerabilities.”

Watch the conference session video “Cybersecurity Roadmap to Promote the Growth of Telecom.”

Teachers are Telecom’s best customers!

At the NigeriaCom and WestAfricaCom conferences (October 1, 2020) I shared data that CyberSmart Africa recently collected about new teacher use of connectivity and digital devices. We learned that twice as many teachers – 89 percent – own smartphones in comparison to the general population. That’s important news for telecom.

CyberSmart Survey

Teachers represent the largest professional workforce of regularly paid civil servants, and they can drive children and families to connect and learn online. As a group, teachers are the largest consumers of telecom services, they own smartphones, and they already benefit from  regularly connecting with colleagues via Facebook, WhatsApp, and other services.

Unfortunately, teachers in sub-Saharan spend a greater percentage of their personal income on connectivity than their counterparts in other regions of the world. The telecom ecosystem needs to figure out how to reduce the cost of connectivity for teachers, provide more affordable smartphones, and act more aggressively to facilitate digital skills development and the availability of educational content. This is what I call good market development!

A market-based strategy driven by the private sector will result in the quickest and most financially sustainable uptake of digital content by teachers. Equipment donation programs simply don’t work because there is no built-in sustainability or scalability.

Watch the conference session Teachers Are Telecom’s Best Customers

View my presentation The Digital Life of Teachers

Totally wireless satellite technology and new business models will drive digital transformation

New business models in combination with satellite-delivered connectivity will drive down telecom costs and enable new, more efficient and effective ways to learn, work, and live. This was the consensus of opinion I sensed during our virtual sessions at the NigeriaCom and WestAfricaCom conferences, the largest meetings of telecom players in West Africa. I was pleased to lead two sessions at the conference.


Tweaking existing (now decades-old) mobile technologies may not do the job to sufficiently drive down costs and enable new services delivery. The tweaks involve a combination of work arounds and heavy subsidies that are akin to building a new house on a poor foundation. New disruptive technologies and business models will include commercial elements (advertising and commerce) and rely primarily on satellites for data transmission. A new generation of low-cost satellite smartphones and hotspots will emerge that will allow everyone to benefit from the internet as a fundamental human right.

Disruptive changes will give the dominant telecom players a run for their money as new operators enter the market and threaten the status quo. There are also huge political, regulatory, and policy implications; but the need for improved connectivity will keep the transformative momentum going.

Watch our Nigeria Com and West Africa Com conference session video “Teachers Are Great Telecom Customers.”

The telecom ecosystem must address huge infrastructure challenges to lower the cost of connectivity


Here are some key take-aways from the conference session I hosted at WestAfricaCom with Dr. Momar Dieng, former senior educational technology advisor to the Senegalese Ministry of Education and The World Bank. Dr. Dieng led the ongoing educational technology transformation efforts in Senegal. Watch the conference session Teachers Are Telecom’s Best Customers

The most significant take-away is that the COVID-19 pandemic has widened the gap between the digital haves and have-nots causing an even more extreme learning deficit. Although ministries of education have encouraged teachers and students to go online and learn from home, much needs to be done to make distance learning a practical reality. The cost of connectivity is absolutely the most basic underlying challenge.

Unlike the more economically developed world, the lack of core infrastructure in West Africa means that providing and maintaining connectivity is an extremely expensive, daunting task for telecom operators. Hundreds of millions of people remain unconnected due to a lack of electricity, insufficient roads and bridges, and the need to access and maintain cell towers – among other issues. The process to lower the cost of connectivity requires strong political will, innovative partnerships between and among the private and public sector players, and – subsidization. All of the players need the appropriate incentives to work together; and it isn’t easy. Still, we must push ahead for the sake of growing the digital economy to benefit our children and future generations.

Watch the conference session Teachers Are Telecom’s Best Customers

Overcoming Key Barriers to Sustainability

Jim Teicher led a discussion in the May 6 “Global Digital Development
Forum” hosted by USAID and other global development leaders

Most international development projects have a short lifespan because
there is a limited capacity for long-term sustainability at the
country or local level. The net result is a lot of time, energy, and
money wasted; as well as the loss of life. This is a sad and
unfortunate reality of global development that needs to be avoided and
mitigated at all cost. The emergence of COVID-19 reminds us that the
security of the planet rests on effective coordination, transparency,
and sustainability. In order for this to happen we must demand
accountability and take political risks.

Sharing Stores in Our Connected World


STUDENTS & PARENTS: The COVID-19 pandemic forces us to look at our connected world. More than ten year ago, students attending CyberSmart Africa’s first partner school in rural Senegal wrote, narrated and filmed short one minute stories. These stories provide us with an unusually intimate window into lives far different than ours..  The students — all the first in their villages to ever attend school — reveal their thoughts and dreams for the future. As we see most clearly today – in our connected world, we can learn from each other and everyone makes a difference. Conversation prompts are below. 


  • What surprised you about the stories?
  • How is your life different from these lives of the students?
  • What else do you want to know after viewing one of these videos?
  • The students worked in teams to make the videos. What other examples of teamwork do you see when you watch the stories?
  • Take one thing you learned about Senegalese village life and compare and contrast it with your own life. What story might you tell to “answer” the story told in a Senegalese video?
  • How do your responsibilities at home or school compare to those of these Senegalese students?
  • Write a one-line movie tagline, or slogan, for each of the video stories here Make them catchy so that others will want to see the videos, too.
  • Many students in these videos talked about what they’d like to do change in their villages. If you could change one thing about your community, what would it be? What changes do you hope to see in your hometown 10 years from now? What changes do you hope to see in your country 10 years from now?
  • These stories were filmed in the village of Sinthiou Mbadane Senegal.  Where’s that? Geographically how does it compare to where you live?
  • Which one video spoke more directly to you? Why?

In Our Connected World Everyone Makes a Difference

The COVID-19 pandemic forces us to look at our connected world.  More than ten year ago, students attending CyberSmart Africa’s first partner school in rural Senegal wrote, narrated and filmed short one minute stories. These stories provide us with an unusually intimate window into lives far different than ours..  The students — all the first in their villages to ever attend school — reveal their thoughts and dreams for the future. My personal hope is that, now stuck at home, you will watch these stories. As we see most clearly today – in our connected world, we can learn from each other and everyone makes a difference.

TEACHERS & PARENTS AND BORED KIDS. Stuck and home and running out of things to talk about? We’ve provided writing prompts and conversation starters below:

Digital Stories


What drives and inspires me. Jim Teicher, Director & Founder

I’m driven by my vision to help solve the world’s largest education challenge – addressing the needs of SubSaharan Africa, home to the fastest growing youth population. I believe, and our new research shows, that massively scalable education technology and social networking are the key drivers to meeting this challenge.

What’s inspiring to me is that after 12 years of grassroots collaboration with teachers in rural schools, my longstanding, deep local relationships allow us to identify clearly the most practical ways to proceed and support the tens of millions of teachers and hundreds of millions of kids in SubSaharan Africa.” Jim Teicher

2020 Plans and 2019 Accomplishments by Jim Teicher Founder & Director

During 2020 our focus is on building out and launching the social network experience and cementing  relationships for the massive uptake by teachers in Senegal and elsewhere in the developing world.


Relationships. Relationships. The social network

During 2019 we secured key relationships for the start-up and growth of the teacher social network – trusted local partnerships established from working over ten years in Senegal. Relationships emphasizing the private sector, teacher unions, and other key influencers outside of government control. It’s all about relationships! overcomes the persistent obstacles associated with teacher training, collaboration, and access to up-to-date learning resources in developing nations: it provides a highly supportive, empathetic platform for teachers to make new, meaningful connections with learning content and each other.  Strategic use of artificial intelligence helps teachers locate and apply the best available resources.

Ground-breaking Research: The Digital Life of New Teachers

CyberSmart Africa conducted ground-breaking research about the digital life of new teachers – something never done before in Sub-Saharan Africa where teachers’ opinions rarely enter into decision making by education authorities. We surveyed 300 new Senegalese teachers and found that the vast majority (89 percent) own smartphones and are substantially more connected than the general public. New teachers are the power telecom users, representing the largest group of stable wage earners in developing countries. This is encouraging news both for telecom players, and for the development of new education solutions which embrace technology. See the Slideshare presentation here first presented at AfricaCom, Capetown, South Africa.

Digital Learning

Schools continue to use CyberSmart Africa’s proof-of-concept solar-powered interactive whiteboard for low-cost classroom learning. Although not our current focus, this low-cost learning technology will play a key role to bring online and offline multimedia lessons to classrooms without, and with electricity.

NBA Academy

I connected with The National Basketball Association to bring NBA Academy players and staff to the rural elementary school, Ecole Sinthiou Mbadane 1. The NBA Academy is a world-class facility designed to train elite African athletes. The players spent time in classrooms, played games with the kids, and provided inspiration just through their towering presence. We used basketball as a frame of reference for multimedia lessons in geometry – a basketball court is a rectangle!

American Chamber of Commerce

I have assumed a leadership role within the American Chamber of Commerce to strengthen American investment and influence in West Africa. The net impact can be huge, including transparency improvements, and embracing more problem solving and decision making at all levels.

2019 Community Service Activities

This year again we had  numerous opportunities to serve students, teachers, and  their families.

Student Health Care

Once again we were thrilled to arrange for the Maine (USA)-based Partners in World Health return to Ecole Sinthiou Mbadane1, CyberSmart Africa’s first partner school, to provide medical treatment for hundreds of children and their families.

Chef Pierre Thiam visit to Dakar

I was thrilled to facilitate a meeting between the internationally renowned American/Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam and U.S. Ambassador to Senegal, Tulinabo Mushingi. Pierre Thiam is widely recognized as the culinary ambassador of West African cuisine to the world.

Life-saving open heart surgery/Cardiovascular disease prevention

The Cuomo Pediatric Heart Hospital is the new hub for open heart surgery and medical education in the region. During September 2019 I was honored to sponsor life-saving open heart surgery performed on a young man in dire need. Aligned to the Senegalese national curriculum, lessons in cardiac disease prevention, including rheumatic fever, hypertension, and diabetes will all be a vital component of CyberSmart Africa’s new digital learning content.

Feature film “Tall as the Baobab Tree”  This internationally acclaimed feature continues to impact tens of millions of people around the world, Produced by CyberSmart Learning Institute and filmed in the village where I started my work in Senegal over ten years ago, the film speaks to the power of education and its life changing consequences. A free teaching and study guide is available for teachers.

Micro-Sustainable development exemplified

Madame Fataya exemplifies the vision for financial sustainability at a micro-level. This woman increased her sales of street food and boosted her income by offering new, creative versions of a traditional Senegalese donut called “fataya.” We provided the coaching, recipes, and ingredients to make the initial batches. She’s been on her own for over six months, buying the ingredients and profitably selling new banana and apple fatayas to tourists and locals.