America.gov asked finalists from among the more than 700 African immigrants who submitted business plans to the “African Diaspora Marketplace” to blog about their ideas. Sponsored by USAID and Western Union Company, the African Diaspora Marketplace is a contest that will award seed money to approximately 15 winners to help them bring their ideas to life in their home countries.
TENU AWOONOR, entrepreneur:Khary Robinson and I met at the Wharton School of Business at University of Pennsylvania. Talking about our respective native countries – Jamaica in case of Khary and Ghana in my case – we came upon the idea of a system of cashless transactions related to education expenses. The concept is simple but has a great potential. Our proprietary system is based on a card, similar to debit card, that can be pre-loaded by parents, or someone else, with a specific amount of money and used by students for purchase of school supplies, books, food and other education-related items or services. The system is secure, and the card allows parents to set daily spending limits and track their children’s expenses. In Jamaica, where Student Card Limited went first in 2007, we have entered into several partnerships, which also allow students to save and parents or relatives to re-load student cards from overseas.
The market in Ghana is similar. We have already talked to local schools and vendors. The big scoop for us would be to partner with the government on a nationwide school feeding program. The use of our system would enable monitoring of the expenses related to the program, thus making it more effective and accountable.
HERMAN NYAMUNGA, business expert:
Money management for parents, especially with regard to educational expenses, is a big challenge. This business provides a much-needed solution in that it will make it easy for parents to specifically allocate money for school supplies and track expenses without any problem. It also addresses the problem of theft, because it is safe to carry.
Such a card system makes it easy for other people who are interested in the students’ academic life to safely load their cards.
Generally, it is a concept which I think will greatly improve learning in that country and also help interested parties understand how much is spent on educational supplies.
Despite all these merits, this business has potential challenges. Firstly, you need uniform vendors across the country that will be willing to accept the card in exchange for goods. Secondly, there will be issues related to verification, especially in remote locations. For example, what happens if someone loses his or her card and he or she is in such a location? Thirdly, I see a problem with manageability – will the amount put in the cards be worth the processing cost incurred, considering the fact that many people in Africa make piecemeal purchases.
IMRAN QIDWAI, business expert:
It is terrific to provide such a convenient alternative in societies that still mostly deal in cash. It is great to see you focus on a specific market segment where your solution provides obvious benefits to parents and children. It appears that some of your features, such as pre-loading, topping up and daily limits, also start to teach fiscal discipline at an early age.
I presume that the system can be expanded to include scholarships from known or anonymous donors in the affluent countries, people who may want to help less privileged but eager students?