Senegal: Jokkolabs hosts the first Mobile Monday Dakar

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Last Monday, Jokkolabs hosted in Dakar the first Mobile Monday event ever held in francophone West Africa. The event which was attended by developers, mobile operators and key players in the local ICT sector focused on mobile payments. Isabelle Gross who attended the event, also spoke to Karim Sy, founder and chief catalyst at Jokkolabs about this new structure and what it tries to achieve in Senegal.

Q: What is the origin of Jokkolabs?

A: It is a project that we have been thinking about for a couple of years. The idea is to find an innovative approach that will enable us to create technological and social innovations to help solve the twenty first century problems and those in Africa in particular.

Q: What is Jokkolabs?

A: Jokkolabs is an action tank. It is a the borderline between a co-working space, a space where the different communities of the digital economy, the arts and the new media can meet but also a kind of incubator and a think tank. It is a community that shares common values and wants to create a more positive world. One of the values that we push for is entrepreneurship for its dynamism and the energy that it generates to further build capacity to create competitiveness and wealth. We want to build a responsible entrepreneurship. Our definition of social entrepreneurship goes beyond profit and also thinks about its impact on the community in a wider sense.

Q: What do you offer today at Jokkolabs?

A: The main aim is to create an integrated community. There are developers but we also have other profiles. Innovation comes when you mix different people together because they don’t have the same approach and this opens up new ways of thinking. We are here to help catalyzing and strengthening the various communities. We have four different categories of communities that come at Jokkolabs. We offer them an open space and they can come in according to their needs. It is a nice and practical space with all the facilities that you can find in a modern office. We also organise events and create dynamics with other communities like Wiser Hear, Mobile Monday or the Mozilla foundation.

Q: How many people are coming to Jokkolabs on a regular basis?

A: Jokkolabs has officially been launched on October 10th 2010. Today we have around 30 persons  which come to Jokkolabs. We also have what we call the “allies”. We have about 50 members that support us through donations or by giving their time and expertise to provide training to the Jokko workers. We also have between 200 and 300 people that follow us on Facebook, Twitter, etc and we are currently developing a platform to regroup these supporters.

Q: What are Jokkolabs objective in the mid-term?

We hope to strengthen the ICT small and medium businesses. In fact we are interested in the development of alliances between small businesses to stimulate innovation and open them to the international market. We have just signed an agreement with Viadeo in order to reinforce the corporate side of their platform dedicated to set up alliances between small and medium businesses at the global level. This could for example be a freelance or a small business based in France, Senegal or any other country in the world that would work together on specific projects.

Initiated by Jokkolabs, the first Mobile Monday (MoMo) Dakar has gathered around 30/40 people last Monday evening. This first MoMo session was dedicated to mobile payments in Senegal with a presentation from Laurent Kiba, head of the mobile payment department at Orange Senegal. Like many mobile operators in Africa, Orange has moved into mobile transfers and payments service as the operator looks at new sources of revenue. Orange Money was launched in Senegal in May 2010 and currently offers mobile transfers, bill payments and calling credits top-ups. A year after its launch, 1.5 million transactions have been made via Orange Money and the service has 475,000 users which represents about 7/8% of Orange Senegal’s total mobile subscriber base. The mobile operator’s aim is to reach 3 million users by 2015. This should not be too difficult since Orange Senegal is the dominant operator with a 61% market share of the nearly 9 million Senegalese mobile users as of the end of March 2011. Further the Orange Money service has little competition so far. The two other mobile operators, Tigo and Expresso, don’t offer mobile payment services yet. Interestingly, Orange Money service is only challenged by a bank that has launched a similar service. In June last year, the bank Société Générale launched a “mobile operator agnostic” mobile payment service labeled Yoban’tel, which means “send by phone” in the local Wolof language. Although mobile money services are still something new in Senegal and so far only two companies (a mobile operator and a bank) offer the service, the question of inter-operability between the two systems has already been raised as a potential issue from the customer’s perspective. For developers, mobile transactional services illustrate well the potential for mobile services and content. This is only the beginning and more needs to be done to build a “service and content rich” mobile environment in Senegal and elsewhere in Africa.