Texting to Africa - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine September/October 2018 Issue

The African continent is becoming the fastest growing mobile phone market in the world, according to a 2009 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development report. And Teresa Clarke, chairman and CEO of Africa.com is looking to be a part of it.

Clarke, 48, saw an opportunity to capitalize on this trend while also adding a new revenue stream for the website she launched in February 2010. Africa.com is a platform for Africans and the general public to learn about and interact around financial, political, and cultural news; maps; information about the investment climate; worldwide events; and nonprofit organizations related to Africa. The site has approximately 1 million users.

The new endeavor, Africa.com/HeyWire, will enable users to send text messages between any SMS-enabled phone, computer, or tablet free of charge. Revenues will come by way of advertisements that will precede each text and be shared by Africa.com and HeyWire (www.heywire.com), a global social messaging app. The new service is available in beta in South Africa only, but Clarke plans to roll it out to the entire continent within the next 12 to 18 months.

Texting is a popular way for Africans to communicate, as some use it in place of e-mail for business, to facilitate money transfers, and to mingle on social media. “The cell phone, for many Africans, is their landline, ATM, and e-mail in one device. Cell phones are central to life,” says Clarke, who left her position as managing director in the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs to devote her time fully to Africa.com. “Africa is a continent that is going to bypass PCs. Everything is being done through a mobile device rather than a PC.”

However, the cost of sending SMS text messages can be a deterrent because of local and country taxes that are tacked on, Clarke explains, and the price of fixed broadband Internet in developing countries is expensive. As a result, only 9.6% of people in Africa have Internet access. Africa.com will utilize a patent pending mobile-to-Internet Protocol (IP) and multiscreen messaging technology through its partnership with HeyWire, which is available in 45 countries and has brought free texting to other developing cities and nations. The Africa.com deal will be HeyWire’s initial foray into the continent.

Right now, the service is limited to mobile phones with Web browsers, but the technology team at Africa.com is working to develop a version for mass-market adoption by Africans who are more inclined to use Symbian feature phones, a lower-end version of smartphones.

In addition to this, Clarke unveiled the group buying site, Africa.comDeals (http://deals.africa.com), this summer. The social couponing website, which is similar to Groupon, will provide visitors with Africa-related discounts for airline tickets, hotel reservations, and money transfers, among other offers. She plans to target African expatriates in America and others interested in Africa for tourism, volunteerism, and business. “Our market research confirmed this is a very young, literate, and technologically savvy population who are very responsive to market opportunities that target their specific needs,” says Clarke.

Clarke’s goal is for Africa.com to be the online portal for the world’s engagement with Africa, but she recognizes that a diversity of revenue streams is the passport to keep that portal open.

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Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, SocialWayne.com chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining BlackEnterprise.com as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and BlackEnterprise.com helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.

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