Keep this story going! Share below!
Founder and CEO Dr. Gisele Mwepu created Okapi Finance as a way to offer financial inclusion and facilitate transactions in developing countries in Africa that do not have access to financial opportunities. Approximately 80% of people in Africa do not have access to banking institutions or services. Banking institutions are important because it allows for payment and credit history to be established. The inability to access financial services limits the capacity of a person to accumulate wealth and have secure financial stability. Dr. Mwepu's business helps solve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Gender Equality, Climate Action, and Life on Land.
Okapi Finance meets the SDG of No Poverty by giving more people in developing countries access to financial services where they can complete transactions. Dr. Mwepu expressed that when people are unbanked, they live in poverty. An individual could make secure transactions by providing an online platform and mobile application where all someone needs is a device with internet access. Okapi Finance provides its users a simple, portable, and cost-efficient way to make financial transactions in real-time. Okapi Finance makes this easy by creating an Okapi Wallet for their users. They have created an ecosystem that includes government institutions, businesses, small traders, and individuals. Instead of paying cash, a participating institution or person could pay another person through the Okapi Wallet. Therefore, since people have access to financial services, users can start generating wealth for themselves and their families.
Dr. Mwepu says this SDG goal goes hand in hand with their other SDG goal of Zero Hunger. Okapi Finance has over 500,000 users. Since Okapi Finance is helping many people now, this means thousands of people are generating a form of income for their families. With this income, families can purchase products they need for food and pay for their living expenses. More people can provide food for their families than before. This also helps the country where the individual is from, as it provides more wealth and financial stability.
Okapi Finance also meets the SDG of Gender Equality by focusing on financial inclusion for women. Small business owners who are women can apply for loans so they have an initial investment for their business. Women can do this through the “Product Week Loan” that Okapi Finance offers to their merchants and is organized in cooperatives. The Product Week Loan starts by providing a US$ 50 weekly loan to the merchant. If the merchant wants to borrow more money, they have to get their customers to pay for their goods and services through the Okapi Finance platform. This brings more users onto the platform, so they have access to an easier way of completing financial transactions, and the merchant gets a commission for every new user that uses the platform. Okapi Finance ensures that women are able to expand and help their small business prosper by providing them with loans. This ensures that women can provide for their families and have financial opportunities that they usually would never have if they did not have access to the Okapi platform.
Another SDG goal Okapi Finance meets is Climate Action. Since Okapi is an online platform, Dr. Mwepu says she does not need to travel to every country the company operates in. Travelling by airplane is the most damaging way to travel for the environment. Planes provide significant fossil fuel emissions, which contribute to climate change. Since Dr. Mwepu and her team are travelling less due to technical and digital solutions, they are doing their part in not contributing to the emissions damaging the environment. This SDG goal aligns with the other SDG goal of Life on Land. Since Covid-19, the employees at Okapi Finance can work from home, which means that fewer people are traveling and contributing to the pollution and greenhouse gases that damage the environment.
Okapi Finance ensures that not only their users benefit from their services but also the environment. Since thousands of users have access to more financial services, this allows those users to have a better quality of life. Users have more opportunities that help them, their communities, and the environment.
In 2011, Okapi was founded by Dr. Gisele Mwepu, who is Swedish/Congolese. Dr. Mwepu saw how difficult it was to transfer money in Congo and discovered that 80% of people in Africa and almost 50% of the world population were unbanked. This motivated her to start Okapi and bring financial inclusion to Africa. From 2013 to 2018, Okapi developed its platform, and Dr. Mwepu is passionate about using technology to provide financial services to those who are financially excluded. Okapi aims to offer security, speed, and real-time payments to improve economic growth and reduce poverty levels in Africa. She describes her passion as "a call, no one can stop me...And what inspires me, I would say what gives me this positivity, even when it is difficult, I can be depressed for an hour and then I want to stand again and fight. I think my faith has helped me a lot in this, because I really believe that things will be ok. It’s like I have an invisible power there to help me". She continues "and also, what has inspired me a lot, what gives me the strength is all the injustice that women are having in the world, not just in terms of accessing the funds. We are not even talking about Africa, we can talk about Europe, we are very few women in fintech, even in the USA, the women in fintech are accessing like 2% of the funds. We need to push, we are not so many, but we need to open the road for other women”.
Dr. Mwepu shared a story about her experience at a market in Congo where she saw women who only had a small amount of money to invest. She realized that just giving them technology was not enough, as they needed help to survive day-to-day. Dr. Mwepu felt sad and came up with the idea of a weekly loan to help these women. This program allows a woman with 10 USD to take a loan of 50 USD, so she can buy fish for 60 USD, sell it, and then repay the loan after a week. The woman must be part of a cooperation, and Okapi signs with the cooperation to reduce the risks. This program is interest-free, but transactions increase, and Okapi connects the women to its platform so she can earn on the transactions and bring more people into the system. This is an innovative and successful program that Dr. Mwepu is proud of.
Okapi Finance's values include transparency, ethical behavior, and customer-centric services, and they have a flat company structure that allows any worker to reach out to the founder.
Banking the unbanked helps bring people into the financial system and provides them with the tools to manage their money more effectively. This can lead to increased financial literacy and a better understanding of saving, investing, and managing their finances. In doing so, more people can participate in the formal economy. This can lead to increased economic growth as people have more access to capital and can start and grow businesses. Access to banking services and financial products can also help people lift themselves out of poverty. For example, microfinance programs that provide small loans to entrepreneurs in developing countries effectively reduce poverty and increase economic growth. When people have access to banking services, they can better plan for the future, save for emergencies, and manage their finances in a way that promotes stability.
What distinguishes Okapi Finance from other fintech companies is that it not only offers a financial solution to their customers, but a financial inclusion. According to Dr. Mwepu, this means that they have created an ecosystem where everyone is a winner. Okapi Finance makes access to funds possible to everyone, including the unbanked women selling at the market in Congo or other African countries (Kenya, Botswana, Nigeria, Senegal, Guinea Conakry) where Okapi operates. Through the company’s services for sending and lending money, digital solutions for cooperative, microfinance and insurance that anyone can afford are created.Instead of competing, Dr. Mwepu likes to partner and collaborate with her competitors. She does not want their customers to feel locked into their solutions only, instead she wants them to have the flexibility to also use other solutions, such as prepaid cards, for example. As the company is based in Sweden, they are one of the few fintech companies operating in Africa with a European license and many of their African competitors do not have that option. This means that Okapi Finance can operate both in Europe and in Africa, and capture the big diaspora of funds flowing from Europe to Africa in their system. “We have the best of two worlds”, she says.
The more transactions go through Okapi Finance, the more everyone involved benefits. Families abroad can easily send money to their relatives in Africa, poor people and families who usually are unbanked can transfer money between each other, pay to merchants etc., the women and men working as Okapi agents in Africa earn a living, and the women selling on the market in DRC can use the microfinance options to make larger purchases and get access to funds in a world where they would never get a loan from a traditional bank institution. Even governments and other institutions and companies in developing countries can pay their employers’ salaries through Okapi Finance instead of paying with cash, which is much more risky in terms of theft and corruption and may involve long-distance transportation. At the same time, all transactions in any direction benefit the business.
Okapi provides 'green fintech' for a sustainable planet. The company banks the unbanked with focus on agriculture, agribusiness, farming, the environment, and businesses run by women and small traders. Green Fintech means that goods should be near home because of environmental concerns. Women in communities should not have to travel to get money. Many fintech companies do not consider this and are just concerned about making money.
The services provided by Okapi Finance are designed to contribute to the achievement of several of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. These goals include promoting life on land, reducing poverty, eliminating hunger, ensuring gender equality, and taking action on climate change. In addition, Okapi Finance is dedicated to tackling specific challenges related to these objectives. For example, Okapi aims to address the issue of elderly people having to travel far in order to access their pension money, which is not only uncomfortable but also adds more stress to their lives. Okapi strives to enhance the lives of such people and reduce hardship by offering simply accessible and convenient financial services.
Moreover, Okapi's focus on gender equality is reflected in its efforts to ensure that women have equal access to financial services and resources. This includes promoting financial literacy among women, providing micro-loans to women-led businesses, and empowering women to participate in the economy.
Overall, Okapi's plans fit into many key United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, highlighting the organization's commitment to advancing sustainable development and improving people's lives worldwide. The reason why Okapi Finance has identified the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as its guiding principles is rooted in the organization's deep commitment to promoting financial inclusion in Africa. To address this challenge, Okapi Finance seeks to leverage technology to bring financial services to people traditionally excluded from the formal financial system. The organization recognizes that access to financial services is critical for enabling individuals and businesses to participate fully in the economy and for promoting overall economic growth and development.
By setting these goals, Okapi Finance aims to bring the benefits of financial inclusion to Africa, including increased security, faster and more efficient payment systems, and real-time access to financial information. Okapi Finance is trying to build a more inclusive and fair financial system that will help drive economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve the quality of life for people across Africa. Their goal is to reach 100 million people in ten years.
Dr. Gisele Mwepu, Founder and CEO
Okapi is a “Green Fintech” company with a mission to bank the unbanked. Okapi accelerates financial inclusion by increasing the accessibility of financial services. The company believes everyone should be able to access financial services, regardless of where they live and their financial status.