#21interviews: The future of micro-commerce in Africa

by Louise Burgers. Nomanini CEO, Vahid Monadjem, on improving access to financing for the informal retail market in Africa.

by Louise Burgers. Improving access to financing for informal retailers and the mass market is the key to growing entrepreneurs and thereby, Africa’s economic success, believes Vahid Monadjem,  CEO and founder of Nomanini, which has just launched a ground breaking partnership to support informal retailers in East and Southern Africa with global FMCG brand Nestlé and Africa’s Standard Bank.

Speaking to Retailing Africa from lockdown-London, Monadjem talks about the beautiful complexity of bringing formal and informal business together and solving problems like financial access. “We are a lubricant for two different organisations and two different worlds, almost. For the bank, we enable them to reach these markets so far away from their branches and current paradigm; and for brands, we enable the tech and digital financial services to be applied, that improves operations rather than disrupting operations. That is the world we live between.”

Nomanini is a pioneering fintech platform headquartered in Cape Town, that connects financial service providers and fast moving consumer goods companies to retail MSMEs. Covid has wrecked the informal market, leaving many traders destitute. Since these informal retail Micro, Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (MSMEs) in Africa are often among the few places in their communities to buy essential goods, this informal retail ecosystem must be bolstered. Established in 2010 to support the informal retail ecosystem through innovative fintech solutions, Nomanini integrates payments, working capital, and data analytics to unlock the latent potential of Africa’s economy. The company provides retail MSMEs with the tools to improve their businesses by combining new digital financial services with existing distribution networks. It says its range of solutions supports world class digital banking and supply chain financing in cash-first markets.

And the beauty lies in the fact that they have over a 99% loan repayment rate – and the bankers are now looking at this and figuring out how they can lend more capital to such creditworthy borrowers. Monadjem says their mission was to drive Africa’s growth and increase the well being of its people, including the retail traders that are part of the vital brand delivery pipeline. “We were able to combine those two missions and create an aligned strategy to improve the businesses of entrepreneurs and SMMEs through existing digital channels.”

He goes on: “We are big believers that these are ecosystems and we are part of that. Our greatest competition is cash and wasted time. We are trying to digitise a host of things. People are either unable to access quality products or products they need in their immediate communities, and have to spend time and money travelling to alternative towns. These locations are critical to providing essential goods to their communities.”

Disrupted supply chains

The vast majority of retail transactions in Sub-Saharan Africa are cash-based and occur in informal channels, according to IFC research. Many retail MSMEs are therefore unable to create the digital footprint necessary to access the credit they need to keep their shelves stocked with high-quality essential items. Additionally, many MSMEs across Africa have been negatively affected by disrupted supply chains, inter-trade, as well as reduced consumer sales, which have resulted from Coronavirus lockdown regulations. Commenting earlier on the occasion of the launch, Bruno Olierhoek, chairman and managing director of Nestlé ESAR, emphasised that the region’s economic growth is interdependent on strong partnerships amongst various stakeholders, including the informal retail sector: “As one of the fastest-growing consumer retail markets in the world, Africa is full of economic potential. This potential lies firmly within the informal retail sector, which constitutes the vast majority of the retail market in Africa. To give impetus to this positive outlook, we have leveraged Nomanini’s technology to unlock business opportunities, drive economic growth, create jobs and improve ways of doing business.”

How it works: Nomanini’s platform analyses the sales history of an MSME to create a credit score. If approved, the retailer is offered an uncollateralised loan in the form of stock from Nestlé. MSMEs are given access to the working capital they need to grow their businesses without having to open a bank account or visit a bank branch. When it is time to repay the loan, they do not need to go to the bank or even have a bank account to make an electronic transfer. Following the successful implementation of the trial of concept in Zambia, Nestlé is set to expand the solution into other countries, benefitting thousands of MSMEs across the region.

“With Nestlé as one of our newest clients, we are able to address these and other key business challenges and transform the informal retail ecosystem through an innovative solution. Through our platform, Nestlé is able to provide much-needed access to sufficient working capital so that retailers can stock a wide range of high-quality products. This capital is offered in the form of physical stock rather than cash,” says Monadjem. “Our solutions are designed with MSME retailers at the core so that we can support, rather than disrupt their businesses. We know that while many of these MSMEs are un- or under-banked, they would qualify for credit if they were. By using our technology and data, our partners can help MSMEs access credit responsibly.”

Monadjem explains that Nomanini has been working in the formal retail market for the better part of a decade. “Our north star has always been to improve access for the mass market. In FMCG, the growth is in the mass market. The language has changed from traditional trade to mass market. Our experience working within the informal retail trade has become very useful. We have been working with Standard Bank for a couple years, building banking solutions for small traders, particularly business wallets. Nestlé recognised that some of their problems could be solved by supply chain embedding. Empty shelves are our competition. This is such a huge space to cover, it will take a group effort,” he says, encouraging other FMCG brands to get involved. “The more credit data available, the more product/stock that can be digitised, the better for everyone. Economic intensification is helping everyone.” Following the trials in Zambia, they will now slowly expand into the 23 markets within East and Southern Africa.

“I hope this is the foundation for Nomanini to be able to create more partnerships like this; to be an intermediary in the delivery of embedded financial services to informal retailers. We want to work with the FMCG value chain at large, so we can be a ‘bus’ – a connection point between all those points,” Monadjem concluded.

If there is one thing we can thank this global crisis for, it is spurring on brand collaborations that will change not only our industry, but our continent. This is a time of accelerated innovation and partnerships like this will have a significant impact.

For more insights from retail and brand leaders in the #21interviews series publishing 1-21 December 2020, ahead of 2021:


#21interviews LAUNCH: 2021 comes with a disclaimer, by Louise Burgers, Publisher & Editor, RetailingAfrica.com.

#21interviews: Brands need to get brave, says Bozoma Saint John, Global Chief Marketing Officer, Netflix.

#21interviews: The power of being purpose-led will drive brand value, by Karin Du Chenne, Chief Growth Officer Africa and the Middle East, Kantar.

#21interviews: Plan for growth in 2021, says Herman Botha, Group General Manager, PNA Group.

#21interviews: Next year will be all about authentic visual immersion, by Craig Bellingham, Founder & CEO, Studio[K]irmack.

#21interviews: Covid has created a brand vulnerability, says Elouise Brink, Senior Marketing Manager, Country Road, Woolworths Holdings.

#21interviews: Reimagining a better world without the inequality of ‘normal’, with Economist and Author of the post-pandemic book, FutureNEXT, Dr Iraj Abedian, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Embrace technology at all levels, says Thabani Maluleka, Business Development Director for Rogerwilco.

#21interviews: It will not be business as usual, by Dave Nemeth, Trend Forecaster & Founder of at Trend Forward.

#21interviews: Lessons from an unprecedented year in retail, by Jonathan Hurvitz, CEO, Teljoy.

#21interviews: Beware ‘Covid fatigue’, by Guy Yehiav, General Manager, Zebra Analytics, part of Zebra Technologies.

#21interviews: Be deliberate in listening, says Zizwe Vundla, Marketing Director of Diageo South Africa, talking to Retailing Africa Publisher & Editor, Louise Burgers.

#21interviews: Critical factors for retail growth, by Enver Groenewald, Group CEO, Ogilvy South Africa.


Louise Burgers (previously Marsland) is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.


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