By Sinouhe Monteiro
Ewala: The money transfer mobile app for the African diaspora.
Built out of the desire of two young Afropean men to make a positive impact in their countries of origin, Sinouhe Ferreira Monteiro Nunes and Stephane Ugeux are behind Ewala, a young startup that digitalizes the process of sending remittances to African countries by providing a secure digital platform at a fair price.
Ewala permits the sending of airtime reloads from any mobile phone in Europe to almost all African countries in just a few taps. Partnering up with high ranking financial institutions, Ewala will soon make cross-border money transfers possible in the first quarter of 2017 to Morocco, Rwanda, Nigeria, The Democratic Republic of Congo and India.
Stéphane Ugeux was born in Brussels, the son of a Belgian father and a Burundian mother, whose childhood was impacted by the wars in Burundi and Rwanda. Post completion of studies in political science, Stephane returned to Burundi to work in the telecommunications sector where the concept for Ewala began to germinate, with the aim of empowering Africans by giving them access to financial inclusion through education and technology. Due to the unstable nature of the political scene in Burundi, he returned to Belgium to complete a Masters in Innovative and Strategic Management, where he joined up with Sinouhe Monteiro to found Ewala.
The son of Afro-European parents who grew up in South America, Sinouhe experienced first hand the issues of sending and receiving money overseas. After completing studies in Rome, Italy, Sinouhe decided to create a platform to make money transfers more accessible between Europe and Africa. Ewala grew out of this decision, as an idea to empower the African diaspora via technology.
The Journey (according to Stephane and Sinouhe):
Last year when we began our journey, we took a risk that we never imagined taking. In May 2015, we decided to leave our jobs to work full time on the project of our dreams: to make a remittance platform that truly responded to the needs of the African diaspora.
When we validated our product, we spent days and nights out on the rainy streets of Brussels, strolling around the multicultural neighborhoods of the city such as Molenbeek, Scharbeek, Ixelles and St-Gilles, canvassing people to complete our surveys. We needed to figure out people’s habits when it came to transferring money to their home countries. We interviewed hundreds of people and it became clear that those who frequently sent money would benefit from a platform that would give them a better rate and 24/7 accessibility.
After almost one year of hard work we achieved our first mission with Ewala – to enable people to send airtime remittances through our platform. This means that in a couple of steps, you can send a Top Up to any phone you want in Africa (as a side note, we have access to all continents). But what’s great about this solution isn’t just the access to all the +400 mobile operators. What we have also achieved is to create prepaid Ewala scratch cards for the people who might not have a bank account or who are skeptical to use their bank accounts online. Many people who transfer still rely on cash. So we gave our users both options: fully digital or partly digital. In a couple of weeks, you will be able to buy a 5 € Ewala scratch card, go on our platform, put the phone number of your mother or father who lives abroad and send him or her a Top Up in just a few seconds.
Hundreds of people have already tried the beta version of Ewala and we’ve had nothing but good feedback from our early adopters. We are building a very robust network to maximize our customers’ needs and to give our users a well-crafted and user-friendly digital platform. On a different track, we have also partnered with many different African networks to start social projects to empower Africans and the diaspora to start their own initiatives. That is because with Ewala we want to become more than just a money transfer platform, we want to empower our communities.
The successes so far:
Ewala recently won the ‘Most Innovative Startup’ award at the Microsoft Innovation Center’s Boostcamp 2016 and Sinouhe & Stephane have also been invited to present at major conferences in both Europe and Africa such as the Makutano Business Network.