Fighting Covid with Connectivity in Africa – MTN’s Bernice Samuels

Fighting Covid with Connectivity in Africa – MTN’s Bernice Samuels

This week’s Huawei Better World Summit is exploring the impact of Covid-19 globally, and examining how ICT and 5G technologies can allow us to minimise disruption and fight back against the virus while allowing business to continue.

One of Huawei’s partners at the summit is MTN, a pan-African and Middle East group headquartered in South Africa that delivers voice, data, digital and financial services to a customer base of +250 million. Its user base therefore is roughly equivalent to the population of Brazil – and it seeks to deliver the benefits of a modern connected life to all of its subscribers.

The operator has a commitment to inclusivity, to the idea that everyone deserves access to communications regardless of lifestage, or where they may be geographically located. By delivering excellent coverage and fostering digital and financial inclusion, MTN aims to educate people on the value of the internet - what it is and how it can benefit them, as well as helping them to understand how they consume data.

MTN is an emerging markets player, and executes its BRIGHT strategy across 6 pillars as it looks towards 300 million subscribers by 2022, 200 million of which will be data users, and 100 million digital services users.

In the words of MTN’s Bernice Samuels, the pillars of the BRIGHT strategy are:

Best Network: We want to be the network that is second to none in terms of quality – we can’t be a great business without having a great network. We want to deliver the best coverage, the best call quality, excellent reliability and brilliant customer service both in terms of value for money and the relevance of products provisioned on the network. We aim to innovate and contribute to solving customer problems specific to the continent and the markets that we serve.

Returns: Our financial efficacy and the financial strength of the business.

Ignite Commercial Performance: This centers on the traditional business of voice and data. We are a business that is evolving from being a telco to a digital operator or techco; and as such the touchpoints through which customers interact with us must be effective and frictionless. For example, we have condensed the time from initiation to completion for SIM swaps and pin resets, and removed unnecessary steps.

Growth in Digital and Data: This refers to our digital services and fintech businesses, in which we layer OTT services on top of a strong and resilient network infrastructure.

Hearts and Minds: This is about engagement, whether with customers, colleagues, staff or stakeholders, as well as regulators and government representatives. We want to deliver the best services at a functional level but also build the strongest emotional relationship or mindshare so that we have the commitment and trust of the communities we serve.

Technology Excellence: We want to be the benchmark of technology excellence on the continent so that there is no doubt about why MTN is the provider of choice.

In terms of our 300/200/100 aspiration, MTN has 257 million subscribers, 100 million data users and about 35 million are mobile money users. This effectively makes the operator the largest provider of banking in Africa.

As an evolving telco it is committed to building a defendable, world-class digital services offering layered on top of its network, one that delivers entertainment, instant messaging and music, in addition to financial services. These are offered via a single distribution system, with one registration process, on one network.

MTN recognized Covid-19 as an economic and humanitarian crisis in addition to being a health crisis. It was able to leverage its resources and footprint very quickly to provide help – and hope – across its markets. Its immediate strategic response was to focus on four things:

  • Ensuring the safety of its staff, shutting down offices and having staff work from home. It introduced health protocols and wellness support measures for its staff
  • It introduced value propositions designed to provide customer relief
  • Its network had to be resilient, remaining stable and functioning at a time when people needed it most to ensure their loved ones were safe
  • It took a financially prudent approach, ensuring that all actions would be sustainable in the long term regardless of how long the pandemic might persist

MTN also introduced financial relief measures to support those staff experiencing financial hardship, and had to introduce work from home measures very rapidly to continue operating the business and supporting its customers. All contact and call centres were furnished with WFH toolkits to ensure that service levels were maintained and uninterrupted.

For customers, the focus was threefold – the first was communication around safety, prevention and the prevention social stigmatization of people who were infected; since engagement with Covid-19 patients had thus far been limited, the operator felt that it needed to show leadership in this regard.

The second was around value propositions aimed at delivering customer relief, which were released under the Y’ello Hope banner. These took the form of SMS broadcasts, USSD Covid-19 information, free SMS allowances, zero-rated traffic to key educational institutions when schools and universities were closed, support for hospital staff, and free P2P money transfers.

The third was based around key interventions via the MTN Foundations across our footprint to support broader need in society with provision of vital supplies such as PPE and sanitisers and contributing to food security assistance.

This contribution equated to close to 28 million free P2P mobile money transfers, just under 27 billion free SMS messages, around 3 billion government-initiated SMS messages, and around 108 terabytes of zero-rated traffic.

MTN also partnered with UNECA (United Nations Economic Commission in Africa) in June to enhance the ability of governments to undertake needs assessments measuring the efficacy of their communications, as well as supplement and complement population screenings.

Through this experience, MTN has learnt a lot as a digital operator. Digital is often spoken about as a disruptor, and we sometimes view these powerful shifts as unsettling and chaotic in terms of the ‘norm’. This crisis has shown that digital should not be viewed as disruptive, but rather as a massive leap and enabler to deliver convenience, safety, access, personalization and efficiency on a scale that has never before been considered. The crisis has shown not only that it can be done, but that it can be done on a tiny timescale – days, rather than years – and to the highest standards by companies, governments and NGOs.

MTN will be using this experience to accelerate its own digital transformation capability to continue to deliver an easy, personalized connected customer experience that allows our customers to enjoy the benefits of a modern connected digital life.

Huawei and MTN have worked together in Africa for 18 years, and share the same vision of bridging the continent’s digital divide. Huawei’s TECH4ALL initiative and MTN’s We’re Good Together work in harmony to help connect every African.