KEIPhone provides wireless access to thousands of women across Africa

Company bringing connectivity to the continent
KEIPhone provides wireless access to thousands of women across Africa
Photo courtesy of Allan Busby

Rolling out spoke with Lauren Hendricks, CEO of KEIPhone. The company provides free smartphones and chargers to thousands of unconnected women across Africa.

What made you want to start KEIPhone?

I worked for Equity Bank, which is the largest bank here in East Africa, headquartered out of Kenya. East Africa is just a fintech innovation hub. Mobile money actually started in Kenya, with a company called M-Pesa. But all of this innovation, none of it is accessible to the over 70% of the population that doesn’t own a smartphone. And I was just frustrated because we were spending so much time and effort and money making these incredible apps and financial services that most people couldn’t use. You can get a smartphone here in Africa for $60. So I thought, this can’t be a $60 problem that we can’t figure out how to overcome.

How do you generate revenue to carry out your mission?

We get revenue in two ways now, and we’re going to add a third. So the first way is that we run ads on the lock screen of the phone. And those ads can be banner ads or embedded video. So if you watch an ad, you can earn credits. And then you can take those credits and redeem them for data. It’s highly coveted ad space, because it’s a moment of uncluttered connection. You see one ad on the full screen and it sits for five minutes before you can swipe up.

Second, we’re actually out here today with a micro-finance bank. We’re distributing phones to women who are members of their group, and they pay us $2 per phone to pre-load their app.

And the third way is adding a marketplace onto the phones. People can take the credits that they earn and they can buy things in the marketplace. It should come online this summer.

Why is your mission of increased connectivity across Africa so important?

The vast majority of people in Africa, Uganda included, are small-scale farmers without access to good information on how to increase productivity, or on climate change. There’s a lot of historic, generational knowledge here that is being challenged by the realities of climate change on the continent. And one of the things that we’ve found is our users do not want to see only ads. They want entertainment content and they want informational content. And the agricultural content that we’ve sent out has been some of the most successful. 

 What are some areas that you are exploring to grow your impact in the future?

Financial services and fintech is the way that a lot of people in Africa generate revenue. The more mobile devices we have in people’s hands, the more relationships they have with us and trust us. So financial services is probably something we will add down the line. But also more of a social component. People here love to create content, but there’s not a lot of avenues for them to create it and get it out. 

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