Rakuten and JICA collaboration in Africa sees Japan-inspired startup success
Africa is a wellspring of innovation that Rakuten has experienced first-hand since starting a collaborative initiative with Asia Africa Investment and Consulting (AAIC) in late 2020. In 2021, Rakuten then signed a collaborative agreement with Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). In short order, both initiatives have produced fruit, including the most recent case of a Ghanaian fintech startup that drew inspiration from a popular transportation e-money service in Japan.
Rakuten collaborates with JICA in Africa
Rakuten’s collaboration with JICA aims to help solve development challenges faced by developing countries and contribute to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through international cooperation. The broad-ranging collaborative agreement sees them focus on the key areas of innovation, sustainable lifestyles, partnerships and other possibilities. As a well-known development organization active worldwide, JICA is a prominent name in Japan and a natural partner for Rakuten to work with in supporting startups in Africa.
TranSoniCa selected among thousands of entries
In 2020, JICA launched the Next Innovation with Japan (NINJA) Business Plan Competition for new African businesses that emerged during the pandemic. Ghanaian payments startup TranSoniCa finished second overall from among 2,700+ initial applicants across 19 African countries and was awarded a six-month mentorship program with members from Rakuten Group.
“Rakuten’s support was very beneficial for our startup. Thanks to their support we managed to restructure our B2B model to be more appealing to our clients and this helped us to expand our B2B operations.”Mohamed Alaa, Co-Founder and CEO, Shezlong
“We believe that providing a safe and secure means of payment through cashless cards is of great social value in Africa,” commented Shotaro Yamanaka of Rakuten Europe’s Africa business. “As Rakuten Group is operating various fintech services, we would like to use our experience to support TranSoniCa.”
Seeds of innovation planted in Japan
TranSoniCa was founded by Daniel Elliot Kwantwi, who had previously studied at the University of Tokyo. During his time in Japan, Kwantwi experienced the region’s popular Suica — which stands for Super Urban Intelligent Card — transportation e-money service and was determined to introduce similar innovations to Ghana. In Suica’s concept, Kwantwi found the seeds of an idea that would eventually blossom into TranSoniCa.
“In Africa, cash payments for transportation and shopping often take a long time, resulting in long waits and queues,” Kwantwi shared as he explained the cultural and business context in Africa. “In recent years, there has been a growing need for contactless payment services to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Stores are also facing issues with cash, such as theft and complicated sales management. TranSoniCa’s service solves all of these concerns.”
Customer experience drives TranSoniCa success
One of the critical tenets of TranSoniCa’s strategy is an excellent end-user experience. The company boasts a remarkable payment transaction time of under one second, which Kwantwi says is unprecedented in Africa. TranSoniCa’s approach appears to be working, as evidenced in its roll-out on the University of Ghana campus, where the startup registered 1,900 cardholders in only its first three weeks after launch. Buoyed by the initial success, they projected about 50,000 more sign-ups within the subsequent 90 days.
“We introduced a contactless payment system for boarding buses, taxis and shopping that improves transaction speed, efficiency and security, while significantly reducing the cost of each transaction,” shares Kwantwi. “At TranSoniCa, we believe in our core values of Speed, Efficiency, Credibility, Reliability, Empathy and Truth – in short SECRET.”
He credits JICA and Rakuten for their support in helping launch TranSoniCa products and services and has high hopes for its services across the continent. “We would like to introduce the service in Ghana first and then expand it to other African countries.”
Building a legacy of support for African startups
Rakuten’s recent partnership with TranSoniCa builds on its efforts to support local startups in Africa working to empower communities — startups such as Egypt-based online mental healthcare service provider Shezlong.
“Rakuten’s support was very beneficial for our startup,” commented Shezlong co-founder and CEO Mohamed Alaa. “Thanks to their support we managed to restructure our B2B model to be more appealing to our clients and this helped us to expand our B2B operations. They also provided effective consultations on our marketing strategies that helped us raise awareness among the community regarding the importance of mental health.”
“[TranSoniCa] introduced a contactless payment system for boarding buses, taxis and shopping that improves transaction speed, efficiency and security, while significantly reducing the cost of each transaction.”Daniel Elliot Kwantwi, CEO, TranSoniCa
Rakuten originally started working with Shezlong through its collaboration with AAIC that began in 2020. The startup has seen exponential growth in their efforts to connect individuals with mental health experts, having facilitated over 100,000 sessions for customers in over 80 countries.
Shezlong, along with startups like Flare in Kenya, LifeBank in Nigeria, and now TranSoniCa in Ghana, lead a growing list of African startups that empower local communities, thanks to the ingenuity of entrepreneurs and the support of organizations like AAIC, JICA and Rakuten partnering with local businesses to empower local communities.