Digital tools to support African business
widu.africa is an online portal that provides a digital framework to facilitate, track and subsidise small private business investments between Europe and Africa. Private remittances to Africa aimed to support business development are not channelled through governments or private organisations, and therefore remain untracked¹; this means no statistics and no data, but more importantly missing out on an incredible opportunity to really support small local businesses. It is said that this market accounts for 430 billion US dollars worldwide, 46 billion have flowed to sub-Saharan Africa.²
WIDU is the first initiative that enables members of the African diaspora to invest their money into African business projects, backed and subsidised by the German government and enriched locally with business coaching and mentoring by specialised partners.
Bringing together the needs of very different stakeholders, implementing thorough security measures, while designing the process to be as quick and easy as possible was extremely complex.
GIZ is Germany’s leading government-owned development funding institution. Although the idea of converging African diaspora money flows on official channels has been on the political table for the last 30 years, high administrative costs and technical hurdles were responsible for this idea never kicking off. The leitmotiv is very strong: If these diaspora money flows can be converged on controllable channels, private business development funding will start being more effective because of accountability, and development cooperation actors will be better equipped to effectively target and incentivise proper expenditure.
Being patient through this exhausting bureaucratic journey and believing in this project were the keys to deliver that extra passion that finally made this long running idea come true.
Our adventure started off by analysing the brief and the cultural ecosystems involved. This lead to lay out key focus areas to research and provide a pragmatic digital strategy for supporting development of African businesses with diaspora money from Germany. We held workshops with the governmental agency (GIZ) to share a common vision, we interviewed stakeholders, engaged our worldwide network of experts, assessed security risks and technical necessities, and embarked on an incredibly deep and enriching research of African design and culture to make sure the platform will speak to its users in a friendly and comfortable way. To evaluate our work, we conducted stakeholder, user and technical testing throughout the process which we used to optimise the platform in iterations.
The initial process outline included an alarming 133 steps of bureaucratic endeavours to successfully complete a two-actor business project between Germany and Cameroon/Ghana (these are the two countries this service will initially launch in). Not only is a funder and an entrepreneur involved, this platform also connects them with local business mentors and capacity building opportunities, and is managed by a small moderation team that handles communication with the projects and administers the processes of the platform. There are strong security measures in place, automatic moderation processes and the platform is optimized for low bandwith and is accessible with most hardware used in Africa.
We designed it down to 3 project phases—description, investment and grant—with an emphasis on keeping the process inclusive, clean, quick and convey confidence and ease of usability. The administration of projects happens on a lean dashboard that needs to work on low-end budget smartphones³, often having a 280×280px viewport. It was therefore designed with a focus on usability and clear hierarchy so that the process and actors involved are always easy to overview.
The focus of the branding was placed on reinterpreting typical African visual elements in a modern tone, thus connecting heritage with modernity: Culturally meaningful colors, a combination of a techy and a lively rounded script/brush font that immediately recalls the logo along with patterns developed starting from a wifi icon were the main branding elements. The front end design is positive, fresh and inviting and the logo depicts the hoopoe, a migratory⁴ bird that is well known cultural symbol⁵ from Central/Subsaharan Africa to Northern Europe.
Entering in its 15th month, this massive project has just recently launched and would’ve been impossible to manage without regular meetings and presentations to keep the client involved and engaged at all steps of development—client cooperation was likewise crucial. We used GIZs contacts and our professional network to reach out to different stakeholders and understand their needs better, passionately iterating the feedback back in the process. We shared insights and information on all relevant matters, from security and IT to anthropology, communication and design know-how.
Most importantly we kept calm and patient and supported our clients through the demanding bureaucratic processes that were needed in the background, and sometimes held the project back. We cherish our partnership with the GIZ and hope to keep on developing impactful solutions for our world together in the future.
Check out the platform at widu.africa and let us know what you think in the comments below.
 Maimbo, S. M., and D. Ratha. “Part IV Increasing Transparency in the Informal Financial Infrastructure for Remittances.” In Remittances: Development Impact and Future Prospects, 209–74. Washington, D.C.: The World Bank, 2005.
 Private Geldtransfers Nach Afrika: Der Boom Des Teuren Geldes: Dw: 25.07.2019Deutsche Welle — https://www.dw.com/de/private-geldtransfers-nach-afrika-der-boom-des-teuren-geldes/a-49734471
 Pew Research Center, October, 2018, “Internet Connectivity Seen as Having Positive Impact on Life in Sub-Saharan Africa”
 Reichlin, Thomas S., Michael Schaub, Myles H. M. Menz, Murielle Mermod, Patricia Portner, Raphaël Arlettaz, and Lukas Jenni. “Migration Patterns of Hoopoe Upupa Epops and Wryneck Jynx Torquilla: an Analysis of European Ring Recoveries.” Journal of Ornithology 150, no. 2 (2008): 393–400. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10336-008-0361-3.
 Chadd, Rachel Warren, and Marianne Taylor. Birds: Myth, Lore & Legend. London ; New York: Bloomsbury Natural History, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2016.