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Leaving No-one Behind: Transforming Ghana’s Digital Landscape

The initial impact of chief executives — especially new ones to a company — brings about a period of excitement, innovation and foresight. In most cases, new chief executives can take up to two years to realise the impact of their work and vision in most transformative businesses. Sometimes, there are exceptions to that ramping up/transition period. When I became CEO of Vodafone Ghana, time was of the essence. Without swift innovation and action, Ghana would have been left behind in the digital revolution.

In May 2016, at the age of 39, I became the CEO of Vodafone Ghana. I was eager to take on the challenge. I inherited a company on its way up, having introduced mobile money and beginning to seek synergies with key companies through the Internet of Things platform. Competition had become very keen in the country as well. LTE network spectrum was being auctioned in Ghana and the biggest telecom company in the country, MTN, was set on extending its leadership in the industry, having secured one of the two LTE blocks on display by the regulator.

Hitting the ground galloping

Since 2009, when Vodafone UK took over the ailing Ghana telecommunications company, Vodafone has undergone a unique transformation. I came to my new role galloping with ideas on how to transform the company into the most admired brand in Ghana.

I knew we had to pursue an agenda of aggressive digitalization to ensure no one in Ghana was left digitally behind. Our goal was to provide opportunities and tools to allow our customers, whether in our network or not, to work smarter and more efficiently while encouraging inclusion. We needed to be at the forefront of this digitilisation revolution in Ghana — driving inclusion in all forms.

To begin, we transitioned into a total communications provider for home and business; moving from an innovative mobile-centric operator to providing a unified suite to connect families and businesses. And, we didn’t do this only for our customers but our employees as well.

This strategy has led to the launch of many firsts in the industry. For instance, Vodafone is the first telecom company in Ghana to introduce a convergent product in the market — Vodafone One. In talking to our customers, we found their needs were changing. They were now demanding higher network speeds, reliable and secure data connections, and a better customer experience. Vodafone One brings together all customer communication needs — fixed broadband, voice minutes for landline, mobile voice and mobile data — into one seamless package.

Again, we began putting into place a host of innovative products and strategies to ensure our customers experienced a simple and convenient means of communicating. Vodafone-VIM, for example, is positioned to help mitigate the unemployment and underemployment situation in Ghana. And Vodafone Black, a unique service essence for the ultra-high value segment of our customers, is redefining how Vodafone should care for its customers. SuperCare, another service innovation, is a dedicated platform which breaks the barrier to information access for the hearing and speech impaired in society. It employs a video service facility which grants them access to customer service staff at Vodafone who communicate with them in a language they understand. Additionally, Vodafone has formed a strong partnership with the Hearing and Speech Impaired Association to provide them with tools, including smartphones to aid the process.

We’ve transitioned the company as a market leader, moving from No. 4 to No. 2 in the market. Furthermore, Ghanaian customers now experience lots of innovative products and service delivery strategies that have become our hallmark. Within a year, Vodafone’s revenue grew substantially, registering about 12.4 percent year-on-year growth — which was, in itself, a remarkable feat considering the difficulties encountered in the market in 2016. The company also experienced a tremendous growth in earnings as engineered by the strategic insight and vision we created, which included an extensive strategic cost programme yielding impressive results in the area of operational costs. These cost efficiencies were responsible for a significant improvement in Earnings before Interest Taxes Depreciation and Amortization (EBITDA), which grew by 64 percent.

Hurdles yet to cross

One area of challenge in 2016 was in relation to the external environment. The private sector has very high expectations of the current government in Ghana and Vodafone expects to flourish as a result of the policy initiatives and other measures that the current government has signaled. Specifically, for the telecommunications industry, I am anticipating a lot of initiatives and regulatory interventions that support the growth and development of the industry. The spectrum policy requires a reassessment to prevent an environment of unfair competition. Increasing energy costs, driven in the past couple of years by Ghana’s energy crisis, also has had a profound effect on the sustainability of Vodafone’s operation and it is an area to which I think the present government ought to devote some quality attention to.

Community engagement

Key to our success is our community engagement. I led the initiative to launch Instant Schools, a digital educational platform that currently is giving free extra classes for students across several academic cycles in Ghana. It builds into an ethos by Vodafone to ensure all children of school age can have access to free education on the go without having to pay for it. The website housing the platform has been zero-rated for all Vodafone users across the country in order for pupils to access a wide range of educational materials with just a click of the button. With less than six months into the launch of the platform, it is already boasting of about 1 million users. Other initiatives such as HealthFest, Healthline TV, Vodafone Scholars and the medical call center 255, are all redefining what it means to be socially relevant in the community.

Ensuring no-one is left behind

We want to see our customers, our stakeholders, indeed the entire country, take part in current trends in technology — in their homes, businesses, schools, churches, playgrounds and lifestyles in general. Looking forward, I foresee Vodafone as an integrated total technology business that will be touching every part of one’s personal and work life, from the rising to the setting of the sun. We will be key in striking the balance between infrastructure and services. The internet of things will continue to be a huge growth area for us, where almost everything that matters to our customers would be technology driven. Under our customer service agenda, we want to provide a wider suite of services to both our consumer and enterprise markets.

These services range from traditional telecommunications, such as voice and data, to more specialized services such as video, security, smart homes and cities, health and financial services. Convergence will ensure that we are intimately involved in all areas of peoples’ lives, whether individuals, small business or large corporates, delivering telecommunications and other virtualized services.

Yolanda Cuba is a transformational and accomplished business leader who is widely regarded across Africa. Her career extends over several industries, including telecommunications, fast moving consumer goods, services industry, and mergers and acquisitions. She was recently adjudged the “Industry Personality of the Year” at the Ghana Information Technology and Telecommunications Awards (GITTA), 2017. She was also selected as one of the Young Global Leaders in 2008, an initiative by the World Economic Forum and named as one of the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa by “Forbes” magazine in 2011.

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