The Vodafone Group has pumped €100 million (US$118 million) into the COVID-19 fight since the pandemic broke.
Vodafone Ghana CEO, Patricia Obo-Nai disclosed this at the just-ended Bruegel Annual Meeting, which was held virtually for audiences across the world.
Patricia Obo-Nai’s submission focused on the private sector perspective in the fight against COVID-19 and their contribution to Africa’s post-COVID economic recovery going forward.
According to her, during the COVID-19 pandemic the Vodafone Group spent at least a €100 million providing a wide range of support packages particularly in the areas of maintaining the quality of service of networks, providing network capacity and services for critical government functions, improving dissemination of information to the public, facilitating working from home, helping the small and micro businesses within Vodafone’s supply chain and improving governments’ insights into people’s movements in affected areas.
She said Vodafone’s main focus during the pandemic was to help governments save lives so they invested heavily into the health sector, particularly to digitize health services and made the easily accessible to patients.
In Ghana, Vodafone had a six-point plan covering health, education, network infrastructures expansion, awareness creation, free/subsidized data packages as well various relief package for various category of stakeholders.
Patricia Obo-Nai said they supported government with the creation of a COVID-19 tele-center with at least 60 multilingual health professionals to provide support to people needing assistance during the pandemic, adding that Vodafone also invested into a collaborative effort with the Ghana Statistical Service to monitor the movement of people for effective contact tracing.
“In South Africa and Lesotho, we gave handsets to health workers, which was basic but important because it made them more efficient in their service delivery during the pandemic. In Nigeria and Mozambique, we provided medication reminders and health management tools helping to improve on clinical management in those countries, with benefits to some 100,000 people,” she said.
According to her, prior to COVID-19, many health websites were not easily accessible but Vodafone ensured they became accessible and also zero-rated existing health websites and also pointed citizens to where to find what information.
She said Vodafone zero-rated all education websites and also uploaded more education materials on specific platforms to keep children learning while on lockdown at home.
“Vodafone’s Insta-School platform across the globe was free for all because we did not think students should have to pay for data just to get educated,” she said.
According to the Vodafone CEO, data became critical to government efforts at stemming the pandemic, so Vodafone supported government with aggregated, anonymized mobility insights and AI driven modeling contact tracing apps in line with the privacy laws in each country where those apps were deployed.
She also mentioned the support Vodafone provide in the area of mobile money, saying that they worked with the central banks across all countries they operate in to zero-rate at least the first GHC100 transferred in a day, adding that in some countries they completed scrapped the service charges.
They also improved the tier levels for all categories of mobile money customers so the people could have access to their money while on lockdown.
In that regard, she noted that M-Pesa, which is the foundation of mobile money in the world, and is originally a Vodafone Kenya (Safaricom) product, transacted up to US$14 billion every month between their combined customer level of 40 million across the eight operations in Africa.
Patricia Obo-Nai said Vodafone’s support to government had been heavily tilted towards the health sector, but going forward into their post-Covid-19 era, the focus is now on how to support governments in Africa in the economic recovery journey.
She said the plan is to build social resilience in Africa, explaining that there is the need for “a collective ability to recover from our past and build a better future and the time to start now is now.”
The pandemic, according to her, impacted negatively on livelihoods, trade, economic growth, adding that some 25 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa are being pushed into poverty due to the pandemic, and that calls for a deliberate effort on the part of the private sector in supporting the economic recovery efforts on the continent.
Throwing the spotlight on the need for leadership from the center, she said “Industry will bring the expertise and digital solutions and targeted investment but government has to lead the way going forward in this mission for economic recovery in the post-Covid-19 era,” she said.
“At Vodafone we believe getting the health sector digitized is critical so that is the main focus for us on how we support the government going forward,” she added.
She said Vodafone is also working closely with businesses to ensure that they have safe, secure and effective digital solutions, adding that in the area of agriculture, they are digitizing the agricultural value/supply chain, with some 1.5 million small-holder farmers on the Vodafone Connected Farmers platform.
The Vodafone Ghana boss said the Connected Farmers measures and record critical data, and uses IoT for soil moisture probes, and satellite information to ensure better yields and profitability in a safer way that ensures the environment in which they work is protected.
Patricia Obo-Nai noted that due to the impact of Covid-19, private sector investment is not increasing in Africa, governments are channeling their meagre resources on providing the basic needs of citizens and donor nations are also focusing on their own domestic challenges.
It has therefore become imperative for all stakeholders in African countries to work together in this journey toward economic recovery, otherwise Africa will miss SDG Goal 9 – resilient infrastructure to support industrial innovation.
“We are therefore calling for collaboration between public and private sector and CSOs to work together to deliver the digital solutions that will guarantee a better future.