Welcome back to another episode of Women of FinTech. Today, Nadia is delighted to be joined by the incredible Anu Adedoyin Adasolum, Co-Founder and CEO at Sabi.
Sabi provides a technology platform that enables and empowers the most underserved merchants in the world. Their commerce infrastructure enables agents, merchants, wholesalers, aggregators, distributors and manufacturers to grow their businesses using Sabi’s technology rails.
In this conversation, Anu sheds light on how people are excluded and locked-out of financial opportunities from their pasts or from a lack of financial education in their upbringing. She shares what Sabi are doing to help those people.
Anu is passionate about her teams and that resonates throughout this entire episode. "In the end, a business is just the people that work in it. You could build the fanciest tech you wanted to but if the team wasn’t working the right way, you’d be done."
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Welcome to the Harrington Starr FinTech, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Discussions. I want to showcase people across our industry who are advocates for change. I love to celebrate the winners, but we know there is so much more to be done to ensure that change actually happens to build a truly inclusive industry. In these diversity, equity and inclusion discussions. I have a number of theories the humans, a fintech, the talent surgery, the maternity and paternity stories, and the longest running of all the women.
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of FinTech Podcast series. I did lots of work to drive change campaigns across our industry to increase inclusion within the workplace. So please contact me to see how we can partner together. You can contact me through LinkedIn or on my email email@example.com. In the meantime, enjoy the show and welcome to the Women of FinTech Podcast series.
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We are here today to celebrate the wins, raise awareness of the challenges, and walk the talk for change across the entire industry. Now, today, we are joined by Anu Adedoyin Adasolum, founder and CEO at Sabi Now Sabi provides a technology platform that enables and empowers the most underserved merchants in the world. Their commerce infrastructure enables agents, merchants, wholesalers, aggregators, distributors and manufacturers to grow their businesses using Sabi's technology rails.
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These rules facilitate across to fulfilment, logistics, ERP tools, a B2B marketplace, data insights and financial services. So you deal with a lot and it is here today to share her story and all the learnings along the way as a welcome. It's great to have you here. Thank you. Thank you very much. Thanks for having me. It's brilliant. So tell us a bit about your role at Sabi and what it entails.
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So I lead the team at Sabi, which basically means I'm designing for how people work together, how the team comes together and basically visioning. So trying to align the team with the vision of the business and getting lost across the line, basically. So it's really just about it's a role of thinking. It's really about thinking through where the business should be and then getting the team their mental needs so they can execute.
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It sounds so like all encompassing is not just the direction of the business, but it's making sure you're moving towards that, that vision and goal that you're creating. So actually, for me, just to understand that a bit better. Let's go back. What was the light bulb moment for you? That made you feel this is a business that I'm going to create?
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Do you know? The funniest thing is I don't know that there was any particular light bulb moment. Sabi was. It had been on my mind. Not this exact fashion, but based on previous roles I had primarily when I was in an e-commerce business in Nigeria. And then even when I was in university, actually, I wanted to work on something similar.
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But it really came to be when I was in run stores, which is the business I was working in beforehand and where I was technically founded. But really, I think, you know, the way businesses go is really they evolve over time. So Sabi has been in a series of lightbulb moments even now. Like sometimes you get some insight or realisation or someone on the team gets one and then you realise, yes, this is the way to go or no, it's not the way to go or you know, we've hit something here.
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So I would say it's more like a series of lightbulb moments when that happened recently as we entered a new category and it's just extremely underfinanced and we couldn't understand why for ages. And then we got on the phone with a few merchants and then we designed some products for them with insurance partners on financing partners and it's just like taken off like wildfire.
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So it's more a series of lightbulbs and that's super exciting because it just means that it can be never ending like the, the vision and where and where you're going to grow to. Yeah, exactly. And what, what problems you solve because look, this industry is all about identifying new problems and solving them. So I think that's a wonderful way to describe it.
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Now, what you do is tremendously important. Know your products, your services, they help promote financial inclusion in Africa. I want you to share more of that with us, please. Well, I mean, so the main thing is to to understand that businesses are deprived of access to resources, especially if finance, right. So and some of these businesses aren't like I think a lot of the time people, I assume, are dealing with tiny businesses.
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They're not always really small businesses. Sometimes they've been around for a while. They've got some skill, but they've gotten to that scale through just sheer grit. And nothing else because they can't access affordable finance. Sometimes they're operating on paper thin margins, post their financing costs just because they want to grow their business. They're passionate about what they do, but they're making next to no money.
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And so what we really try to do is figure out, okay, who are the most reliable players and how can we automate the decisions around funding these guys? And then how can we make our partners trust our decisions when we say, Hey, you should give these guys money, give them money. And it's really quite transformational. And if you look at some of the things these guys do right, there is the more usual story in terms of, you know, solving problems for female traders who pay their children's school fees, who have to do that work because they need the flexibility so that they can also take care of the family, etc..
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But you also have some fairly complex businesses that are aggregating like very rare niche commodities you have pharmacies and so on. And these guys have an understanding of their business lines that very few do, and yet they can't access funds across that make their business workable. So for us, it's really about how can we be really clever in product design that all parties involved.
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So that's our finance partners ourselves, the partners receiving finance, able to make sufficient capital that makes sufficient returns to keep their businesses going. But at the same time, they're accessing things they couldn't before. Yeah, it is like, to be honest, an extremely fulfilling thing to do. It's fun to watch those businesses grow. Yeah, it's absolutely fascinating because across the world now, people are starting to understand and starting to want to hear more about financial inclusion.
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They're starting to perceive the masses of people as consumers rich. They never they never used to finance used to be just for one demographic of society. And I think that the people that are really turning this into a reality, you know, this is a wonderful story that you're telling us of what you're doing. And I know that, you know, you're changing the way merchants do business and you're adding so much value to them.
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So can you tell us a bit more about the merchants themselves? Yeah, sure. I mean, the vast majority of our merchants are more sole proprietorships. So these are like basically one-man businesses. The vast majority. But you also have people who have built a reasonably considerable team. So, for instance, if you look at some of our wholesalers, some of them have six, seven, eight, nine shops in the market with stuff between all of them.
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Some pharmacies, the same thing, like some have built out small chains, but the vast majority are basically people who are just buying and selling products, looking to make their businesses more efficient by working through us or looking to access finance. They could be for and the main thing is these businesses don't have the collateral most lenders want. So affordable lending in our side of the world comes with collateral and they just don't have collateral because they haven't had the opportunity to save.
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Even if the turnover keeps growing, those margins are too thin. The other thing about them is and this is something we're beginning to see. We're just entering South Africa, as you have a lot of people where credit scoring. South Africa is a country where credit scoring really matters, where the credit scoring system has kind of locked them out.
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So this might be because of that demographic, like in terms of whether they're based the township, etcetera, so they don't come from that kind of background where you've grown up with that kind of credit scoring education or they did something foolish or stupid when they were young adults and now they've kind of balanced out, but they can't get out of that cycle or they're part of just predominantly a cash economy.
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Either way, because of outside the credit scoring system, they can't access credit for their business is answered that trapped in this kind of they're basically locked out of the system. What we're doing is working with these merchants through innovative assessment methods, just making sure yeah, they're entering the financial system. Yeah. Again, I just say a lot of the time people think like when they think of financial inclusion, they're thinking about a very particular profile.
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They think of like, you know, a small person in their village somewhere who isn't well-educated. That's not necessarily the case at all. There's very well-educated people of very, very aggressive, successful businesses that are just thriving on bricks because of the way systems work. And we're trying to help design the system to be more effective. And it sounds like you're doing a brilliant job doing that.
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I mean, even today in this podcast, you get getting the message out there and raising the awareness of how people are excluded and trapped by things that happened in the past or their circumstance, and that stops any food progression and opportunity and and choice and options in life. And, you know, it's this is really empowering to hear how you're not just talking about it.
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You're doing this, this is what you're doing to drive change, and this is what this podcast is about. I, I always say we're here to celebrate the wins raise awareness of the challenge, but walk the talk for change. I feel that in the industry right now we should be doing things to drive change. We don't, we shouldn't just talk about financial inclusion.
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We should start financially, including people. So, you know, from everything that you said today, I know that you are super passionate about people, you're super passionate about your people strategy as well. I want to start the conversation around that and the people within your business and your plan. So if you could share some more of that with us, that would be great.
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Sure. I mean, the main driver of that for me is that in the end, a business is just the people that work in it. I mean, you could build the fanciest tech you wanted to if the team wasn't working the right way, you'd be done anyway. There's a few exceptions to that, but it's generally true, especially the younger the businesses, if we're not being very thoughtful about our people and how we've put together a team and how we incentivise and encourage.
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So I appreciate that team or mind where necessary. Then we're not going to get anywhere. Also, I think more generally you have to think of why are you doing business like the day to day? It's like especially during the hard times, it's the people next to you. So like when you look at for me anyway, when I when I look at the team and I see someone who used to you know, who couldn't do something now leading an effort or, you know, is, for instance, our Kenyan team in just I don't even know how many months, three months like the growth in that capacity is insane.
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Sometimes I have to stop myself from like just like always being like, oh, this is great, this is great because, you know, you want them to deal with pressure. You want them to be able to you don't always want to be super effusive, but is really impressive when even like I'm just looking at their charts and the way they challenge each other and the level of the evolution in their sophistication is impressive.
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Yeah, that's pretty much it. When you're doing business, you're doing business to make money or doing business to grow, etc. But you know, you also want to have that impact on the people around you. You want people to give your team going and found businesses, etc. is what makes it worth it. That is that it's just so fantastic to hear that because everything that I believe in, in the workplace and for workplace inclusion is to allow everybody to be the best that they can be, to challenge them positively.
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And, you know, look, it's just so, it's so great to hear these stories of success, how people in your environment are growing as individuals growing as a team, growing the business. It's super exciting. So it takes me to my last question and I ask everybody this question and it's a call to action because when anybody listens to a podcast, I don't want them to stop listening and say, That was good.
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I want them to go and do something and be part of driving change for inclusion. So my question to you is, what is your call to action with regards to what more we should all be doing for workplace inclusion generally? I mean, I'm still figuring it out myself because I have been accused of liking a very particular type of person on my team.
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I think it's really just about understanding contexts. A lot of the time The thing that makes a difference in a person's performance is the allowances you've made are in that context. So this could be a working mom. Maybe she needs to be allowed to come in a bit later because she needs to drop her kid off. Or it could be someone whose family lives like super far away, and they need to be able to be remote sometimes.
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Or it might be a cultural context. So for instance, if you look at the country level, the way Kenyans thinks, the way Nigerians think, the way South Africans think, completely different I think taking the time to really understand the composition of your workplace and the context that come along with that and the changes that need to be made as a result of the allowances, those are the differences that allow people to unlock their performance.
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And you also build safety in that if you know, like your form of diversity is recognised then you feel safer. And then generally once people in your team feel safe, they begin to go the extra mile because they're not hedging for this or that. I think that's something we've learnt us. I mean we're trying to get better and better.
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Yeah, I think that is absolutely wonderful. Once your team feels safe, it unlocks their potential like I am. I so believe that and I think that is such a wonderful way to end this podcast. It's been brilliant learning about you, your multiple light bulb moments, and I can't wait for all the the new light bulb moments you have.
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I feel like I've genuinely learnt a lot listening to you within this code, and I know that everybody in our audience will share. So I think it would be wonderful to do another part in a year's time and see how far you've come. But it's been so brilliant learning about you. Thank you for joining us on the Women of FinTech Podcast series.
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Thank you so much for having us. Thank you