Con­nect­ing the con­ti­nent

The ad in­dus­try vet­eran has a new goal: to grow the use of Face­book among small and medium-sized busi­nesses in Africa

Financial Mail - - PROFILE - Nafisa Ak­a­bor

Face­book first took Africa se­ri­ously two years ago, when it ap­pointed its first head of Africa, Nunu Nt­shingila, and opened shop in Mel­rose Arch, Jo­han­nes­burg. Now, the so­cial net­work gi­ant has found a more per­ma­nent home in the af­flu­ent sub­urb of Bryanston, where it un­veiled its swanky

1,542 m² of­fice last month.

Nt­shingila says the com­pany is “deeply com­mit­ted” to the con­ti­nent. It re­cently an­nounced that the num­ber of ac­tive monthly users in Africa has in­creased 42% since 2015 to more than 170m, of which 15m are South African. A whop­ping 94% of these ac­cess the plat­form from mo­bile de­vices.

Now Face­book Africa has broad­ened its strat­egy: it wants to at­tract small and medium-sized busi­nesses.

“We be­lieve that tech­nol­ogy is giv­ing peo­ple new op­por­tu­ni­ties to be­come en­trepreneurs and build prod­ucts that can help en­gage and em­power peo­ple,” says Nt­shingila.

Face­book hopes to get more small busi­nesses to ad­ver­tise on its site. They may find value in the plat­form’s lo­calised ads, which tar­get a par­tic­u­lar au­di­ence.

A vet­eran in the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try, Nt­shingila ob­tained her MBA from Mor­gan State Univer­sity in the US and spent more than 15 years at Ogilvy & Mather, where she first joined the com­pany as MD in 1999. She took on the role of CEO in 2005, go­ing on to be­come its chair in 2012, af­ter step­ping down as CEO.

Nt­shingila has over­seen award­win­ning cam­paigns for some of SA’S most-recog­nised brands, in­clud­ing Cad­bury, BP, Dstv, Co­cacola and VW. In 2016, she be­came the first woman to be in­ducted into the Lo­eries Hall of Fame. She has also served as a di­rec­tor on the boards of Old Mu­tual, Transnet and the V&A Water­front, and she pre­vi­ously worked as com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for Nike SA. Nt­shingila also pre­vi­ously re­ceived an Ad­fo­cus life­time achieve­ment award from the Fi­nan­cial Mail.

It’s quite an im­pres­sive CV by any­one’s stan­dards.

Nt­shingila isn’t in­tim­i­dated by Face­book’s 2bn-plus users. The com­pany still has more room to grow its user num­bers in Africa than in other con­ti­nents.

Face­book’s top man­age­ment is also se­ri­ous about Africa: CEO Mark Zucker­berg and busi­ness de­vel­op­ment vice-pres­i­dent Chris Daniels have both vis­ited the con­ti­nent in the past six months, not­ing the cre­ativ­ity and en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit of its peo­ple.

It doesn’t bother Nt­shingila that Africa still uses older tech­nol­ogy.

“We launched Face­book Lite as a stand­alone, na­tive app de­signed for lower-end An­droid de­vices on spotty net­work con­nec­tions to give peo­ple a re­li­able Face­book ex­pe­ri­ence when band­width is low,” she says.

“To bet­ter un­der­stand the needs and ex­pe­ri­ences [of African con­sumers], our engi­neers have ‘2G Tues­day’, a day [on which] they use only 2G con­nec­tiv­ity to help them best ad­dress is­sues and pain points.”

This helps guide fu­ture app­build­ing de­ci­sions, she says.

“As we ad­vance to­wards 2020 — the year that, for the first time in his­tory, more peo­ple in the world will be con­nected to the In­ter­net than not — the ma­jor­ity of these newly con­nected peo­ple will be from emerg­ing mar­kets.”

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