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Lifestyle

Interswitch Makes Credit More Accessible To Nigeria’s Underserved Customers

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Photographer: Trevor Snapp/Bloomberg

Africa focused digital payments and commerce company, Interswitch on Friday 6th of October 2017 launched a multi-channel low-level retail lending without collateral service known as the Interswitch Lending Services Platform. Interswitch is doing this in partnership with six leading banks and three innovative credit providers.

“We have done this to provide accessible credit for the financial needs of customers who are presently underserved by mainstream finance, or who are excluded in one way or another from being able to access credit through currently existing conventional channels. We are doing this by addressing the problem of access, reach and risk in a novel way that ensures that we can achieve nationwide scale,” said CEO for Switching and Processing at Interswitch Group, Akeem Lawal.

This service essentially revolves around the ‘missing middle’ challenge by providing a holistic proprietary credit analysis, scoring & management technology which bank and non-bank credit providers can leverage to provide non-collaterized micro and nano-loans to individuals and SMEs across various channels. It bridges the gaps currently existing in Nigeria as far as access to credit between deserving but underserved individuals and SMEs as well as credit providers. Interswitch will be able to achieve this by means of reliable lending and de-risking engines based on customers’ transaction history and digital footprints.

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Health & Fitness

Scientists In Tanzania Discovers ‘Invisible’ Malaria Species

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Malaria is one of the greatest threat to health in the tropics. Governments and organizations around the globe are making efforts to curb the spread of malaria. However, it appears there are hidden facts about the parasite. A group of researchers in Tanzania have discovered malaria species that can live for decades in the body without manifesting any clinical signs. However, it still contributes to the transmission of malaria.

According to the study recently published in Malaria Journal, two healthy men still tested positive to Plasmodium malariae. Consequently, it made the scientific community ponder on the possibility that this malaria species can live in the body for a long period of time. The men who hail from Bagamoyo were 20 and 22 years.

The men were part of the research testing the efficacy of a vaccine. To rule out any possibility of disease, the men underwent a battery test. Speaking about the ‘invisible’ malaria species, Dr. Tobias Schindler, the lead investigator from Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute’s Department of Medical Parasitology and Infection Biology in Switzerland said,

“It is not sure if asymptomatic cases of Plasmodium malariae infections ever will develop symptoms…there are cases where people lived for decades with this parasite without any reports of malaria-like symptoms.”

Malaria species in Tanzania

There are five malaria species that affect humans and you will find all of them in Tanzania. However, Plasmodium falciparum is the most common and deadliest in Africa. Majority of malaria deaths in Africa are due to Plasmodium falciparum. The second most common malaria species in Tanzania is Plasmodium vivax. It is believed that this malaria species was imported into the country during the First World War by Indian immigrants. The other three species are Plasmodium knowlesi, Plasmodium ovales and falciparum malariae.

The scientists found Plasmodium malariae was able to live alongside other species of malaria. According to the study, it has been observed in an average of 15 percent of all malaria infection cases. Distinguishing the different species will be difficult with just a microscope. Rather, Schindler said,

“It is important to use new and better technologies such as Polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR is an attractive addition to microscopy for confirmatory identification of Plasmodium spp. in clinical specimens, which are better at detecting disease, even when there are very few parasites in blood.”

Challenges to the fight of malaria

Tanzania has made great strides in combating malaria. For example, the incidence of malaria dropped from 18 million to 5.5 million annually between 2008 and 2017. Consequently, this has led to the prevention of 60,000 child deaths annually.

However, there are still lots of challenges that impede the fight against malaria. First, public health centers lack the facility to diagnose and differentiate the malaria species. Majority of the current techniques cannot detect malaria when they are in very low levels in the blood. Secondly, highlands are cooler and uninhabitable for malaria species. However, with global warming, these areas can become breeding grounds for the vectors. Dr. Fredros Okumu, the director for health at Ifakara Health Institute explains,

“Increasing temperatures, however, could transform many of these areas into stable malaria zones.”

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Raising The Bar

Nigerian Teenager Sets New Academic Record

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A Nigerian-born teenager is making waves with her academic achievement. Tobechukwu Phillips, a high school student of Alvin High School smashed a 125-year old academic history of the school. Phillips graduated with a 6.9 GPA after earning A’s throughout her stay.

Miss Phillips’ accomplishment breathes fresh air to the image of Nigeria, a country tainted by corruption. Consequently, she was the first Black valedictorian in the history of the school. Talking about her achievement Philips said,

“Maintaining the highest GPA in my class is a difficult task. It truly takes time management but more importantly acknowledging what you do it for. I know that I am no longer just representing myself.”

A brief history of Alvin High School

Alvin High School opened in 1894. However, it was not until 1965 before African-American students could enroll. Alvin High School was the only high school in Alvin Independent School District (ISD) until 2006 when Manvel High School was established. Besides academics, students of Alvin High School also participate in different sports including basketball, baseball, and football.

Alvin High School serves Liverpool and Alvin as well as unincorporated parts of Brazoria County. According to an online source, the school currently has approximately 2,800 out of which 86 are black students. Tobechukwu Phillips for a long time will be the face of Alvin High School.

What next for Tobechukwu Phillips?

There are other interesting aspects of Tobechukwu Philips worth talking about. She is a Rho Kappa Honor Society, a Sunday school teacher, an AP ambassador, and the president of the National Honor Society. Phillips also has tremendous achievements in volleyball and track events. Jennifer McGraw, Phillips’ track coach describes her as “an excellent student from a loving family”.

Tobechukwu Phillips displays her certificate

Tobechukwu Phillips will attend University of Texas’ Nursing School on full scholarship by Full-Ride Forty Acre Scholarship. There were about 4,000 applicants for the scholarship. However, only 16, including Phillips were selected. She hopes to one day own her own clinic as a pediatric practitioner. In a word of advice to other colored students, Tobechukwu Phillips said,

“My biggest advice to other scholars of color is to truly adopt the mindset of Rosa Parks — ‘No.’ Do not conform to the stereotypes that have held us under thumbs for so long. Do not be discouraged when someone speaks out against you, simply allow what they say to fuel your fire. But more than anything, do not remain tight-lipped. Stand up for what you believe in and take it upon yourself to be the change you’ve always wanted. Say ‘No’ to the ways of the world and stick out.”

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Money Matters

The Njangi: An African Financial Support System

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In tough financial times when banks are failing and the systems we trusted before are no longer reliable; in times when money is scarce and financial responsibility enormous, I reflect on an age-old system of money management that is used to this day. A community-based system that has supported families through tough times, stretched meager incomes allowing parents to educate their children; giving others great opportunities to develop their lives without the total dependence on any banks or major regulatory system.

The Malians, Algerians, Moroccans and several other French-speaking African countries call it “”. Liberians and Ghanaians call it “”. In Nigeria it is known by many names but “ajoh” and “” seem to be widely used. In Cameroon “” and “” carry the same meaning.

The variety of names conveys the diversity of the beautiful African continent, however, the underlying principles that have been handed down many generations to guide this process are not new.

How it works

In Cameroon as in other parts of Africa, the Njangi helps individuals save money. When done as a group it gives access to large amounts of cash loans with little or no hassle. With major institutions having stringent guidelines for borrowers, especially those who may have recently migrated into the United States, njangi, sousou, pari and tontine have stepped in to provide some much-needed financial relief.

Whether it is a group of friends, an alumni association or just a handful of family members, some Africans have historically pooled their resources together to help each other achieve financial dreams. The detailed requirements may differ across countries, ethnic or cultural groups but overall, the process is built on a high level of trust. Njangis also provide an avenue to meet friends or family members, socially.

Take the example of a group of 10 friends who have formed a social group and njangi with a monthly meeting. Every month they each decide to bring in $500. Members could increase their stakes. Two members decide to bring in $1000 each instead of $500. That means there are 12 ‘hands’ of $500 each. The group, therefore, has $6000 at each sitting. In some groups, members may cast ballots to decide the order in which they take home the funds.

In other cultures, the hosting member takes home the funds and hosting rotates to a different member’s home each month. On the day of the meeting, everyone brings in their contributions and the first member takes home a cash packet of $6000. This process will rotate each month for a year to consume the 12 ‘hands’ of the Njangi. Each time a member takes home money, the member is said to have ‘chopped the njangi’. The two members whose contributions are doubled will have two opportunities to take home money. They could negotiate with other members on the collection times. In some larger groups members “chop” or borrow funds on a bi-weekly or even a weekly basis. The Njangi term is consummated when all hands have been chopped and the group can start over.

How it is used

Some groups use Njangis as a support system or investment club. They require members to leave behind a token whenever they collect funds. For instance, instead of taking home $6000 as in our example, each member leaves behind $50 which will be saved in a group account and could be used to invest in a mutual fund, visit a sick or bereaved member or some other purpose.

In some variations of this process, all funds pooled together can be borrowed. Some situations warrant the borrower to present some form of collateral such as a car or a house especially when the stakes are higher. In other cases, one or two members will have to surety a potential borrower. Trust is the dominant factor in groups practicing the Njangi.

Njangi funds have helped Africans achieve the dream of owning a home. They have also been used to pay tuition bills, buy a car or relief an immediate financial crisis. It has helped many Africans save as it creates a level of discipline since the funds are actually a loan and must be repaid.

Some Njangi groups are actually set up for investment purposes. Every time the group meets, they put money down and when a project comes up, they all go into the project as a group. Njangis have helped some African Entrepreneurs thrive and has been the stepping stone to low or no interest borrowing that has propelled many African businessmen and women into much higher gains.

Njangis could be compared to a secure line of credit. It could also be likened to an investment club. There are many Africans in the Diaspora who will laud this process for their financial success today. Njangis have the added benefit of developing deep and lasting relationships while achieving financial growth and independence.

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