Amid the COVID-19 “new normal”, a game changing and futuristic player in the internet business in the Entebbe Periphery and beyond emerged, South Shore Uganda.
Trevor Lutalo engaged in an exclusive interview with South Shore C o-founder and CEO, Martin Ssemulugo to understand how the company is improving access to Internet services in the area.
Hello Martin, glad to have you today, please tell us about South Shore Uganda, its specialization, and the services that your company offers.
South Shore is an internet company, that was founded in January 2021, The idea was birthed amid the lockdown, people needed access to the internet to accomplish different tasks. Because of that community need, and given that people were unable to move freely. The existing internet providers were quite expensive, we figured out a new way, a whole new concept whereby we avail internet to people in their localities.
We identified a cheaper internet service provider, I had been using Lyca Mobile for a month and saw a significant saving on internet expenditure. I saved about 70%, and felt the urge to share the solution with other people in the community. We then set up our maiden serving point bearing in mind that the points needed to be accessible and in public areas.
We enrolled and became re-sellers of Lyca mobile sim cards, data, airtime, mifi routers and also offer sim card registration services on behalf of major telecoms. In only one year we have been able to expand to 10 serving points across the area, with 3 mobile teams that provide similar services. In the due course we have been able to add more services such as Utility bill payments, tax payments, passport payments among many other services, back then people would commute long distances to access these services but now we have been able to bring them closer. We have also been able to understand that the education sector is very underserved when it comes to internet service provision, actually we undertook an internal survey which indicated that 60% of internet users in the country use the internet for educational purposes.
How is South Shore impacting the youth in your community?
Here in Uganda there is a huge challenge of generating economic growth and providing employment for youths. Research also shows that approximately 400,000 Ugandan youths enter the job market annually to compete for approximately 9,000 available jobs. Here in Uganda there is a huge challenge of generating economic growth and providing employment for youths. Research also shows that approximately 400,000 Ugandan youths enter the job market annually to compete for approximately 9,000 available jobs.
Kindly mention some of the major challenges the company has faced till now.
Like any other startup, we have been through a number of challenges but we could not let them define us, for starters we have been operating without a designated office owing to limitations in funding, our meetings and briefings are held in public parks, so we have endured rain and the scotching sun operating on streets as well for months and still pushing on.
Some of our partners like Lyca mobile that has the cheapest data rates are not yet widely spread out in various parts of the country, hence we get challenged when customers move to areas with poor or no network.
Still there are always cases of power failures to telecom masts and towers, that we have no control over.
However, we are the ones to explain to final consumers on behalf of telecoms.
But from all the challenges presented to us, we have been able to stay up and running on limited revenue that we mint from our customers, and I am sure if we keep going this way even the sky cannot be the limit.
How do you see the company and the industry in the future ahead?
The internet business is on a fast rise, and everything now revolves around the internet across all sectors, many will be forced to adapt in the near future. Our role as South Shore is to enable the process, meanwhile the internet is developing with a new breed of a new generation of young people.
In this new decade 2021-2031, we are all increasingly becoming reliant on mobile devices i.e phones and computers. Its the first of its kind in Africa and it has been accelerated by the outbreak of Covid19. Now like never before, the dream of the African youth is to have a smart phone and i think the internet presents a great opportunity to this young continent and its people. Internet and phones are now essential to modern day life.
Many people forget that we skipped many trends in technology to reach where we are now, tech breakthroughs are happening faster these days than any other time in the history of this country and continent.
A lot is coming from from 5G wireless technology to machine learning, to 3d printing to advance robotics, crypto currencies, new technologies are transforming the world in ways that Africa wont be spared too and as a company in the year 2022, we are considering to partner with companies that can enable us provide the basic devices such as phones and laptops to our customers at affordable terms.
Even now, you need internet before you even need food, most people don’t realize this, but that’s one of the reasons we are passionate about what we do and the dreams are bigger than what you see us doing.
As South shore we hope to expand our services to Mobile Money agents in this new year, and we hope to enroll as many as we can, through this we can reach more people as we create another stream of cash flow for them. Our future relies on enabling access to cheaper internet and gadgets. We want to help people embrace the new normal fully, Covid-19 can not be a hindrance to growth.
Why the need to realize sustainable and affordable internet for everyone?
A recent study by the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) states that Uganda has the highest priced internet in East Africa. The cost of acquiring one gigabyte of internet is at $2.6 compared to its East African counterparts. The high cost of internet discourages the adoption of online learning. Additionally, the government also imposed a 12 percent excise duty on data which further increased the cost of data in July 2021. Although it was indicated that education data would be exempted from this tax, there was no policy put in place to support this and it is also unclear how data meant for education services will be differentiated from data for any other purpose.
Relying on the fact that schools have been closed for over two years, parents and schools have been forced to shift education to online platforms putting over 15 million learners out of school unlike in other countries, where internet is more accessible. This need formed our model, to improve access to the internet for learners, but so much more needs to be done. We are in talks with our partners locally and internationally to see that we are able to provide subsidized internet packages tailored for schools and learners and as well see the possibility to provide gadgets such as smartphones and laptops.
South Shore’s impact in the community:
The company is built around the communities of Entebbe Sub-district, it has created employment for youths in the area. Gateway News talked to some of the youths employed by the company and as well as community members that are beneficiaries of their services.
Rehema Mutesi, a 19 year old student spoke highly of her time working with the company. ” I joined as an ordinary teenager, but I have now earned a new skillset in regards to marketing,” she said
“I believe I can make a career for myself in the tech world, for the future is going to be digital. I am grateful for the opportunity availed to me by South Shore as an agent. I have been able to support myself and keep out of bad company.” Mutesi added
“Enrolling for their services amid the covid-19 pandemic presented new hope for my business,” revealed Benita Judith, who owns a baking business in the area. “I have been able to display my products online and get genuine leads, with the cheaper data bundles we have been able to stand strong amid the lockdown.” she added