Start-up solves Zimbabwe’s change problem with a mobile airtime solution

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Yo Time AdvertSince the adoption of the mixed hard currencies monetary regime in Zimbabwe at the end of 2009, the one problem that has refused to go away is that of change. Retailers just don’t have enough change to give shoppers. It’s the same situation with commuter bus operators, street vendors and just about anyone that sells goods.

The problem afflicts mostly the consumers who are forced to buy more stuff (usually candy, cigarettes or other such small items) than they intended, to round off the total amount. Either that or consumers have to accept their change in the form of credit notes printed on thermal paper. Needless to say, the credit notes are easy to lose and ink on thermal paper fades fairly quickly. If the customer doesn’t lose the credit note, the shop is still guaranteed of a returning customer as the notes can only be redeemed at the shop they were issued. The problem is extremely convenient for the retailers and this is without doubt part of the reasons it remains unresolved more than two years later.

But the solution to the problem may finally be here. A very convenient one at that.


A local mobile phone airtime startup, Yo Time, has launched a product that allows shoppers to redeem change as airtime at the checkout point. The one small condition is that the change has to be more than US 10 cents. Currently, the startup can only facilitate change as airtime to Econet subscribers. Information we have suggests subscribers on the other mobile phone networks (NetOne and Telecel) may be getting the service too in the coming weeks. The Econet network alone accounts for about 63% of the total mobile phone subscriptions in Zimbabwe.

While the service is not available at all major retail shops yet, (nor is it available in commuter buses), many leading chain supermarkets already support it. We imagine the change problem is one the retailers are not in a hurry to have resolved, but adverts the startup has published in the local newspapers so far show they have made significant progress signing up retailers around the country.

We have contacted the Yo Time founders and will be posting more information about the startup once we have it.

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17 thoughts on “Start-up solves Zimbabwe’s change problem with a mobile airtime solution

  1. nice solution, i hope it will be extended to more than just airtime, eg a “change” account would be awesome, the customer can redeem it when it reaches a certain amount and use it for something else. arise Zimbabwe

    1. This is just too nice to pass up an opportunity to comment.

      Should some startup/company arrange an agreement with retailers whereby after i buy and have change left, my change can be transferred to a virtual account that is linked to my cellphone number. No matter which shops I visit my change (in coins or dollar value i so wish) will be transferred.

      This being done at a cost of 10% or something, then I can go to any shop and not be confined to returning to a shop that i don’t frequent or prefer. I can chose to pay with this “virtual” account any amount that is in cents, have it converted to airtime or sweets, or bubble gums or pens and not be forced by any retailer into making a purchase that I don’t really want to.

    1. whilst we wait for change to be available, we can enjoy the benefits of the service, even if it becomes available, people might still want to redeem their cents as airtime. good work and good luck. 

    2. It can still work. while the Bankers association of Zimbabwe want to import US$5 million worth of coins, there is no proof people want to keep coins in their pockets, just like with the Zim dollar coins.

      So even if change becomes available, many people may prefer to just add it to their airtime account.

    3.   this is not a dissertation where you have to put in all challenges even
      silly ones to get marks. this is reality, this is business. business is
      done by RISK TAKERS and in this case whether change is there or is not
      there, the convenience is you can SAVE the little 10c to buy airtime as
      right now the least airtym u can purchase is 50c. besides such ideas can be
      iterated  depending on the changes in the business envrionment. In most
      real world business cases, what you start with is not what you end up
      with. there are many case studies of big innovations and companies and
      even artisits where the iteration of their ideas is what created
      breakthroughs for them, this is just a platform to start from.

  2. There’s been discussion about how Bitcoin digital currency could be a method preferred by customers for distributing change from their purchases when paying with cash.  It may be a little early for the concept but as Bitcoin becomes a more universal currency, this may not be such a bad idea:

  3. Nice innovation! Thumbs up to Yo Time. This is way better than receiving sweets at OK supermarket.

  4. We becoming smart (thru experience), dont forget to patent this innovation. Lets make a mark. 

  5. I don’t want sweets. I don’t want cigars. And I don’t want airtime. I want my change is $$$$$$$

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