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Woman behind the OKoa Stima concept

Shoe Heaven
 Safaricom's Julia Obura during the interview. The default portal for Safaricom customers to access their Kenya Power accounts now has over 300,000 registered customers. (PHOTO: BEVERLYNE MUSILI/STANDARD)

Has power supply ever gone off while you are taking a hot shower or in the middle of an interesting movie? And upon checking you discover that your tokens have run out and you don’t have cash to buy more. It is for this reason that Safaricom rolled out Okoa Stima, an initiative that offers a one-stop-shop for electricity needs.

The joint initiative by Kenya Power and Safaricom enables users to pay power bills, buy tokens and get an emergency power top-up, then pay later.

The service is accessible to mobile phones through *885# at no cost. However, the loan comes at a fee of 10 per cent, payable in seven days. Its is the little known Safaricom Call Centre Team Leader Julia Obura who is the brains behind the Okoa Stima idea. This latest default portal by the mobile network, has made her stand out as a star among her 4,600 colleagues as well as across the country.

She initially envisaged the service as a way to help customers borrow money to buy electricity tokens and pay later. Ms Obura started from the lower cadre as a customer care representative at Safaricom, seven years ago.

She then volunteered to be a trainer with the human resource department to induct new customer care representatives, before moving to quality assurance department as an analyst. Currently, she is overseeing a team of 18 in the customer care department. The mother of five - two boys and three girls - was inspired to come up with Okoa Stima initiative based on customer feedback she received while at work.

“One day, when I was working as the lead for the day, I kept receiving complaints from customers that they were not getting their tokens. There was a problem and they were calling Safaricom instead of calling Kenya Power, yet the problem was with the power utility firm,” she explains.

 Brand image

It was from those constant complaints that she came with up with a solution. It was Okoa Stima.“I wondered why Safaricom couldn’t buy tokens in bulk and re-distribute them or have them in the system so that when Kenya Power system were down, we could easily make them available to customers. I was thinking more about brand image than revenue,” she says.

Eager to get her idea out, she documented and uploaded it onto the Zindua Café portal at Safaricom. This is portal where Safaricom staff submit their innovative ideas. The ideas are vetted by an independent team for viability. If the project is viable, employees are guided through various other stages, to the point where the idea is launched at scale.

One day, Obura got a call and was asked to go and substantiate idea. This was in June 2013, and the idea was given the go ahead. Ms Obura, together with a team of experts and a mentor were assigned, and together they perfected and fine-tuned the idea. “We went through all the necessary documents. We used to have conference calls every morning to discuss what should be included in the product, what should be scrapped, the pros, cons and partners involved,” she says.

The product has been operational for the last one month and so far, Obura is gratified with the reception it has received among Safaricom customers. The default portal for Safaricom customers to access their Kenya Power accounts has over 300,000 registered customers.

“Okoa Stima gives customers accessibility anytime as well as convenience. Imagine you are in the shower and then power goes off, you can’t run to the shop because maybe you are broke at that time. With this product you can get the tokens from your phone and get power back. Not everyone can have money 24/7,” she explains.

 Credit Reference Bureau

The service is available to both prepaid and post-paid customers. Customers can borrow from as low as Sh100 to a maximum of Sh1,000 for pre-paid customers and Sh2,500 for post-paid customers.

“To be eligible, you have to be someone who pays bills specifically to Kenya Power. If you have been blacklisted by the Credit Reference Bureau, you are ineligible. We will not give you a loan if you have not been paying your bills,” she says.

Obura’s joy comes from knowing her idea is meeting the demands of many. “I’m happy that my idea came to fruition. I pray to God to enable me come up with many more ideas and projects that will touch and make a difference to the lives of many,” she adds.

She was garlanded and awarded with vouchers. “I’m grateful for the trainings and exposure I have received since I came up with this idea. It will go a long way in enhancing my creativity and thinking outside the box,” she says.

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