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Facebook’s VP EMEA, Nicola Mendelsohn, on mobile’s impact in Africa

Astounding mobile growth has transformed the lives of millions. Facebook has had to alter its products accordingly.

Those that thrive are quick to read and act on signals of change.

They have worked out how to experiment, rapidly, frequently and economically – both with products, services and business models too.

It is what has kept companies like Facebook at the forefront of technological change. So when faced with the difficult question of how to provide the highest quality service and products to a continent historically fraught with a lack of access to the Internet, Facebook had to pivot. As Africa has had to do the same.

Since the start of the Millennium, according to the Internet Society, African Internet penetration has steadily been on the rise, from 0.78% in 2000 to 20.71% in 2014. Impressive when looked at relatively, though behind significantly when compared to the rest of the world. The African mobile phone adoption curve, on the other hand, is not to be scoffed at.

In just over a decade, the continent has become the world’s second most connected region by mobile subscriptions with 9 in 10 owning a mobile phone (smartphone adoption is slightly behind).

By 2020, according to the GSMA, an additional 400 million new smartphone connections are expected to be added.

It has fast become a mobile-first continent, suggests Nicola Mendelsohn, VP EMEA Facebook.

“There are around 100 million Africans now connected to the social network, 80% of which are mobile.”

Mendelsohn, who has spent significant amounts of time there talking to advertisers and stakeholders, explains that the level of sophistication with regards to mobile payments, in Kenya for example “far exceeds that of anywhere else in the world.”

It has handed a lifeline to those who need it most.

In some markets, “there’s no cash, you just pay for things through your mobile phone. I can’t do that in London, or in Paris in this kind of way. There is something we can learn from that.”

Another problem has been slow bandwidth speeds. Catalyzing Facebook to develop a number of products, including “bandwidth targeting and our slideshow product,” to get around the issue.

To learn more about how African mobile phone adoption has shaped the products being churned out by Facebook, watch the full video above.