My Northern Experience with Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo.

My Northern Experience with Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo.

My Northern Experience is pleased to engage with our senior brother Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo who is a successful figure in the business world. He is the man behind the popular MTN QWIKLoan and other interesting financial products. 

In other for members to have a fair idea of who our guest, he will be taking us through his personal life before we get to the business of the day which his aspirations and perspectives on Northern Ghana.

As an ice breaker who is Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo?

Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo: 
Arnold is a proud Ghanaian who has been in search of himself and has acquired some experiences through that journey. I consider myself the consummate northerner. I was born in Nandom (where I come from), spent my early childhood in Bole and went to primary school in Tuna. Proceeded to Yendi for JHS and then went to Wa for SHS.

During my SHS I lived with my parents in Nalerigu and Gambaga and then in Bolga during Uni. All of that experience definitely shaped me as a person.

Kindly take us through your life journeys capturing education, experiences growing up, accomplishments and your sources of inspiration and support.

Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo: 
Like most people from the north I started working right after SHS. My first job was a pupil teacher and then I went into insurance sales. I used the resources I got from the sales from Insurance to pay for my tuition in KNUST.

When I graduated from KNUST I was doing so well in my sales that I was invited to do my service in Accra with a new department called – Special Market. And during my insurance sales days I began to write a book on insurance sales which I managed to publish during my national service. I was retained in StarLife where I used to work but was poached to UT Life which had just been acquired.

At UT I was again poached to a consumer finance business called AFS at the time, it became AFB and is now trading as Letshego.
I started as their Senior Sales Manager and before long there was a major strike asking me, the country manager and the national sales manager to resign. We managed the process and I was given a seed money of $100,000 to prove the hypothesis that unsecured credit was possible without credit history and without any assets to fall back on. The model worked and was exported to Kenya and then later to Tanzania. I was therefore asked to go and set up those operations before coming back to Ghana.

Later on I was invited to Tanzania to look at the possibility of replicating the unsecured loan concept on mobile money. That was what gave birth to QWIKLOAN and then later AhomkaLoan and XpressLoans on MTN mobile money.
Whilst at school I decided to get my MBA and then after that I figured why not just do a doctorate so that I can complete the chapter on education. So in short there you go.

Kindly share with members how those experiences shaped your personality and your perspectives about life and what to look out for?

Dr. Arnold KaKavaarpu:
I came out of a hunger and a desire to improve my circumstances so nothing actually could stop me. There is always this defining moment in a persons career. For me the point when I realised that I could do anything happened when I was selling insurance. Whilst selling insurance for instance, I started off by walking and then to buying a bicycle. We could ride from Bolga to Sandema and to Fumbisi and through Kpasenkpe to Wulugu and back – of course over a period of a week or 2. We slept everywhere from Assemblymen houses to pastors to tea sellers.

When I bought my rubber rubber (scooter) I felt undefeatable. I did the 3 northern regions in 3 months going to every school, office, police station etc I could find. From Pwalugu to Binde to Bunkpurugu to Yendi to Bimbilla to Salaga to Yeji and back to Kintampo all the way to Hamile. So even as I was in School I was among the top 10 sales people country wide.
I think I have gone on to take that attitude forward. I am usually the minority in the room and I am not afraid to be head or to set bullish goals for myself and my team. This is where I think the fire in my belly came from.

What do you aspire as a career, why your choice of career and where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?

Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo:
In terms of career, my attitude towards it has often been that, I have a platform. What am I going to do with it? How am I going to optimise that space and what is the next platform for me.

Right now I think I have gone through the corporate ladder albeit quickly and its getting a bit boring. So it is very likely this is going to be my last job in corporate Ghana. I may want to go into entrepreneurship or go into the policy space with the UN or the World Bank.

Kindly share with members your fondest memories of northern Ghana, you can take us back to any point in your life?

Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo: 
Whilst in JHS, we lived at Nayirfong. I had friends who were children from the late Yaa Naa and most evenings we will just wonder into the palace and when the food is served just outside, we will all gather around which bowls were closes and eat. At this point, royalty and commoner became one. It was a humbling experience and I still relish this very much. It also continues to give me fresh perspectives as the days go by. I also used to pass by the regent’s house – he was much younger and extremely handsome. He will joke with me that I should bring him the drinks that I was often asked to go and buy.

Years after it has been quite interesting reconciling these very rich experiences with these great people.

In your opinion what are the reasons behind the developmental gap between the south and north and how can we bridge that gap?

Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo: 
This is an interesting question and one that I am sure there far more qualified people to answer this than me. My experience in development has been somewhat limited. But let me hazard a response here.

There are natural environmental and flow of commerce conditions that have somehow not flowed through most parts of the north. Development follows where there is a perception of wealth in the hands of the ordinary person.

There are also issues of population density which reduces the market sizes.

I see this as foundational because if there is some form of wealth accumulation, private capital will move into those nascent spaces.
So I believe the first thing is to tackle the income levels and people will be able to send strong signals to private capital to invest in those areas but in the absense of that it becomes a bit of a slow process.

But I don’t believe that this can be changed by government or NGO activity. These are palliatives but the core of it has to do with how can we get people to produce outputs that are valuable beyond the communities. Even in the north, people are importing meat from Burkina so there is a lot we can do to reshape and refocus efforts. 

Does Northern Ghana exerts economic importance that can contribute to national development, which sectors can we capitalize on and can the regions attract investments from both public and private sources?

Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo: 
One day, whilst in uni, I visited my dad at the village and he took me in and showed me bags of rice and told me that no body buy this again. People bought local rice and used it for animal feed. The north is supposed to be the grain and tuber bucket of the country but that is dependent on if there is market for what is produced.

To this, I believe that the opening up of our ports to importation of everything has caused bigger problems to us in the north.

I don’t think the north can immediately try to compete with the south on certain activities but we can focus on the fact that we have large and cheap land. Ranching is a big business in other parts of the world and large scale agriculture production is also quite a thing. This is where majority of our people operate so if we can tackle agriculture from a value chain perspective we can create sustainable livelihood leading to increased wealth and exchange of other higher end goods.
Of course the north is not a monolith, there are several nuances in both the environment and the culture but I think it is fair to say that in most communities agriculture is a major economic activity, when there is money – so much else can happen.

What’s your perception of northern culture, traditions and unique way of life? Does it wield positive or negative influence on our ways of thinking?

Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo:
I think the north have some of the best culture and traditions that I have ever come across. Up till now, when I go home, you will find old ladies parceling vegetables and groundnuts for my wife. I find our generosity to be quite universal. But like most areas with large land mass, perceptions about the other community can sometimes be a force for unnecessary tension.

We should aim to integrate more and I believe that we will continue to be seen as the beacon of hard work, honesty, generosity and unity.

Can you please tell us something peculiar to your lifestyle that was as a result of the northern experience?

Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo: 
I think all of my being has been shaped by my northern background and indeed when I am loosing touch I just go home and connect and engage with my cousins and uncles. I think the north teaches you about integrity and honesty. I believe that to succeed at anything meaningly over the long haul you need to be a person who holds principles and be able to endure some short term discomfort.

Growing up I was for instance taught never to take something that belongs to another. If I see money on the floor, I will probably call someone else to come and see and perhaps take it but I will never be the one to do so. I believe this has been my north star.

Thanks a lots for your time. Before we end the program. Your final words?

Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo: 
I am grateful for the opportunity to share my northern experience. I am a proud Ghanaian shaped by my northern heritage. I think we have a lot more to offer than the narrative and sometimes people’s perceptions force some of us to shrink to fit in. I still don’t speak Twi and I am sure I will now struggle to. But I speak my northern languages fluently. I think if we believe in ourselves, no one can make any of us feel less.


What are the reliable sources of capital for someone starting a business with no funds?

Dr. Arnold Kavaarpuo: 
In term of online so I am guessing e-commerce the first point will be to prove that your product meets a minimum viability test and then that it has potential to scale. There are several capital providers who could fund something like that. But the key thing is most investors early stage are looking for 5x to 10x of their investments when you are full scale (say you do a series round). So probably good idea to look at

1. Product market fit               
2. Technology vaiblity   
3. Market viability
4. Regulatory requirements

Agriculture is often tricky because it relies on capital close enough to where your operations are say until you reach scale. So my bet will be crowdfunding from your immidiate kith and kin.

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