How ‘Sex and the City’ Inspired Patricia Nzolantima to Bank on African Women
Sex and the City is a television show that has inspired and empowered many women for more than two decades. From Australia to Africa to America, fans of the show will identify as a Carrie, a Charlotte, a Miranda, or a Samantha. Dr. Patricia Nzolantima, Founder and CEO of Bizzoly, is “a Charlotte.”
Nzolantima credits the hit show for teaching her to have an open perception of her womanhood and a deep belief in her ability to achieve any career goal. Her story is rooted in her deep commitment to help women connect to financial resources. While pursuing her own entrepreneurial ventures, Patricia encountered social obstacles that prompted her to think critically about who traditional financial systems benefit. Her primary company, Bizzoly Holdings was founded to tackle some of the systemic issues women in Africa face.
Today, Bizzoly Holdings has a diverse portfolio with several businesses spanning from taxicabs to Nzolantima’s most recent and revolutionary project, M’Kento bank, Africa’s first digital-only women’s bank. Patricia is carving a path for women entrepreneurs, building them custom tools to ensure safety in transportation, security in payments, ability to get a loan, and investing opportunities. Through these initiatives Nzolantima is taking steps to make the African economy inclusive for everyone who wants to contribute and earn with fair access to resources and opportunity.
After a successful career in PR supporting an array of world-renowned clients like Nestle and Coca-Cola, Patricia was driven to start her own business. She turned to fellow female colleagues for support and guidance. She found herself asking, “Why don’t we have a network where women can discuss the issues they’re facing in their careers, businesses, and families?”
Together, they launched the Working Ladies Network with the aim of connecting women to career resources and inspiring others. Many of the early Working Ladies Network meetings were simple gatherings in which they would screen episodes of Sex and the City. The women aspired to independent, powerful lives like the fictional women portrayed in the hit show. Patricia noticed that Carrie’s writing, Charlotte’s art gallery pursuits, Miranda’s brilliant legal career, and Samantha’s dynamic love life were all sources of independence and prosperity. These are the qualities that could lift the women in her country out of their often-limited domestic roles.
She took her ideas and a business plan to her bank with the intention of securing start-up funding. The clerk declined her request due to a lack of collateral. Women business owners face greater funding challenges than men, and in Africa, the barriers are exponentially higher. Her experience underscored the significant need for banking services designed to support and meet the unique needs women in Africa face.
Nzolantima knew her experience was not uncommon, and she began to think about how she could help reduce the barriers that hold women back from starting businesses and breaking cycles of dependency. She left the bank that day motivated to address this gap in financial services, thinking, “One day I will become your competitor.”
Nzolantima’s first foray into entrepreneurship was to launch a way for women to safely travel to and from their jobs. Building on the Working Ladies Network, she launched Working Ladies Cabs, known locally as UBIZCABS, a modern cab company that employs women drivers, instilling confidence about working in a male-dominated profession. As part of a specially funded program during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the company trained more than 100 women in entrepreneurship and financial skills. Most of them now work for international NGOs as drivers.
Working with women drivers, Patricia identified an urgent need for a digital payment platform. Cashless payments lower rates of theft and crime, so to ensure the safety of her drivers, Patricia began building M’Kento digital bank, Africa’s first digital-only women’s bank.
Thanks to joint partnerships with Visa, Ecobank, and Veericash, M’Kento digital bank will support the women who are making revenue through UBIZCABS, but it also will enable other women innovators to accelerate the growth of their businesses through access to basic and advanced financial services, including transfers, merchant payments, cross border transactions, low-cost credit lines, and capital instruments such as e-shares to support their financial independence and wealth creation.
Visa is a particularly important supporter of Patricia’s UBIZCABS. Working closely with Visa and O-City, a fare collection solution designed by global banking and payments firm BPC, the business is developing secure tap-to-pay technology to digitize transportation systems in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Through both financial growth and safety digital tools, Patricia is positioning her Working Ladies towards greatness. Her goal is not for these women to be drivers for the rest of their lives; her goal is for them to become bankable and eventually, owners of their own cabs and businesses.
Patricia notes that: “We must stop throwing around the phrase, ‘women empowerment’ because it’ll just become a meaningless label. It’s about changing women’s perception. You can only change women’s lives by helping them build sustainable businesses or else they’ll run out of funds.”
For women in business, Nzolantima doesn’t believe their primary obstacle is a matter of willpower or a desire to do business, it’s a matter of accessibility to tools and resources. That’s why M’Kento digital bank will function as a platform to connect women with potential investors.
Unlike traditional banks, M’Kento will operate under policies that are more inclusive and are designed to meet the unique needs of entrepreneurs. If a woman needs more time beyond typical 30-day or 1 year-long payment deadlines, M’Kento is willing to extend these dates. Patricia says, “The bank will be the bridge between women and business.”
Perception can be destiny. Patricia is confident about her businesses’ potential to reshape and diversify local African economies. She stated, “What gives me hope, to be honest, is to see the way what we are doing is changing women’s perceptions of themselves and their lives.”
By banking on women and equipping them with the tools needed to build sustainable business, they in turn will create job opportunities that will impact their local communities. Society cannot be changed overnight, but by shinning a spotlight on institutional flaws and identifying what is essential, Patricia is certain that we can repair the systemic issues that burden women in business. The need to provide and the drive to succeed is, after all, inherent in all women– no matter your archetype, background, or geography.