Education Sector: Leading Learning Solutions Provider Longhorn Publishers Discusses Strategy

Maxwell Wahome shares his assessment of the year 2019 for Longhorn Publishers and discusses new products and projects for the publishing house across Africa. He also discusses challenges to be faced and shares his plans and vision for 2020.

Interview with Maxwell Wahome, Group Managing Director of Longhorn Publishers PLC

Maxwell Wahome, Group Managing Director of Longhorn Publishers PLC

Give us a brief summary of the financial side of your business.

The year 2019 was an exciting period for Longhorn. This was because the company experienced significant growth in its regional businesses, specifically in Uganda and Tanzania where both markets recorded about 40% growth. The main catalyst for this growth was the significant investment in developing products that were specific to each market, making adoption of Longhorn books in schools and in the open market quicker and broader.

What kind of new products have you proposed for the market in Uganda?

In terms of education technology, our vision is to become the leading innovative learning solutions provider in Africa and content remains our fundamental component, facilitated by key digital channels.

We have recently introduced primary and secondary school books developed and authored in Uganda by Ugandans. The introduction of these market-specific products has given us a good headway in the market. We have also invested more in customer engagement initiatives to help market the new content and products.

Uganda is undergoing curriculum change which started off with grades 5 to 7 and has now shifted to the secondary school level. This is a big opportunity for us and I am positive that there will be significant double-digit growth not only in Uganda but also in the Tanzanian market in the coming year.

Can what you are doing here be replicated elsewhere?

We recently visited DRC, a francophone country previously dominated by French publishing houses. The country has a population of 80 million people with 20 million being children, which is double the population of Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda combined.

Our key focus is to build the French editorial capacity by curating and distributing content and products that are relevant for the highly diversified Anglophone market by working with our partners.

How will you entrench your company in the francophone markets? Are you looking for partnerships?

In terms of education technology, our vision is to become the leading innovative learning solutions provider in Africa and content remains our fundamental component, facilitated by key digital channels.

We are looking to partner with companies that are not only well established in education technology space but also companies that develop advanced and exciting learning platforms and content across Africa. The partnerships may either be in terms of joint ventures or through acquisition.

The digital space remains a huge growth area with some companies in countries like US having stopped the printing of hard copy books. It is only a matter of time before we get to that level in Africa and we need to be getting ready for that kind of shift.

We are also looking for an ally who not only matches our growth ambition but one who will be able to grow with us. Just like any relationship, such partnerships take a bit of time; the chemistry has to be just right.

What is a specific example of one of your projects?

Some of the content that we have been developing over the past 6 months have been interactive digital materials for the new Competency-Based Curriculum in Kenya.

We have made it possible for children in Kenya to access interactive learning content from their iPads, tablets or desktop devices. The new activity-based learning content is presented in an interactive and engaging way that cannot be presented in a hard copy book.

We are also planning on introducing a localised corporate learning platform targeted at individuals working in corporates. This is an addition in our digital revenue streams.

Do the children have the tools available to use this interactive content? Is it widespread or more elite? Do you have partnerships with device makers or with NGOs?

About five years ago, the Kenyan Government had a very ambitious plan of delivering digital learning content to schools which saw them deliver up to about one million tablets. Since then, private institutions such as IBM and Samsung have come onboard to provide these devices.

The devices and the connectivity are not an issue. The main thing is for us to deliver value, then people will buy the content.

Currently, Kenya’s smartphone penetration is one of the highest in the region. The foreseen trend for sub Saharan Africa is that smartphone penetration will only grow if we deliver value with quality content.

What are the main challenges that you are facing now?

The main challenge is the acceptance of the new way of delivering content. The publishing industry is known to be very traditional as most readers are used to consuming hard copy books. Moving away from books is not necessarily what we are trying to achieve because books will always be there, but we need to make readers appreciate the new way that value is being delivered.

For example, there were very few smartphones in Kenya four years ago as users did not see the value in using them. That industry has since boomed, with the emergence of numerous Fintech companies that have allowed users to borrow funds via their mobile phones.

As long as there is value in the content that you are delivering, its adoption will only take a matter of time. At Longhorn, we will not only continue to create value but also continue looking for partners who can help us scale up in developing innovative learning content.

What other projects are you working on?

We recently launched Longhorn Language Services which offers high quality, accurate and professional language services to companies and individuals in Africa and the rest of the world.

Operating in Africa in general is difficult for foreigners because of the language barriers brought about by a wide variety of indigenous languages. We currently have close to 2,000 indigenous languages in Africa and we are proud to inform you that Longhorn Language Services can translate and interpret any of them.

Being part of a big network of translators goes a long way in creating more value for our business which is centered on content.

We have already developed content in over 20 indigenous languages over time. Someone sitting in their office in Russia can now get a document translated into a local language in Uganda. The Chinese and Europeans have tried to enter this market with the new democracies that have come up across Africa and Longhorn Language Services is coming in to provide that bridge across Africa. This is a huge area for us to enhance our business and bring in a new revenue stream.

Is this done through manual translators or does the client send the text and a program translates it?

There are various ways of how this is done. First, there is the translation of documents which is the easiest because we have a platform where you can send the documents and we will allocate our experts to translate.

For more advanced projects, we would recommend that you hold a workshop. In some places in Uganda for example, people may only understand indigenous languages like Luganda. How will you then communicate your messages in those countries? In such cases, we will bring in our pool of translators and equipment. The translators can facilitate the service effectively.

We have already done this with our client, COMESA. Africans love their indigenous languages and if you want to make an impact in Africa, you must communicate in the native languages of the African people.

For example, there are 150 million Kiswahili speakers in Africa now. A number of countries such as South Africa, DRC and Rwanda are now adapting Kiswahili as an official language within Africa. How will you do business in Africa if you cannot converse in Kiswahili? Kiswahili will be the key language to communicate in within Africa in the next couple of years.

We are the largest Kiswahili publisher in Africa, making this an alternative revenue stream that goes hand in hand with our mission of expanding minds.

What are your plans for 2020? What do you want to develop?

We want to focus more on francophone Africa including Cameroon, DRC and Senegal. We would also like to build more capacity within our editorial departments, especially bilingual capacity with French and English as it is not as common in this part of the market.

Building this capacity is key to our growth in francophone Africa. We also want to focus on the new segments of digital and language services. There are 2,000 indigenous languages in Africa and this is big business for us.

Many people are coming to Africa and Africa is now open for business. So, we need to be able to communicate and carry out business in a flawless, seamless way.


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