Jesse Moore ’01, co-founder and CEO of M-KOPA: Leading the social enterprise industry
Written by William Dahl ’25, Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team
When Jesse Moore ’01 arrived in Kenya more than a decade ago, little would suggest that he’d be named in TIME magazine as the leader of one of the world’s most influential companies.
“I had four PowerPoint slides, no money, no name, and no products,” said Jesse, now the CEO of M-KOPA. He moved to Nairobi in 2010 with his wife, Natasha.
The alumnus trusted in the power of starting small and scaling up, a principle he’s lived out in his career.
At Carolina, Jesse studied communication studies, a major only six other students shared at the University. His first job out of college was at Monitor Group, a strategy consulting firm (later acquired by Deloitte in 2013).
A desire to drive social impact shortly led Jesse to CARE, an international organization that seeks to fight global poverty. Over five years, he traveled the world for the role, including visits to Kenya. His position transitioned from a strictly humanitarian focus to enterprise solutions.
“I began helping CARE beneficiaries start businesses, make income, and be able to scale social enterprises,” he said.
In 2006, Jesse returned to school to further develop his business acumen. He was accepted into Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford, an institution known for its reputation in social entrepreneurship.
The experience clarified his vocational goal to serve those with the greatest need through enterprise.
“Coming out of Oxford, I knew I didn’t want to go back into the nonprofit space because I realized it wasn’t going to be scalable for what I wanted to do with my life,” he said. “I wanted to work in the for-profit sector on something that would make a positive impact on the lives of millions of lower-income people.”
Jesse took a role at Vodafone Group in London, a British multinational telecommunications company serving customers in Europe and Africa. Spurred by an interest in advancing cellular connectivity in Africa, he also picked up short-term contract work at M-PESA, a virtual payment service launched by Vodafone and Safaricom in 2007. (M stands for “mobile” and “pesa” means “money” in Swahili.)
M-PESA is now the largest mobile network operator in Kenya. According to the alumnus, 65 percent of the country’s GDP transacts through the service every month.
“Basically, all of Kenya started using M-PSEA,” Jesse said. “It revolutionized so many lives and was exactly what I wanted to be a part of.”
The target customer base comprised those who didn’t have the funds to open a bank account. Instead of getting rejected by banking institutions and being forced to keep cash at home, M-PESA allowed customers to save and transact with money electronically.
The company offered a playbook for what would become M-KOPA, a pay-as-you-go energy company for off-grid customers. Jesse co-founded the M-KOPA in 2010 with Nick Hughes and Chard Larson.
“We didn’t want to work for a big company; we wanted to do something that would impact millions of customers in a positive way,” the entrepreneur said.
M-KOPA uses a banking infrastructure similar to M-PESA, where customers pay electronically in “small, daily increments to use something they couldn’t afford to buy upfront,” like solar panels, batteries, and appliances.
Today, more than three million Kenyan households use M-KOPA’s solar-powered systems.
“We will never be billionaires, but we wanted to be able to do something that scale to a point where there would be billions of dollars behind it,” the co-founder said.
After closing over $250 million in new debt and equity funding this May, Jesse said the fintech platform will continue to expand into smartphone and electric motorbike markets in the year ahead.
The alumnus spoke with scholars during a 2022 Morehead-Cain Alumni Speaker Series event.
About the Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team
The Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team is an extracurricular program and internship run by the Foundation’s communications team. Scholars of all backgrounds and class years collaborate to produce multimedia content on the topics and issues they’re passionate about, as well as support Morehead-Cain’s institutional communications.
Members cover the following beats tied to Morehead-Cain’s departments: selections and recruitment, the scholar experience, development, and alumni engagement. Scholar-generated content is distributed across all of Morehead-Cain’s channels, including social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube), the Catalyze podcast, email newsletters, and the website (moreheadcain.org). The team’s audience comprises more than 3,300 scholars and alumni.
The team is led by Content Manager Sarah O’Carroll of the Morehead-Cain Foundation. If you’re interested in learning more about the Scholar Media Team, contact the communications team. Participation is a semester-long commitment.