October 3, 2018 / 11:57 AM / 2 years ago

Kenya's Safaricom loses head of Alpha innovation lab

An employee assists a customer to set-up M-Pesa money transfer servive on his handset inside a mobile phone care centre operated by Kenyan's telecom operator Safaricom; in the central business district of Kenya's capital Nairobi, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya/File Photo

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kamal Bhattacharya, the head of Safaricom’s innovation lab has left Kenya’s biggest telecoms company less than a year and a half after he joined.

The former long-serving IBM executive left last month after leading Safaricom’s Alpha innovation unit since April 2017. Bhattacharya told Reuters he had left to focus on a technology start-up which involves the education sector.

“(Bhattacharya) elected to leave the company to pursue other interests effective 7th September”, said an e-mail sent to Safaricom staff and seen by Reuters on Wednesday. The message did not give any details about plans for the innovation lab.

Bhattacharya presided over the piloting of a social messaging app that will link to its widely used mobile money platform Mpesa in an attempt to move the company into the application business.

Alpha, which was set up in 2017, has not announced any other pilot products apart from the app, which is called Bonga, meaning ‘chat’ in Kiswahili.

Safaricom is 35 percent owned by South African group Vodacom and 5 percent by Vodacom’s major shareholder, Britain’s Vodafone.

Reporting by Duncan Miriri; Additional reporting by Maggie Fick; Editing by Maggie Fick and Alexander Smith

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