A study commissioned by Mastercard and carried out by Economist Impact has examined how population growth, digital access, connectivity and affordability is contributing to the rapid progress of super apps in the region.

The study titled ‘From online bazaar to one stop shop: The rise of super-apps in the Middle East and Africa’, educates readers on the rise of super apps, and what enables their expansion. From consumer norms to policy, the study draws on a comprehensive interview program with subject-matter experts and regional stakeholders*.

The study also draws parallels between the ecosystems that drove the rapid rise of super apps. These include WeChat, Meituan and AliPay in China a decade ago to the Middle East and Africa region. Emerging players are seeking to emulate the Chinese-born concept and create regional success stories of their own.

“With the Middle East and Africa region projected to become the most populous area in the world, with a forecast population of 3.4 billion by 2050, this expanded market presents a wealth of customer data, which regional players could leverage to add value for all stakeholders. Mastercard can be that single technology provider of choice to connect diverse players such as telcos, digital e-tailers and fintechs to become super apps by providing technology solutions, platforms and propositions that enable a superior digital experience,” said Ngozi Megwa, Senior Vice President of digital partnerships at Mastercard MEA.

The study further unveiled that locally active super-apps are proliferating across the MEA region, but larger cross-regional players remain few. Firms such as Uber have emerged as local champions, expanding from ride hailing to restaurant delivery. MTN has introduced person-to-person mobile money payments on its Ayoba app.

Likewise, the prevalence of low-end mobile phones, as well as high internet costs in the MEA, make super apps an attractive product. MEA has historically been the region with the lowest levels of connectivity as well as high fixed-line broadband costs. Mobile operators have provided the region with affordable smartphones. For people living in remote parts of MEA with poor technological infrastructure, this offers an opportunity for greater digital inclusion.

Furthermore, the harmonization of national policies remains the biggest challenge to the growth of super app presence in the MEA region. The region consists of more than 60 countries with over 1,000 languages and divergent economic, policy and cultural environments.