Gates Foundation Platform Secures Digital Payments for the Unbanked

New open-source Mojaloop platform for creating payment platforms is designed to help unbanked people around the world access online financial services.

Mobile.banking

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is not only getting creative with its software development projects, it’s also getting creative with names for them.

The Seattle-based organization has released new open-source software platform called Mojaloop for creating payment platforms designed to help unbanked people around the world access online financial services.

There is a rather large, ready-made market for this software: According to the World Bank, an estimated 2 billion people don’t have bank accounts, but they still need to send and receive money and pay bills.

Mojaloop, released Oct. 16, is designed to be a model for payment interoperability between banks and other providers across a country’s economy.

Digital Financial Services Now Available in 100 Countries

Making financial services available to the poor is cost-prohibitive for many businesses because they struggle to invest adequately in new IT while maintaining a commitment to low-cost, inclusive services. This has led to a prevalence of consumer payment options that are out of reach for many people in developing economies, or which limit customers’ ability to transact across products, banks and borders. These and similar challenges have dissuaded many companies from expanding into developing markets altogether.

However, thanks to basic cellular services, there has been a significant measure of success in some regions. For example, in Kenya an estimated 194,000 households have moved out of extreme poverty due in part to their access to M-Pesa, a mobile money platform, and users’ ability to save money more effectively.

Digital financial services are now available in nearly 100 countries according to GSMA, an organization representing mobile network operators. However, global expansion of these services—especially to the world’s poor—has been hampered by a lack of interoperability between digital financial services and payment platforms, Kosta Peric, the Gates Foundation’s Deputy Director of Financial Services for the Poor, told eWEEK.

“Many unbanked people have simple cellphones, ones that have call and SMS functions only,” Peric said, “and their functions are limited. It’s like people with smartphones only being able to talk or text to others on the same carrier they have. We’re enabling cross-connections among more than 90 services.”

Mojaloop: Model for Cross-Connected Services?

Mojaloop can be used by financial institutions and commercial providers to simplify and reduce the cost of developing inclusive payment platforms. For example, Mojaloop can enable an individual’s digital wallet to connect with her employer’s bank account and her children’s school account to complete monthly transactions. The code can also be applied to adapt and improve existing services, Peric said.

“Just as the internet revolutionized digital communication, open-source solutions like Mojaloop can spark innovation and democratize access to digital payments,” Peric said.

Mojaloop was created in partnership with fintech developers Ripple, Dwolla, ModusBox, Crosslake Technologies and Software Group. It uses new-gen technology such as the Interledger Protocol, software that settles funds among multiple providers across their individual systems. Peric contends that this is the first model that can help extend interoperability from mobile money providers to any bank, merchant or government institution.

Mojaloop includes four components: an interoperability layer, which connects bank accounts, mobile money wallets, and merchants in an open loop; a directory service layer, which navigates the different methods that providers use to identify accounts on each side of a transaction; a transactions settlement layer, which makes payments instant and irrevocable; and, components which protect against fraud.

Mojaloop Won't Be Owned by Gates Foundation -- or Anybody

The software will not be owned or implemented by the Gates Foundation. It will be used in the foundation’s ongoing work to promote the development of pro-poor, digital payment platforms.

Mojaloop was created by the Gates Foundation’s Level One Project, which is aimed at leveling the economic playing field by building inclusive payment models to benefit the world’s poor. Alongside Mojaloop’s development, the project also brought together four mobile systems companies—Ericsson, Huawei, Telepin and Mahindra Comviva—to develop an open API for mobile money interoperability. These APIs will allow mobile money providers to integrate seamlessly with Mojaloop and products built from it.

Mojaloop is available now, free of cost, for software developers to adapt and banks, financial service providers and companies to implement. The code can be found at GitHub. Visit leveloneproject.org for more information.

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor of Features & Analysis at eWEEK, responsible in large part for the publication's coverage areas. In his 12 years and more than 3,900 stories at eWEEK, he...