The Winners Of The Merchant Mobile Money Challenge

It’s an exciting time for the Level One Project at the Gates Foundation. We’ve just announced the winners of our first Grand Challenges Exploration (GCE), which focused on promoting wide spread acceptance of mobile money by small merchants. This group of nine includes a diverse set of approaches and ideas to products, merchant services, technologies and models that will be developed and incubated in a number of countries, including Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Each of the winners obtains a 100,000 USD grant to help them refine and build merchantout their idea. Congratulations!

The idea behind this GCE was to provide a forum for those who are willing to think outside the box to help drive merchant acceptance of mobile money – one of the most relevant and critical enablers to a healthy and robust digital economy. Good ideas need a sandbox to grow, and the GCE is all about providing these ideas with the support and independence they need to be successful.

I want to say thank you to every organization that applied (we received a total of 304 applications from 30 countries!) and I want to encourage you to continue exploring outside the castle.

To learn more about the nine award recipients, please visit

2014 Was A Positive Year For Financial Inclusion

(This post was first published on Ericsson’s M-Commerce blog)

In 2014, we saw solid indicators that governments are taking financial inclusion seriously. It is increasingly seen as a tool for improving poor people’s lives, and we witnessed concrete progress in many countries around the world.

On the importance of financial inclusion as a key governmental objective, I’ll use the examples of India and Pakistan, where I have been recently involved – among other countries – but many countries are taking similar and ambitious measures.

In the last six months of 2014, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) eliminated major regulatory barriers to digital financial inclusion, clearing the way for a big expansion in digital financial inclusion in 2015-16. These include:

  • Payments Bank regulations: RBI issued new regulations that allow companies with significant distribution expertise (including mobile network operators) to offer deposit accounts, payments, and cash-in/out services as a stand-alone business.
  • RBI also removed the Know-Your-Customer (KYC) requirement that customers must provide proof of their current and permanent address for opening a bank account.
  • The bank also partnered with India’s telecoms regulator to require mobile network operators to provide access to banks’ USSD channels for mobile banking.

Also in 2014 the Indian Prime Minister Mr. Modi launched the Jan Dhan Yojana (JDY) financial inclusion scheme with the goal of achieving 100% financial inclusion by January 2015. The program is a big opportunity to digitize India’s government payment flows. Indeed, in support of JDY, Prime Minister Modi embraced the Aadhaar digital identification system and 720 million Aadhaar numbers have now been issued.

We also saw encouraging developments in Pakistan, where the Finance Ministry and State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) took several major steps to expand digital financial inclusion:

  • The National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) and SBP signed an agreement to reduce NADRA’s biometric verification fees for mobile accounts. SBP agreed to harmonize biometric KYC across mobile accounts and SIM cards.
  • Finance Minister Ishaq Dar gave a major speech announcing the government’s commitment to digitize government payment flows, join the Better Than Cash Alliance, and chair an Inter-Ministerial Council on Financial Inclusion.

Financial inclusion is a journey and 2015 will be another important step to completing the mission. I hope that we will soon see the first countries embark on a coordinated “all hands on deck”, multi-sector and multi-player program to connect, one by one, the hundreds of millions of people whose lives will be changed by relying on digital and safe payment and financial tools.

Share your thoughts below!

Getting To The Point – Digital Payment Platforms For New Economies

Here is my keynote at the recent “Get to the point” payments conference in Auckland, New Zealand.

The subject is very close to my heart: digital financial services platforms that are scalable, secure and affordable for poor people – in one word, inclusive.

What are they, who do they serve, how to deploy them in countries such as Nigeria, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Indonesia? What are the barriers to their deployment? Who are the key stakeholders to work with? All these questions, and more, are answered in this 20 minute video. Included is a video clip envisioning a society empowered with digital financial services.

Humanitarian Innovator

Humanitarian Innovator – this is how Mindjet has referred to me in their “INQ” magazine recently (registration required to download it), listing me on their “Innovation’s Heavy Hitters” page.

It is a first and it does highlight, in a very short and elegant manner, the “why?” of my job and the core belief driving it.

Thank you!




Digital Disruptors

Erik Kruse and his Networked Society team at Ericsson have been publishing a number of reports, under the common theme of “Industries In Transformation”,  about how the hyper-connectivity brought by the internet is changing the business landscape. These reports are of very high-quality, well researched and documented and an easy read – the home page for the initiative is here.

The latest report in the series is titled “Digital Disruptors – Models Of Digital Operations” and focuses on how companies should organise themselves to operate in a digital environment, serving hyper-connected consumers and customers. I love this subject and have talked and written about it in my previous Innotribe work and my current job at the Gates Foundation. Erik Kruse and Jan Unkuri, the editor of this report, have been kind enough to reach out to me and incorporate some of my themes in the report.

I’m honoured to be featured among many other people with a very wide range of expertise and industries. I’m also excited to see how some deep themes resonate across this last report but also the entire series –

– open innovation and the change to internal culture it brings, the subject of my book

– user centrism, and specifically the notion that consumers are more and more in control of how services are provided to them, rather than being forcefully managed by providers. This is the Vendor Relationship Management idea promoted by Doc Searls. The idea comes from a book Doc co-authored back in 1999 with Rick Levine, Christopher Locke and David Weinberger. The book is called “The Cluetrain Manifesto” and I recommend it – it is still very fresh today!

– reducing friction. “Every single step that you put between the customer and the actual function is friction”. Yes- every superfluous click will drive customers away. This means that companies will have to “cut” their services in pieces that can be combined by consumer according to their needs – this includes combining business “pieces” from several different companies. The technology enabling this is called the API (application programming interface) and I have written about it previously.

Enjoy reading and let me know your thoughts.

PS: another fresh thing about the report is it doesn’t mention Bitcoin. Rare enough to be underlined these days ;-)


Connecting Hundreds Of Millions People To Digital Financial Services

David Birch and I recently met and had a nice, leisurely chat about financial inclusion and my work at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Yes, the ambition is to connect hundreds of millions of people to digital financial services.

And we also explored how digital identity can unlock social as well as financial inclusion.

The podcast is here (excellent listening for your workout or commute)

Always a pleasure, Dave!