The Global VC

Emerging Impact Is Bringing Decentralized Finance to Mobile Money Networks

Mobile money is enjoying explosive growth, which is setting up demand for a wider range of financial services in markets from Kenya to the Pacific Islands and beyond. 

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Clayton Bryan

Clayton Bryan

Partner at 500 Global





Advanced economies offer plenty of opportunities to grow wealth in different ways. But nearly 2 billion people worldwide are still unbanked, and untold numbers lack access to basic  financial services and investment instruments. 

Mobile money is helping change that, building bridges for people in emerging markets who struggle to access adequate financial services. Mobile money is enjoying explosive growth, which is setting up demand for a wider range of financial services in markets from Kenya to the Pacific Islands and beyond. 

That’s where Emerging Impact comes in. It’s a platform for decentralized finance, or DeFi, that’s creating new products and services interoperable with existing  mobile money networks like M-Pesa, Airtel Money, MTN Money, and Digicel MyCash. Through their DeFi platform and digital wallet products, Emerging Impact wants to enable new access to financial services in hard-to-reach markets covering billions of people. 

The Nuts & Bolts

Problem: Mobile money allows people without bank accounts to receive, store, and spend money using a mobile phone. There are currently over 300 mobile money providers worldwide, most in Africa. Globally, there are more than 1.2 billion registered mobile money accounts that process a total of $2 billion daily.

These providers increase access to money and basic financial services, however their systems can be limited. The fundamental usages of money are preserved, most notably transactions, but more sophisticated applications—such as investing and lending—are in nascent forms. For those that do allow for savings accounts and loans, like M-PESA, consumers have to overcome high paywalls and loan interest rates upwards of 100% annual percentage yield (APY).   

Solution: Emerging Impact is enabling access to innovative new financial services by enabling emerging market fintechs, NGOs, and banks to easily develop DeFi tools that are interoperable with mobile money accounts. As a core use case for crypto, DeFi has the potential to disrupt financial services with new services created on public blockchain technology, which cuts out intermediaries, increases transaction speeds up to 1,000x, and brings down transaction costs by up to 15x.

Emerging Impact’s first product, called Umoja, is an open banking platform for mobile money. Initially built on the Celo blockchain, the Umoja Money API empowers NGOs, development banks, and emerging market fintechs ​​to offer blockchain-based savings, lending and insurance products to entrepreneurs in emerging markets. Additionally, EI’s partners can white label their retail and merchant wallets to access hard-to-reach customers by SMS, WhatsApp, and Android smartphones. 

Umoja allows anyone with a mobile phone to access commerce, banking services, and international aid, which enables organizations to deploy financially inclusive infrastructure in hard to reach areas. Umoja’s wallet works on feature phones and is interoperable with existing mobile money networks such as M-PESA, Airtel, MTN Money, and Digicel.

The result is a purpose-built ecosystem offering competitive banking products interoperable with the existing mobile money infrastructure that over a billion people still rely on today. 

Getting to know Emerging Impact

Emerging Impact’s team has the makeup to do something potentially big here, offering blockchain expertise and product design excellence alongside a strong track record in the NGO world. 

CEO Robert “Robby” Greenfield is senior program manager and engineer with 10 years of experience in the blockchain space (yes, since 2011). Previously, Robby  co-founded ConsenSys Social Impact, the social sector vertical of world renowned Ethereum development studio ConsenSys, and also co-founded the world’s first social sector consortium in the blockchain space – the Blockchain for Social Impact Coalition.  

Advisory Services CEO,  Sandra Uwantege Hart has 10-plus years of experience in the international humanitarian sector and has worked in the finance sub-sector for several years. That includes time at the UN World Food Programme and Oxfam International, as well as with the EU as a blockchain expert, and the Global Blockchain Business Council. She has field experience delivering payments in dozens of locations where Emerging Impact is targeting customers.

Chief Product Officer Jon Lewis has been designing and bringing world class products to market for over ten years. He’s a three-time startup founder, recipient of Apple’s “App of the Year” award in over forty countries and previously served as founding product designer at ConsenSys, where he worked with Robby. Jon brings a human-centered design approach to Emerging Impact to ensure that customers in developing markets have access to world class product experiences. 

Why now?

We’re at the opening stages of mega trends around both mobile money and crypto, creating a truly global opportunity for Emerging Impact.

Mobile money is witnessing eye-opening growth across emerging markets. Sub-Saharan Africa is the biggest market, with 548 million registered mobile money accounts (up 12% YoY) and $490 billion in transaction value (up 23% YoY). Meanwhile, markets such as East Asia and the Pacific are growing fast, with 243 million registered accounts (up 24% YoY) and  $111 billion in transactions (up $34%). Latin America and the Caribbean have 39 million registered accounts (up 38% YoY) and $19 billion in transactions (up 30% YoY).  

This comes as technology-first financial services in the DeFi ecosystem are on an unprecedented bull run, offering an opportunity to deliver sophisticated financial services globally. Simultaneously, there’s notable momentum in the corporate landscape around equity, inclusion, environment and impact on a global level. 

The future of Emerging Impact

As new financial innovations rise, Emerging Impact is building bridges between communities that have largely been locked out of mainstream finance. The company’s breakout product suite, Umoja, is positioned to capture enterprise customers and millions of consumers across developing countries. For the developing world, the Umoja product stack offers an end-to-end solution for every stakeholder in the DeFi value chain.

Today the startup is actively partnering with international NGOs, financial service providers and governments to deliver open banking and decentralized micro-finance in markets where mobile money is growing rapidly. In addition, the company has secured global partnerships with Oxfam, Care, Hope for Haiti, Cardano, Consensys and Celo, fortifying the on-and-off ramps that typically restrain DeFi companies from reaching their full potential. 

As the DeFi ecosystem evolves, we see Emerging Impact positioned to capitalize on a truly global opportunity. 

You can learn more about Emerging Impact at:

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Clayton Bryan

Clayton Bryan

Partner at 500 Global

Clayton Bryan is an early stage venture investor and operator. Currently a Partner at 500 Global, Clayton has spent time at some of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley. He has built expansive online communities, scaled marketplace businesses, and facilitated million dollar deals. At Yahoo he worked on award winning products. Later, at Payvment, he helped a team pioneer a new set of tools that started the social commerce movement. With Diversity as a guiding principle, Clayton has spent the entirety of his career within venture capital focused on supporting underrepresented founders. In 2016, Clayton and four others launched a non-profit organization, Transparent Collective, tasked with coaching and connecting underrepresented founders with investors. Companies to have gone through Transparent Collective's program have raised tens of millions of dollars in early stage financings. Clayton has invested in over 30 companies, including Printify, Public Goods, Silk+Sonder, Blue Wire, Fintor, Neon Financial, Hamama, EcoCart, JusticeText, Pariti, and Kiira. He Received a Bachelors of Arts in Political Economy from The University of California, Berkeley and his Masters of Business Administration from The Stern School of Business at New York University.