by Briana Marbury, CEO and President Interledger Foundation
Before jumping into the opportunities identified through Open Payments, let’s first talk about what it is. If you google the phrase, search results will show a national database related to the US healthcare system. However, the Open Payments related to this article is much more wide-ranging than the US, and has the potential to affect the lives of billions of people. Today, many people have been able to benefit from the great advances in technology including the ability to pay bills online, receive payments, and transfer money with relative ease. However, this convenience falls outside the reach of 1.4 billion people in the world who have been left outside the scope of service for traditional payment systems such as banks. Obtaining and maintaining a bank account is nearly impossible for a huge swath of people, including those in the United States and other nations considered technologically advanced.
In economically depressed regions around the globe, large financial institutions made a conscious decision to exclude low income areas that didn’t meet certain criteria, including the ability to maintain a minimum balance in an account. They determined it was an insufficient return on investment to establish operations in these communities. However, alternate means for transacting was created with the invention of mobile money, where people use their phones to be able to transfer money. Suddenly, people were able to transfer money between themselves and small businesses. Within 15 years of its creation, mobile money has seen an explosive growth among underbanked communities, and those small micropayments deemed unworthy by banks now account for $1.2 trillion per year in transactions worldwide. This is a glaring example of how finding a way to provide services for everyone benefits the whole of society.
At the Interledger Foundation, we’re attempting to take this initiative a step further. Mobile money providers have filled an important gap, but the fact is they only allow people to operate within their proprietary systems. As a result, transactions are limited to areas where a mobile money provider is located. Imagine a world where transactions are not limited to particular banks, mobile money providers, or even borders? Imagine a world where payments are open. There’s limitless potential to not only uplift individuals, but economies of entire regions.
Open Payments allows the transfer of funds regardless of its form or currency by using the Interledger Protocol (ILP). ILP has the ability to move fiat currency, such as USD or Mexican Pesos, and complete the transaction faster and more inexpensively than current systems in place. Faster transaction times, meaning funds are transferred almost instantaneously. No longer do people have to wait 2-3 days for the funds they may desperately need access to, to show up in their account.
However, we’re not a for-profit company and we don’t sell a product. Our singular motivation is to empower people and communities to have equal access to digital financial services, so we simply provide the software for other’s to build solutions on. The Interledger Foundation is a nonprofit grantmaker whose mission is to build equity and inclusion within an interoperable global payments network. We envision a world where sending money is as easy as sending an email, and everyone, everywhere, has access to digital financial services.
We recognize this is a lofty goal which has many complicated factors, and one that cannot be achieved alone. In my experience, the best answers for community related problems come from those living in, and facing the challenges firsthand each day. Too often, I’ve seen companies enter a space with a top down approach and prescribe a remedy to an issue they have a limited purview on. Also, too often, aspiring entrepreneurs from marginalized groups with viable solutions to issues plaguing their communities, are overwhelmingly passed over for funding in lieu of businesspeople from more affluent backgrounds. As an example of how stark the disparity is, in the United States only 2% of total venture capital funding goes to Black entrepreneurs, according to Crunchbase.
To level the scales as much as what’s in our ability to do so, inclusivity is not just an initiative at ILF, but is woven into our proverbial fabric. We approach our grantmaking with intentionality and seek out entrepreneurs, developers, and innovative government agencies who have incredible ideas around access and inclusion to partner with us. We offer opportunities to people who have previously been told “no,” for no other reason than because they don’t have the right social circle. By expanding our view and pivoting away from traditional funding models, we’ve been able to make tremendous strides across the globe since we began operations a scant three years ago in 2020. We don’t operate like a typical foundation. My hope is we never will.
Briana Marbury. CEO and President of the Interledger Foundation (ILF), a nonprofit organization committed to expanding digital financial inclusion to vulnerable populations. ILF invests in organizations, communities, and entrepreneurs working towards the shared goal of enabling interoperable and frictionless payments around the globe.
As CEO, Briana leads the strategic vision of the organization. Bringing her own firsthand experience with navigating the challenges associated with the lack of equitable financial access, Briana brings her skills, values and lived experience to the crucial work of enabling communities to create and lead their own financial futures.