One-line solution summary:
MiKashBoks is a full-stack digital social finance platform bringing online trust-based peer groups to save, borrow, & access value-additions
Pitch your solution.
Conventional trust models in financial access has failed a third of the world, foundationed on the ability to prove identity, past interactions with financial systems, and collateral. We believe that financial pathways and alternatives built on elements of community and social capital premised on WA's age-old practices of peer groups saving and lending is game changing.
help communities of informal workers build digital assets - financial histories from existing informal transactions in peer groups operating on trust and social bonds.
empower them, through a self-sovereign consent driven mechanism to leverage this trust for greater access to formal financial tools and public goods such as identity.
use existing community-level trust relationships as a delivery mechanism
An easy-to-use offline-first mobile app with SMS and IVR as alternative interfaces for feature phone and illiterate users. Social engineering strategies like common group feed, goal setting, gamification and nudging replicates trust and promotes engagement.
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
Financial exclusion is high across WA, example Nigeria, with 75 million excluded. However across WA, sharing within social networks is central to economic life. It is well documented that social networks like the VSLAs lead to higher financial inclusion—increased savings and access to credit—and participation.
However this integral part of our life is manual and off-grid. Even peer groups that receive support from NGOs such as VSLAs are wrought with the challenges of informality, and have limited impact on livelihood.
Poor Security - Cash stored on person and subject to theft. Ledgers and transaction records paper-based/easily lost
Can be Risky - Overreliance on a central "trustworthy" figure for governance, maintenance of group ledger, and cash balances.
Limited Impact & Siloed - Good financial habits do not contribute to an individual's credit history and ability to leverage the formal economy
Inefficient - Groups are either lacking capital to meet borrowing requirement or having idle capital limiting income and interest generating capacity
By bringing them online, in making them programmable, interoperable, and upgradeable, MiKashBoks is a full stack financial alternate path to universal social protection.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
MiKashBoks is an 18 months HCD development effort. Initial versions of MiKashBoks was developed in partnership with 500 informal workers in 20 VSLAs. The ongoing development of the MiKashBoks solution is the 2nd iteration of the platform based on feedback.
The primary impact group are informal workers regularly saving and lending in groups. MiKashBoks provides a solution to digitizing and democratizing their important transaction record and connecting them with the formal financial sector.
The secondary impact group is the larger cohort of unbanked West Africans, some 70% of economically active adults considered unserved or underserved. MiKashBoks helps them self-organize, providing a full-stack financial alternative that leverage their social capital to build financial assets.
Tangential to both groups are the NGOs, and other service providers currently lacking effective tools to solve issues of connectivity, inefficiency and identity. They can digitize transactions of groups they support, increase financial literacy, more easily partner with financial service providers, and access digital public goods through the Network Protocol - an openAPI.
The Network Protocol provides a powerful and extendable framework to connect these saving groups with external systems, providing growth and innovation opportunities, while maintaining their unalienable rights to consent, self-sovereignty, and privacy and security of their data.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Mission Billion Challenge WURI West Africa Prize and your selected dimension.
MiKashBoks digitizes and augments existing saving and borrowing practices. By doing so, it reduces risk and increases transparency and accountability. Via social engineering and behavioural analytics we deploy smart nudges, goal setting, gamification routines meant to both engage members towards their saving targets. An offline first, can be used without regular connectivity. Via its guardianship model, it also provides an SMS interface and IVR that meets the bulk of information and querying requirements of users.
Building on these, the Network Protocol connects users with external systems like identity and/or formal financial sector, serving as an escalator and a connective tissue.
Where is your solution team headquartered?Boston, MA, USA
What is your solution’s stage of development?
Who is the primary delegate for your solution?
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
Describe what makes your solution innovative.
There have been efforts by NGOs and fintechs at digitizing capital already flowing within these groups. However, these efforts have limited impact and scale because of lack of flexibility in their supported saving-lending model, irreplicability beyond narrow use cases (for example, only built for one use case such as VSLAs), inability to provide the tailored experience that each group requires, lack of an escalator to external systems, an inability to digitally replicate the important social cohesion elements.
There are infinite ways to save and lend in groups. It was important to us that the choice of what model to follow and how is not dictated by the platform but tailored by the users. As such we developed a rules engine that allows users to define rules within the platform.
An array of social engineering strategies engages and propel members towards their saving goals:
Replicate the important element of social cohesion digitally
Goal setting and progress reporting at both a group and individual level
Gamification to introduce healthy competition and drive users towards their saving goals. E.g SMS score board of top contributors at last saving meeting
Voting based consensus democratizing decision-making for groups that can’t meet in person
Smart reminders and nudges to improve contribution adherence. For example, SMS reminders of upcoming contribution or loan repayment.
MiKashboks offers a foundation on which the Network Protocol, an OpenAPI Layer and authentication framework providing integration points for 3rd parties, a set of rules governing their participation, and a consent mechanism for users to interact with those 3rd parties.
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
What is your theory of change?
Describe how 'user friendly' your solution is to incorporate into social protection programs and delivery systems in West Africa.
We are bootstrapping our relationship with users by leveraging their existing trusted relationships with local NGOs. The network protocol affords us a starting point for that, proving an authentication mechanism via which groups can consent to sharing their digital transaction history with these NGOs, who via an online self-service dashboard can manage groups they support and access important analytic to aid and scale that support.
We believe that this Network Protocol is a critical pathway to scaling social protection, as it foundations a replicable framework that other organizations can independently adopt and contribute to. Organizations can download the app, independently create networks, and add groups using this app to their network; they are then armed with real-time extensible indicators on the health of their network, segments of their network, and individual groups. Important value propositions to facilitators include, data-driven decision making, better problem identification, efficient resource allocation, and increased bandwidth.
An intuitive UX with a balance between feature completion and simplicity. We considered constraint of limited connectivity, low smartphone ownership, and low literacy levels as part of the UX constraints we had to work with:
Poor connectivity - via a offline first mobile application that provided all the necessary functionality offline, performs all operations CRUD against the local database, and syncs, transparently to the user, with the cloud
Low smartphone ownership and literacy levels - providing alternative interfaces into the platform
Explain how your solution is interoperable with existing technologies and open standards.
The network protocol consists of an Open GraphQL based API, developers platform, and myriad of developers documentation. Additionally we will publish libraries in major programming languages.
How does your solution account for low connectivity environments and for users with low literacy and numeracy levels?
Low connectivty is a lived reality of informal workers, and therefore MiKashBoks is offline first, can be used without regular connectivity and syncs transparently with the cloud when available. This reality is built into how MiKashBoks' tech stack interacts in this context such as OCR that digitizes peer group' records using snapshots of ledger.
Informal workers often own only feature phones and may not be literate, therefore MiKashBoks via its guardianship model provides an SMS interface that meets the bulk of information and querying requirements of users. This provides both on-demand access through the more readily available SMS medium but also an alternative for non-smart phone users.
MiKashBoks is intuitive to use and the wizard approach to recording meetings is built around the assumptions of low literacy and numeracy levels. However we are working on an IVR interface that like the SMS meets the bulk of the user's information and query needs but delivers this as automated voice calls and available in their local language.
Select the key characteristics of your target population.
Do you already operate in one or several countries in West Africa? If so, which ones?
In which countries will you be operating within the next year?
How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?
MikashBoks was tested with 500 users after which the product underwent significant evolution from the learnings. A partnership is in place for limited release pilot with 3000 users in September 2020; in the next 12 months, that number will grow to 50,000 as we target 5 partnerships with major self-help group facilitators in Ghana and Nigeria. In five years we will have 20,000,000 users on our platform with the growth driven not just by the value-proposition, but the social effects of its group-based nature, and key partnerships.
What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?
MiKashBoks will prioritize deployment of digital ledger for maintaining existing group transactions. These are predominantly groups already practicing group based saving with MiKashBoks promising an alternative to existing paper-based methods of recording transactions while additionally providing data democratization, social engagement, and goal setting tools.
Critical at this stage is driving engagement through institutions already with a human networks with millions of these groups. We provide to these apex institutions, via the Network Protocol, real time data and analytics, digitizing current data collection methods, helping them better scale and serve their customer groups.
This is an efficient method of acquiring users in bulk and facilitating their journeys from awareness to regular use given that these institutions, trusted by groups they support and with existing touchpoints to these groups, are incentivized to promote MiKashBoks and own the user journey
In parrallel, we will transition to positioning the platform as a viable alternative to meeting the financial requirements of low to middle income excluded and undeserved populations while helping bridge their gaps with external systems. At this stage user’s can make digital transactions and escrow their savings on the platform.
We believe that growth will be aided by the social effect of having users invite members from their social circle to participate, and they, in turn doing likewise triggering a chain reaction. Additionally, the platform based nature of the “Network Protocol” means that third parties can create value or extend their services onto the MiKashBoks platform
What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?
Country partnerships to access networks of informal workers, with entry points being community organization and NGOs already working with them.
Technical resources to strengthen the digital infrastructure of MiKashBoks, especially contributions to strengthening the ethics of data use, protection, and privacy.
A potential barrier to enabling digital transactions and escrowing of balances by users is financial regulations, especially KYC and AML that are country specific.
How do you plan to overcome these barriers?
MiKashboks will operate in a “Ledger Only” mode until the necessary financial partnerships are met. At the same time we will continue to pursue partnerships with social protection groups and NGOs. Further iterations, based on feedback and analytics, will seek to overcome barriers as they arise and we have real-world data to apply. Security testing and fraud monitoring will also be continually deployed to evaluate our digital infrastructure. Lastly, we will collect in-app feedback on privacy concerns and data protection to bring voice to users and allow us to build a framework to assess the impacts of future growth, third party participation and overall sentiments about MiKashBoks.
What type of organization is your solution team?
How many people work on your solution team?
5 full-time staff): 4 full time engineers; 1 product manager
3 advisors (volunteers)
How long have you been working on your solution?
18 months: Product Research & Dev; Pre-pilot Testing 500 users; Closed release pilot with partners 0
Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Salton is a Sierra Leonean who grew up in West African communities that relied on each other to save together and access loans from community pooled funds, and MiKashBoks is created from his immersed reality of what can be. He has a strong engineering background and Silicon valley experience, having worked as the Director of Implementation at Kiva in San Francisco. He founded and runs a social enterprise IDT Labs built around creating cost-effective digital solutions that take into account ground realities while fulfilling the aspirations of communities and individuals. His work is widely recognized for building open-source solutions that helped Sierra Leone respond to the ebola virus by ensuring that payments reached virus hotspots in a matter of hours, an intervention he open-sourced under the OpenG2P umbrella to help governments worldwide respond to the social protection needs of COVID-19 (http://docs.openg2p.org/, https://github.com/openG2P). In 2018 he was recognized as a Queen Young Leader by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
MiKashBoks has a strong team of engineers and product managers with key members West Africa, India, and the US.
What is your business model?
We provide a full-stack financial alternative for the informal sector without or with limited access to financial products and services. We augment their existing habits of saving and lending in groups by digitizing their transactions and interactions in a manner that helps them scale these practices and bridges them with the formal sector.
We deliver this through existing organizations already working at a community level with these communities at groups. In exchange for helping networks of groups they support transition from manual methods of data management to MiKashBoks, we provide these organizations with actionable insights on that network, areas of need, and scalability.
As such there is a strong value proposition for these organizations to help adoption and also for groups to uptake.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?
What is your path to financial sustainability?
For users signed up to save and lend in groups on the MiKashBoks platform, regular use is at no charge however we will introduce premium services centered around helping users make better saving and lending decisions, escrow balances and transact digitally, find opportunities, and better bridge external systems.
Third parties using the network protocol can be charged by the types of and volume of interaction with our network. E.g., self-help group facilitators charged for managing groups through a platform and external lending institutions charged for bidirectional flow of funds with groups they lend to. We provide third parties with a number of tools to interact with groups and users that have explicitly provided consent, e.g. the “Facilitator Dashboard”. And we charge per service used and usage levels. In essence the network protocol creates a marketplace that will be monetized.
If you seek to raise funds for your solution, please provide details.
Folowing 18 months of research and development, testing and learning, we are releasing the 2nd iteration of the product by the end of September along with a White Paper on MiKashBoks. This will be followed by Series A fundraising with VCs.
Why are you applying to the Mission Billion Challenge WURI West Africa Prize?
We believe that MiKashBoks has the potential to solve for exclusion by leveraging and digitizing strong social cohesions among informal workers to better equip them in crisis and for other financial needs during their lives. In creating an accessible digital space that reflects their community bonds and existing practices, MiKashBoks creates their pathways to digital assets such as identity, digital transaction histories, and the ability to access financial services.
We are applying to Mission Billion Challenge to access value-add technical inputs from Google Developers, greater visibility to create partnerships in new markets such as Ghana and Nigeria where we don’t have the funds or relationships.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?
Organizations working with informal workers to save: Community groups and NGOs like CARE International, Catholic Relief Services and World Vision who support significant levels of informal workers to organize in self-help group activities across West Africa. These organizations will be instrumental in ‘discovering’ who the informal workers are within the region and promoting adoption, and in exchange have access to real-time data and analysis that will help them scale their support.
Digitizing Transactions: Partnership with licensed mobile money and any other digital financial service provider that can provide the legal basis for transacting money, including holding funds such as savings, on the MiKashBoks platform, starting with bringing online the informal practices of savings and lending to each other through the VSLAs and OSUSU.
Formalizing and partnerships for digital identity: MiKashBoks takes the first important step to ‘discovering and enabling informal workers to transact and save. Building in ability to get and digitize identity through Government wherever foundational identification systems are available.