Earlier this month we introduced you to Steve Haley, our new Director of Market Development and Partnerships. Today, we’re thrilled to make another new team member introduction. Desire Kachenje joined the Foundation as Partnerships and Grants Manager earlier this year, and she’s already been making an impact fostering connections in the community and identifying the resources needed to further the Foundation’s mission. We sat down with Desire to learn more about what brought her to the Mojaloop Foundation, what she’s most looking forward to and what she sees as the biggest challenge in the digital payments space. Read on for more.

Tell us about yourself. What has your career path been and how did you become interested in the Mojaloop Foundation and its mission?

I first become inspired to support financial inclusion when working as a consultant for the Financial Deepening Trust in Tanzania. The work that has been done there around supporting interoperability for mobile money and understanding the challenges in financial access, especially for the low-income population, made me aware of how financial access could transform lives. I then worked with a number of digital financial service providers across the continent, and it became more apparent that access to finance has the potential of opening up doors to address some of the most crucial development challenges. Digital financial services are at the forefront of meeting this potential. However, this potential can only be reached if we have the rails “infrastructure” that is not only reliable but also sustainable for the hardest to reach. Digital financial services provide opportunities to reach the largest number of people, more conveniently and affordably. Now we must focus on lessening the challenges faced by service providers, and Mojaloop, which can be used to overcome barriers that have slowed the spread of digital financial services, targets this challenge directly. I am excited about our mission, to actually reach and work with these service providers and the numerous stakeholders that can benefit from Mojaloop.

Tell us a bit about your role. What are your main responsibilities?

As a partnerships and grants manager, my role sits in the middle of the Mojaloop mission. I am focused on finding the resources to continue our work, identifying the right partners and bringing organizations together who can benefit from Mojaloop. This includes a wide ecosystem, from Hub operators, to companies that can build Mojaloop products, to those currently implementing or looking to build real-time payment systems. It also includes Governments and central banks that would like to transform their financial sector by ensuring transparency and interoperability, fintechs interested in modernizing and simplifying their operations and development partners who see the value of real-time payments in driving financial inclusion. I am working to ensure stakeholders’ interests are aligned, they understand how Mojaloop works and know where and how to access it. More importantly, I am working closely with implementors by helping them tell their success stories and share lessons learned while deploying real-time payment systems. I’m also connecting them to the right stakeholders that make Mojaloop deployments successful. At the same time, I also help all these organizations understand the best way to contribute back to Mojaloop.

What are you enjoying most about the role, and looking forward what do you hope to accomplish?

The best part of working for the Mojaloop Foundation is really the community. Our last community meeting had people from almost 45 different countries. We work with many individuals beyond those in the organization, and it’s been a wonderful experience meeting people from different countries with different sets of challenges and very unique financial sectors, but the same mission of financial inclusion. Often, my role prompts me to pick up lessons learned or best practices from one country and share with partners in a different country.

In terms of what I hope to accomplish, my goal is to help simplify the journey of rolling out real time payment systems. I hope that beyond the software itself we can capture the whole implementation journey, from identifying the right tech partners, to setting up scheme rules, testing and identifying relevant use cases and connecting and integrating digital financial services providers (DFSPs). I also hope we can have accessible experts on the ground to lead this journey. For example, if a regulator or industry association wants to deploy a real time payment system powered by Mojaloop, we can say, “here is how we do it, here are case studies from country x,y and z, these are the challenges you’ll face and these are people closest to you who can get this done.”

What do you consider to be the biggest challenge in the digital payments landscape?

Lack of enabling environments for innovation. Digital payments are driven by continuous innovation to provide solutions that meet the end users’ needs. For such innovations to flourish, stakeholders need to embrace innovation and create enabling environments to allow the adoption of these new ways of sending and receiving money. This is even more important when trying to access the hard-to-reach population. It requires a lot of room to build, test, and pivot. Digital service providers who invested in traditional legacy banking systems are struggling with the adoption of newer models, mainly because this legacy infrastructure keeps most service providers in long-term vendor lock-ins, making the adoption of innovative solutions difficult and expensive. Developers are yet to trust the potential of open APIs and regulators are still slow in creating the right policies and regulations that favor a digital economy. The good news is that this is changing rapidly. We see how many more regulators have digitization as part of their financial sector strategies and how digital service providers are more interested in collaboration and “coopetition” when building solutions. Mojaloop is perfectly positioned to accelerate these changes. Its open source blueprint removes some of the barriers that hinder digital service providers’ ability to adapt to newer payment models; including time, money and technical complexity. The code can be used to modify internal systems so that they easily interoperate with other payment providers. It allows for cheaper investments in research and development, which fosters more innovation.

What excites you the most about Mojaloop? Are there any particular projects/implementations that have caught your eye?

I don’t have one favorite project. All our projects are addressing unique sets of requirements and needs, mostly determined by the market where the deployment takes place. We work with governments to build national payment systems, with development partners such as UNCDF to create interoperability for smaller banks, with Central banks using digital currencies and beyond. All our projects are equally exciting.

Beyond actual implementations, though, is how we are working to build the talent of local independent developers within the countries we work in. The ability of the Foundation to bring together open source and real-time payments experts to provide training and capacity building is invaluable. The tools we are able to spin up to support this are also very exciting, from the Mojaloop sandbox that we deploy during hackathons to the Mojaloop Training Program that can be accessed online by anyone interested in learning about Mojaloop and Level1 projects. The Foundation aims to ensure wherever we work, we are leaving behind champions and building local knowledge that can work independently long after our projects and interventions end.

What keeps you motivated to help further the Foundation’s mission? What gets you out of bed in the morning?

What gets me out of bed in the morning is the knowledge that my effort – even just sending an email or setting up a meeting – can lead to a conversation that will then transform the lives of many. We talk about numbers and statistics every day; almost 1.7 billion people were still unbanked in 2017 (world bank). Coming from a developing country, I know these are not just statistics on a research paper but realities we live in. The COVID19 pandemic made the need for digital financial inclusion very clear. I wake up knowing these statistics can change, and I get to work for an organization that cannot only change these narratives, but also provide practical solutions and support the right people to bring these solutions to life. I’m honored to work with a great team of experts and regulators, all from very diverse communities with a mission that we can connect the underserved to this fast-growing digital economy. Building financial systems that are sustainable and affordable and therefore relevant to the hardest to reach is more than motivating, it’s continuously fulfilling.

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