April has been a great month for technical team building at the Mojaloop Foundation. Not only did we sign up James Bush as our engineering director, but we’re also welcoming our new technical director, Sam Kummary.

Sam has been working in software since 2005 and has an extensive track record in financial inclusion projects, including technical leadership roles at ModusBox and Infitx. He has also spent many years as part of the Mojaloop community and was part of the team that worked on the very first iterations.

We caught up with Sam during his second week when he kindly made some time to tell us about his experience and his new role.

Connect with Sam on LinkedIn >

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

I’ve always liked solving problems and improving efficiencies in systems: moving things ahead and sorting out things that don’t work, or that are holding teams back.

I grew up in India in the countryside, and in school I was into mathematics, science and physics. After that, working with computers became a logical progression.

During college, I worked on projects in areas of network security, sensor networks and operating systems fundamentals. After I got my Master’s in Computer Science at Kansas State University, I worked in operating systems core features, several software integration and maintenance projects as a software engineer involved with various aspects of the software development lifecycle (SDLC). Then I got involved with organizations working towards financial inclusion, and I’ve been fortunate to stay in this space.

I’ve been involved with Mojaloop and LevelOne Project since mid-2016 starting off as a senior developer and solution architect when I was part of the initial team that developed the reference implementation that later became Mojaloop. I was also involved with translating the API Definition document of the FSP Interoperability API into an OpenAPI / Swagger definition.

With Mojaloop I’ve been involved in several aspects of the eco-system: technical delivery, release train engineering support, work-stream leadership and co-ordination, community support, API maintenance (CCB), DevOps, security, tooling support, and general maintenance.

Tell us about your new role with the Mojaloop Foundation. What will your main responsibilities be?

This being a new role, I believe it’ll evolve with input and feedback from the community, various stakeholders, and the needs of Mojaloop. But to start with, I will look after the release management side of things for Mojaloop while coordinating with the governance groups involved in this. I’ll be working on defining various aspects of releases such as the cadence, the new features that will be included, what the details are, and what the support systems will be like in collaboration with Product Council and the DA.

That is one of the primary aspects of my new role, but there are several other things as well. I’m going to continue to be involved with the Mojaloop Change Control Board, which is the group that is like a gatekeeper for the Mojaloop family of APIs. I’d like to continue to bring in the various special interest groups and interested members from the community to continue working on the Mojaloop APIs. We’ll be evolving them and responding to the various change requests and solution proposals from the community members and implementers.

Additionally, there are a few work streams with which I’m closely involved, doing coordination and oversight: Mojaloop core and maintenance (as co-lead), Open G2P & G2PConnect, Fintech-Sandbox, merchant payments, and international payments addressing. I’d like to continue working on those with the specific teams and stakeholders from different companies and community members.

I’d like to continue to offer general oversight and community support as well, by offering pull-reviews or reviews in general, answering questions via tools like Slack, our community portal, and GitHub.

In your opinion, what have been some of the Mojaloop Foundation’s most significant accomplishments to date? 

I would say the fact that Mojaloop has developed such a large community (over 700 contributors) over a relatively short time period is one of its biggest achievements. All this occurred while realizing (in the form or API standards, production-quality code) an idea that was only introduced widely in 2016, and solving the complex problem of implementing a payment switch/hub and supporting systems.

I’ve seen other systems, including other open-source systems, which have good communities —  but those are used at a massive scale, like Linux. With systems like Mojaloop, you wouldn’t normally expect such a large community, because any country or market that has an implementation might have one or a few at most. Considering that there are about 197 countries, that’s not a lot.

It’s also a big accomplishment that our community operates on a community-led, consensus-based approach and uses well-built community protocols.

Mojaloop has a lot of passionate individual contributors and organizations that are part of the system including members who are part of the Mojaloop Foundation. Having passionate people supporting and driving financial inclusion is another big strength.

I also think that some of the technical standards and community standards we have are huge strengths. The open-source technology that we use, made available with an Apache 2.0 license, is something that enables anyone to use Mojaloop. While we encourage people to give back the changes and fixes that they make, they’re not obligated. Anyone can just take Mojaloop and implement it as they like. Being able to give adopters that freedom, I think, is another big accomplishment.

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

If a country picks a payment system, its lifetime can range from a few years to decades. So it’s a very slow-moving market. The process of bringing in a new system is very long because they want to first make sure that it fits with the market.

Most of the time, technology is not the issue; there are many other considerations such as regulations, bureaucracy and policy making. Of course, this being a financial technology, it takes time to get stakeholder trust and buy-in for the system. In our case, it also includes acceptance of using open-source software, and openness to use a system that was developed by others, as opposed to a private entity or an entity in that particular market based on their specifications.

Fraud is a big challenge as this is a financial system; it comes with the territory. Resistance to change in general and new technologies is also a big challenge, especially in a well established domain such as banking/payments.

So there are several challenges. We offer mitigations to most of them, but some still remain, especially from an adopter’s perspective.

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

Mojaloop itself is very exciting for me, but a few specific things stand out.

First is the social impact. There are not a lot of places where the work we do has a tangible and immediate impact on people’s lives. Furthering the goals of financial inclusion and knowing the significance it is having in many countries, has been a big motivator.

Secondly, its exciting to stay at the cutting edge of technologies and standards. I think it’s great that we get to try out and use the latest and best of technologies that improve our systems in efficiency, security and even simplicity.

Apart from that, its also fantastic to work with a diverse and widespread group of contributors working towards common goals, all across the globe and meeting every few months to discuss updates, work done and ways of solving new challenges. Being part of the group of people helping with the general direction is highly motivating.

What keeps you excited to help further the Foundation’s mission? In other words, what gets you out of bed in the morning?

The fact that I’m working in a place where the things that I do have a direct impact is not just a privilege, but also a big responsibility.

If we are fixing a problem now, it might be very minor from the technology standpoint, but if it improves the trust in the system and helps drive adoption, that’s hugely important. Also, making sure that that process works end to end to deliver this value to real-world users is important to me.

In the recent Mojaloop community event in Zanzibar (October 2022), the Tanzanian Instant Payment System (TIPS) team and their partner teams took us on the Walk the Loop tour on the streets of Zanzibar and showed us a couple of shops where the peer-to-peer and other transfers were working based on a digital payments system built by local teams, using Mojaloop.

For me, this was where the work we are doing became real. We can see that what we’re creating can help people, especially the unbanked, who are not reachable by traditional financial systems.

Previously, when some users needed access to financial services, they would need to take a day or half a day off and walk to a bank of financial institution. Now, it’s in their phones. They have an option to get paid or make payments for utilities or others such as school fees. These kinds of things offer real value to people and make quality-of-life improvements. Having this kind of real-life impact is very motivating.

Connect with Sam on LinkedIn >