Omidyar Network and the Mojaloop Foundation: Responsible Technology to Expand the Digital Economy

by CV Madhukar on May 20, 2020

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Q&A with Mojaloop Foundation Director CV Madhukar, Managing Director, Beneficial Technology, Omidyar Network

 

With the launch of the Mojaloop Foundation as a charitable organization that will support the deployment of the Mojaloop open source software, the initial Sponsor members will take on the responsibilities of providing financial, technical and legal assistance to ensure the health and growth of the user community. One of those Sponsor members is Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm whose mission is to create a more equitable economy, promote responsible technology that improves lives, and discover the emergent issues that will shape our future.

We recently interviewed the Omidyar Network Managing Director of Beneficial Technology, CV Madhukar, who will serve on the inaugural Mojaloop Foundation Board of Directors.

 

Tell us about your organization and how it will align with the Mojaloop Foundation and its mission.

Madhukar: At Omidyar Network, we have thought deeply about opportunities and safeguards in the digital economy. Our work to advance Good ID in the past three years, and our extensive engagement with a range of actors in several geographies, has helped us learn more about these issues. Digital identity and digital payments are interlinked; the digital economy requires a robust, interoperable payment system that runs off the rails of digital identity. Furthermore, we believe the edifice of a resilient digital economy should be built on robust digital infrastructure –responsible technology, appropriate safeguards and governance architecture.

As such, we are well-aligned with the Mojaloop Foundation’s vision of a global, open source interoperable, inclusive payment architecture with digital trust. Digital trust is established from a series of deliberate actions putting individual and societal benefits at the heart of tech and policy design. We distinguish this as good tech and not just tech for good.

Like the Mojaloop Foundation, we believe all forms of digital infrastructure should be designed with an open and transparent process for developing the architecture and code; privacy-by-design principles; developers from around the world to engage and build open source code in a community, continually upgrading the code, and nudging others to build systems that are interoperable; and a private sector ecosystem that will access the open source code and build custom, robust solutions for countries to use.

And we also believe these efforts must be complemented with good policies to appropriately regulate data; tap industry experts to help states with adequate governing capabilities, knowledge and capacity to enforce regulations; protect the safety of individuals, and provide checks and balances that are appropriately considered and monitored to minimize harm.

These are bedrock principles that are fundamental to both Omidyar Network and the Mojaloop Foundation and it’s very exciting to see those principles put into action.

 

What first brought you to the Mojaloop Foundation, and why did you decide to become a member?

Madhukar: Today, our involvement in the Mojaloop Foundation allows us to advance financial inclusion alongside our fellow initial Sponsor members. Mojaloop serves as a reference model to empower organizations creating seamless, low-cost payment systems to build them with safeguards in technology and law, enabling any country to set itself up as a robust, digital economy

This extends work we have initiated around digital identity, such as our partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, IIIT-B, and others to create the Modular, Open Source Identity Platform (MOSIP), which is an infrastructure layer that will help countries build ID programs that avoid vendor lock-in and access the latest privacy-by-design approaches.

 

Why is it important to make it easier for unbanked and underbanked people to access interoperable digital financial services?

Madhukar: Financial inclusion is at the heart of eradicating global poverty. The efforts of recent years can be accelerated with a well thought out combination of identity and financial inclusion that is safe and fit-for-purpose in the digital world. As just one example, the relatively new Unified Payments Interface (UPI) in India has exceeded a billion digital payments a month at very low costs. This has enabled micro-enterprises to use digital technology without having to pay a hefty “digital payments tax” to well-established global payments companies. The Mojaloop Foundation has the potential to make similar kinds of innovation globally scalable, providing population-scale solutions for inclusive, interoperable and secure digital financial services.

Given the nature of financial services regulation, it is the Central Bank in most countries that needs to take a significant first step by setting the regulatory framework to enable the creation of a robust and low-cost payments system. Once the regulatory framework is in place, a number of companies and banks, both local and global, can leverage the market opportunity and provide financial services to customers.

 

Given all the global financial inclusion initiatives underway, why is the Mojaloop Foundation different?

Madhukar: The Mojaloop Foundation’s open source software, Mojaloop, is conceived as a global blueprint for interoperable payments systems. It is a charitable initiative that is solely focused on ensuring the Mojaloop open source software and developer community are public goods in service of financial inclusion. The open source nature of the effort, the partnerships that the Mojaloop Foundation has put together, and the approach it is taking to scale this approach sets it apart from other financial inclusion efforts.

 

What digital payments expertise does your company bring to the Mojaloop Foundation Board of Directors?

Madhukar: Omidyar Network has developed a fair degree of expertise in thinking about safeguards for digital innovations, which are applicable for infrastructure layers like identity and payments. We have also thought about data monopolies and how such monopolies get created if adequate thought is not given, especially about what constitutes public digital infrastructure. In addition to our understanding of these issues, we have a wide network of experts, especially in Africa, who will be an asset to scaling the Mojaloop project.

 

Would other types of companies benefit from joining the Mojaloop Foundation?

Madhukar: Global payment companies, which can bring the depth of experience and engineering talent, startups who can innovate and nonprofit foundations who bring strong open source communities and governance credentials can benefit from and contribute to the evolution of the Mojaloop Foundation.