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An estimated 2 billion people in the world have no access to banking services, and miss the various benefits having a bank account offers. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has launched a blockchain-powered mobile payment platform to enable them to access banking services.
You, the reader, and I have ATM cards. We also have credit cards, phone banking facilities, Internet banking facilities, and access to various savings instruments. We don't think much about these, we expect these by default, because we have bank accounts. According to World Bank estimates, for 2 billion people in the world, the reality is starkly different from ours, so much so that they can't think of these even in their distant dreams. If you and I need a loan for buying a new car or home, we go approach a bank. These other 2 billion people can only get tiny loans from predatory lenders, at interest rates so exorbitantly high that they may even be trapped in a life-long bond of slavery. A vast majority of them are fighting an uphill battle against grinding poverty, and are heavily concentrated in the developing countries. It's a major failure of the global economic and political systems that such a vast portion of global population can't access something as basic as banking services.
Sometimes, the national governments intervene, for e.g. the Government of India (GoI) has launched a national mission for financial inclusion on August 2014. Called Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana (PMJDY), i.e. Prime Minister's People Money scheme, it has been a successful program, resulting into opening of 310 million bank account for Indian people who never had access to a bank. However, the global problem is too vast for one or two national governments to solve. Businesses and communities have also stepped up to the plate at times, and have come up with innovative solutions. A case in point is the success of M-Pesa, a mobile money platform, in Kenya. Here again, scalability of the solution is not up to the desired level, because there is lack of interoperability between digital financial services and mobile payment platforms. This prevents a vast majority of world's poor to benefit from these solutions. The financial services companies face a strange dichotomy. To overcome the lack of interoperability, they need to invest heavily in technology, but if they do so, their services will become very costly, and the poor of the world can't afford them. If a technology solution can overcome the lack of interoperability, and allows digital financial services companies, as well as the mobile payment services companies to build their services around it, or integrate their services into it, then the technology side of the problem can be resolved.
The Gates Foundation has resolved the lack interoperability with their Mojaloop payment platform, powered by blockchain. Mojaloop is an open-source mobile payment platform. It's built on Ripple's Interledger technology. Interledger is an open protocol to send payments across different ledgers, and this is what addresses the interoperability aspect. The underlying blockchain technology secures it. Blockchain is a distributed database where every computer, also called node, has the full and latest information present on the blockchain. Blockchain is comprised of multiple block records, i.e. 'blocks' linked by a protocol, and to modify a blockchain, a new block must be created, since no existing block can be deleted or updated. Creating a new block is done using a process commonly called 'mining', which is essentially solving a cryptographic puzzle. A 'miner', i.e. combination of specially designed hardware, special-purpose software, and their user, runs a massive number-crunching operation, at high speed. This is in an intensely competitive environment, since miners are rewarded for successfully adding a new block. A miner can add a new block only after providing proof of work (POW) before other miners, after completing the above-mentioned number-crunching operation, and getting consensus from the majority of the nodes in the blockchain. Such complex process of updating blockchain makes hacking blockchain economically non-viable.
Mojaloop will work in the following way:
The foundation has been working on this since 2015, as part of their Level One Project.