Game Changer — Propelling Grameen Foundation into the world of Open Finance
How Keyko and the Celo Alliance for Prosperity built the solution that enabled Grameen Foundation to deliver Humanitarian Aid to 3,500 Micro Entrepreneurs Using Celo’s Blockchain.
Recognized around the world as a pioneer in microfinancing, Grameen Foundation’s enviable mission is “[t]o enable the poor, especially the poorest, to create a world without poverty.” Humbled by the opportunity to support Grameen in their Open Financing aspirations, Keyko welcomed the chance to provide expertise and contribute to their honorable goals.
For those that may not be aware, the Grameen Bank is a micro-financing development bank started by Muhummad Yunus in 1976 with the ambition of providing uncollateralized loans to the disenfranchised, especially women. The approach was revolutionary at the time and ended up providing the template for many other micro-financing operations around the world. It’s under these principles that the Grameen Foundation was started in 1997, in order to evangelize the same approach taken by Nobel Laureate Professor Yunus, and catalyze Grameen Bank replicas around the world.
Given this backdrop, when the Celo Alliance approached Keyko to help architect and lead development on a disbursements app based on Celo’s Web3 Open Finance technology for the foundation, we dove in without hesitation.
The use case was incredibly compelling, both from a technology perspective and from an operational / organizational one. The challenge was two-fold:
- How could Celo be used to ease the transparency, traceability, and fidelity of Grameen’s disbursements?
- How could this technology be integrated into the traditional business processes and workflows of a large, multi-national development bank?
We’re proud to say that we successfully managed to address both of these issues due in part to our familiarity with Celo and Web 3.0 tech in general, and our team’s prior experience implementing large scale data systems in some of the world’s largest financial institutions.
Development Banking & Disbursements: An Abridged Overview
The world of development banking is a complex business characterized by the distribution of funds, often public, earmarked for large scale initiatives such as infrastructure projects. Due to the nature of the work and business processes, this type of financing tends to be extremely opaque, often going through innumerable counterparties, intermediaries, and middlemen. Unfortunately, this can lead to problems in fund allocations that can have knock-on effects resulting in potential misappropriation of funds and corruption, not to mention inefficiencies in transmission and superfluous fees.
The remedy to this is what’s commonly called Disbursements. Disbursement involves the act of tracking proposals, agreements, completions, and remittances for work performed on a project. Traditionally these processes are manual intensive, requiring small armies of people to manage the minutiae of each workflow. Consequently, large institutional funding vehicles like development banks have difficulty with disbursement tracking, task completion provenance, and invoicing fidelity.
In Grameen’s case, the solution to this problem was to leverage the high fidelity provenance and attribution capabilities of the Celo network to improve the overall disbursement activities for all counterparties involved. With the recommended solution, important activities in each project’s lifecycle — from work proposal to work completion, validation to payment remittance — could be digitized and tracked on-chain. This, in turn, results in a workflow and associated business processing that is more trustworthy and streamlined than its traditional alternative.
What We Did — Solution Overview
With the knowledge Kekyo gained from working on the core protocol and in helping launch Celo Mainnet, the team was able to come up with a novel approach and architecture utilizing many existing network components and functionality with minimal change.
The core application, called “Grameen Connect”, consisted of three primary components:
- The Project and Entity Management component for tracking funding projects and “unmasking” blockchain entities to make them visible in the Flow of Funds dashboard. (See Fig 1.)
- The Flow of Funds dashboard where the user is able to see all the transactions that occurred during or after a funding project. (See Fig 2.)
- The Disbursement module with integrated transaction functionality where the user is able to disburse funds to beneficiaries via the application. (See Fig 3.)
We used highly scalable cloud infrastructure and combined it with real time data from the Celo blockchain. This modular architecture enables massive scalability while also maintaining retrievability of the current state from the blockchain. The result was the creation of a unique capability to transact on the immutable layer.
The solution architecture consists of three primary pieces: (see Fig 4.)
- The persistence layer for project and entity data, secured by a login.
- The frontend that aggregates and displays the data from the different backends. The frontend works along with the Celo network interactivity and transactability (i.e. retrieving live balances and disbursing funds in real time).
- The Celo software stack to retrieve historical transaction data via https://explorer.celo.org/ and to get an entry channel into the network to dispatch transactions.
What We Did — Product Development
With the above architecture definition, we were able to build an application that amplifies the open nature of a blockchain. On the Celo network, all the transactions are public and visible to everyone. This helps to create an application enabling users to manage funding projects and disburse funds in an open environment, and to drill down into a project’s operations to understand overall project performance.
We worked closely with Celo and the Grameen Foundation to define the requirements of Gramen Connect. During the process we applied an agile methodology, defining an MVP and proactively prioritizing work based based on shifting needs and priorities. In one instance, the team realized that it was impractical to require users to operate from the command line to disburse payments. Consequently, this functionality was added to the workflow. The result was an operational model that allowed all of us to work together in a highly coordinated manner and minimized the time required to reach production.
Unmasking Blockchain Entities
The most significant achievement of the disbursement transparency dashboard is the ability to add real names to blockchain entities. For the solution, it does not matter if the actor is an individual account or a smart contract as long as it has an address. This was accomplished by combining on-chain and off-chain cloud storage leveraging data, in a privacy-preserving manner, such that only the actors with explicit access are able to unmask these blockchain entities. All other users of the application see only masked entities.
Once an entity is unmasked, all diagrams and transaction lists use the associated entity information to display an actual user name instead of their address. This gives the user a holistic view of how the funds have been disbursed, sent, or spent while some actors are still masked and might remain masked in perpetuity.
Entering the Crypto Space — Onboarding Users
All disbursements are made with Celo USD stable coin variant, cUSD, under the hood. This requires Grameen and the beneficiaries to be onboarded into the crypto space in order to actually perform disbursements or spend funds.
Beneficiaries receive their funds upon disbursement via Valora, Celo’s wallet app, that is connected to the Celo blockchain. The Grameen Foundation also used the Valora app to transfer their funds to the Grameen Connect’s internal account system which enabled them to use the disbursement functionality of Grameen Connect to start funding projects and do disbursements.
Grameen Connect — Transparency for Real World Disbursements
The result was the launch of an application, Grameen Connect, that allows the Foundation to more seamlessly issue and track disbursements, including the first use case in which Grameen used the application to efficiently disburse $75.5k to 756 different beneficiaries.
If you’d like to learn more about the application or see a demo, feel free to enter the Keyko Dōjō.
Building Grameen Connect was a collective effort with numerous stakeholders and experts whose contributions were invaluable, including the Grameen Foundation, cLabs, Altonomy, Anchorage, and BeamAndGo. Special thanks to the cLabs team for orchestrating the project and letting the Keyko team focus on what it does best: buidl.
Celo is a mobile-first, open-source ecosystem of technologies, organizations and individuals that all share a common mission of building a financial system that creates the conditions for prosperity for everyone. The Celo ecosystem includes a decentralized, proof-of-stake blockchain technology stack (Celo Platform), a native asset (CELO), a stablecoin (cUSD) and the Celo Alliance for Prosperity, with over 100 organizations around the world, including Andreesen Horowitz, Anchorage, Coinbase, GSMA, Mercy Corps, Grameen Foundation, Prosegur, Abra, and cLabs, a service organization dedicated to growing and developing the Celo ecosystem. For more information on Celo, please visit celo.org.
About Grameen Foundation
Grameen Foundation is a global nonprofit whose mission is to enable the poor, especially women, to create a world without poverty and hunger. In collaboration with our partners, we harness the power of digital data to create tech-forward tools for self-sufficiency and deliver them through local Community Agent networks. The Grameen Foundation Model is transformative regardless of Internet access, smartphone ownership or the ability to read. (www.grameenfoundation.org)
Keyko is a Web 3.0 solutions provider offering integrated decentralized solutions and advisory for enterprise and startups. We thrive on providing organizations and individuals insights into this emerging digital world where capitalism and ownership are being profoundly rethought.
If you would like to know more about our services or are interested in having a chat please reach out to us on firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website here.
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