Umoja Labs
Published in

Umoja Labs

Bringing DeFi to the Global South

Born from ConsenSys, Umoja Labs seeks to connect the $1T mobile money market to DeFi across emerging markets

In 2017, ConsenSys introduced ConsenSys Social Impact (CSI), the world’s first blockchain consultancy purpose-built to use Web3 technology for good. Over the next 3 years, CSI would go on to deploy decentralized applications (a.k.a. “dApps”) and inclusion programs across 17 different countries including initiatives such as:

  • Hashed Evidence — A blockchain-based solution that pinpoints the location of impending airstrikes, alerts citizens to evacuate, and records immutable evidence on-chain that identifies the perpetrators of attacks.
  • Survey Assure — Transparent, worker-voice reporting solution to champion the safety of factory workers in Mexico with Harvard SHINE, New America, the Levis Strauss Foundation, and the U.S. State Department (which was the U.S. State Department’s first blockchain grant in history).
  • Impactio — An initiative that brings together project leaders, subject matter experts, and funders to solve the $2.5 trillion philanthropy gap and realize high-impact, sustainable development goals.
  • Devcon Scholars — An initiative designed to provide an opportunity for individuals from underserved communities, unique circumstances, or developing areas to engage with the Ethereum ecosystem.
  • Project Unblocked Cash — An Ethereum-based Cash and Voucher Assistance humanitarian solution enabling more speed, efficiency, and transparency in financial aid for disaster relief.

As ConsenSys Social Impact sunset in 2020, “Emerging Impact” arose to take on what seemed to be a massive opportunity — To accelerate upward social mobility of 1.7 billion unbanked people by making DeFi accessible and safe to use.

Onboarding Blockchain’s Next Billion Users

Of course, such an undertaking was (and still is) absolutely massive and far too much for any single organization to achieve, so we chose to start by digitizing humanitarian aid first, provided our market-leading experience doing so within the Project Unblocked Cash initiative.

By working with amazing partners, such as the Celo Foundation, Oxfam, Care, Hope for Haiti, World Vision, Save the Children, Agri Wezesha, and Coinbase Giving to deploy crypto-based aid programs, we developed an entire payments suite dedicated toward enabling rural communities to access emerging technology (i.e., the Umoja Payments Suite). In doing so, we proved that blockchain-based wallets could be used in under-resourced, rural environments and that such technology could markedly improve last mile mass-payments by making them 100% transparent and nearly 1,000x less expensive than mobile money.

However, as multiple pilots were deployed around the world, including within Kenya, Haiti, Ecuador, Venezuela, Vanuatu, and Tanzania, new pain points emerged. Rural consumers and merchants needed wallets that could work on feature phones and the ability to off-ramp to local payment methods, such as cash or mobile money, from the stablecoins that were custodied in their digital wallets. A massive lack of access to savings and credit also lingered — as transfers alone do not enable social mobility.

The fact of the matter is, DeFi, as it is today, with all its governance tokens, lending protocols, and digital collectibles, fails to address the more pragmatic needs of 50% of the world’s population who live on less than $5.50 a day.

It seemed that the initial mission of Emerging Impact to accelerate the pace & transparency of digital aid was limited in its ability to ensure that aid recipients could become less financially vulnerable. Though products like the Umoja Management Suite and the Umoja Wallet had obviously solved a pressing need to facilitate transparent, expeditious humanitarian aid, in order to evolve into products that enabled the economic empowerment of the end-user, on & off-ramps and access to DeFi savings and loans through those wallets is still very much needed.

Connecting the Global South to DeFi

To ensure that DeFi works for everyone and not just those yield farming or speculating, our team is seeking to connect 1.35 billion mobile money users who transact over $1 trillion in value to the $250B+ DeFi market growing at 88x per year, starting with low-cost payments, high yield savings and decentralized lending. Now that we have built fundamental payments tools purpose-built for the Global South, it is time to augment our focus in developing on & off-ramps between virtual currencies and emerging market fiat so that underserved consumers can more easily connect to DeFi protocols that focus on increasing financial access.

At the beginning of April, we unveiled the Umoja Money API, a stablecoin-focused on & off-ramp API connecting countries throughout the Global South to the DeFi ecosystem. We are concentrating our initial focus on sub-Saharan Africa, and then expanding into Southeast Asia, parts of the Caribbean, and parts of Latin America. Our focus is to

  1. streamline access to stablecoins to re-assert our mission to make DeFi pragmatic and not just speculative and;
  2. connect to as many major mobile money networks as possible to ensure the inclusion of nearly 1.35 billion mobile money users worldwide into the Web3 economy.

If your organization is interested in expanding into emerging markets, or is based in one of the countries that we support and looking to minimize your development costs by 5x, feel free to learn more about the Umoja Money API here.

A New Chapter: Umoja Labs

As we begin a new journey to ensure that our products and services are having a lasting impact on our end-users, we find it necessary to adopt the name of the tools we’re building — “Umoja.”

Emerging Impact will officially transition to our new corporate name, “Umoja Labs” to ensure that our customers, partners, and investors understand that our products and services are hosted under one unified roof. This will serve as the completion of our recent re-org as we start to streamline our processes and ensure that we work together in a healthy, sustainable, and innovative way.

For many of you that have been with the team for a while now, this is the start of a new, bright chapter where we can pair our exceptional services and products together to help our partners affect transparent and immediate impact. Note, there is no Umoja Labs without Emerging Impact, and our legacy to affect impact across emerging markets is stronger than ever.

Why ‘Umoja?’

Simple. As one of extremely few DeFi teams with African American & African founders, one of our cross-cutting passions for building accessible DeFi products was to empower people across the African diaspora — which spreads into every corner of the world. For many African Americans, Kwanzaa, a secular festival observed by many African Americans from December 26 to January 1 as a celebration of their cultural heritage and traditional values, is one of the few heritage celebrations that connect our community with the continent.

Umoja happens to be the first and foundational principle of the “Nguzo Saba”, which are the seven principles celebrated by Kwanzaa. Translated these are: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics (building Black businesses), purpose, creativity and faith. Without Umoja, all the other principles suffer. Unity is both a principle and practice of togetherness in all things, good and of mutual benet. It is a principled and harmonious togetherness, not simply a being together.

As a child growing up in Stone Mountain, Georgia, our CEO, Robby Greenfield, regularly celebrated Kwanza, and came to become an activist in his own right as he matriculated college at the University of Michigan. During that experience, which coincided with the start of the Black Lives Matter movement (not the BLM organization), he was introduced to the blockchain space and developed an immense passion to leverage histechnical background to positively impact my community. He could not realize that vision until much later when working with fellow co-founders Sandra Hart, co-founder of the Project Unblocked Cash initiative and veteran social sector expert, and Jon Lewis, 15+ year senior product designer who has shipped products that boast millions of users. Through “umoja,” the founders brought together a diverse team of specialists who understood both the potential of Web3 technology and the reality of designing solutions for the global majority.

Success through Partnership

We invite all of you to join our journey in making DeFi accessible across the Global South to those who need it most. Our partners are our most important champions and the work they do through their programming and products will help ensure humanity continues to excel in the midst of climate change and oncoming, geopolitical conflicts that are steadily increasing food and financial insecurity globally.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Robert Greenfield IV

Robert Greenfield IV

CEO of Umoja Labs, Former Head of ConsenSys Social Impact, @Goldman Alum, @Cisco Alum, @TFA Alum, Activist, Intense Autodidact