Leaf Global Fintech

Digital financial services for refugees to safely store and transport assets across borders—no smartphone required.

Where: Rwanda, DRC, USA

Since when: 2017

Target: Refugees carrying cash across borders

The Problem

Refugees cannot safely store and transport assets across borders when forced to flee, making them targets in the short-term and economically excluded in the long-term. Carrying cash is dangerous, and becomes inconvenient and expensive to exchange across borders. Refugees often rely on international remittances but lack a way to receive them safely. Lack of access to their own accumulated assets, friends and family who may be willing to send money, and the formal financial system puts refugees at a distinct disadvantage while in-flight, ultimately causing them to lose their economic identity.

The Solution

Leaf offers virtual banking services to vulnerable populations crossing borders with cash. Leaf safely stores and transports assets across borders through a mobile device—no smartphone required. Customers can journey without cash, knowing accounts are secure and accessible globally. Friends and family abroad can also contribute into customers’ accounts. Leaf protects customers’ savings through blockchain technology and biometrics without using volatile cryptocurrency. Leaf creates a lasting economic identity, spurring positive effects across long-term health, education, and financial security.

The Product

Leaf uses existing mobile money networks to provide digital financial services. While mobile money doesn’t cross borders, Leaf is accessible anywhere. The refugee sends mobile money to Leaf instead of carrying cash. Refugees can check their balance anytime through an SMS/USSD interface. A blockchain back-end tracks assets securely and transparently. Once safe, cash is pulled down into the new local currency or used as collateral on a microloan. Leaf also creates a corridor for others abroad to contribute into refugees’ accounts, making international remittances immediate and accessible.

The impact on the life of refugees

Leaf allows customers to retain and access their money when crossing borders and opens a path for international remittances. Value is currently lost to theft, devaluation, and fees as a result of carrying cash. Leaf digitizes that process and reduces fees. Money is safe and accessible wherever customers go. Leaf provides a better start, safety, and financial security. Leaf ultimately creates an economic identity so customers can establish themselves in a new country. Increased access to funds also carries positive implications for long-term health and education. Leaf measures its impact by tracking how much value the refugee is able to carry with them and receive from others. Leaf also measures new access (IRIS PI2845), total deposits (IRIS FP9083), and decreased dependence upon the host state. Leaf uses CFPB’s financial well-being scale to show the qualitative effects of its services.

Our Team

Leaf’s team has expertise across banking, foreign exchange, and blockchain development. The founders began working on Leaf while at Vanderbilt University with an interdisciplinary team of students, launching full-time in June 2018.

Nat Robinson

Nat Robinson is the former CEO/founder of Juhudi Kilimo Company, which provides micro-asset financing to rural smallholder farmers in Kenya. He previously worked as a management consultant in China and the US. Nat has an MBA and JD from Vanderbilt and is the author of the book, “Creating a Cash Cow in Kenya”

Tori Samples, CTO

Tori Samples has a background in technology and 15 years of personal experience with refugees. As a Data Architect at HCA Healthcare, Tori designed and developed on some of the largest datasets in the world. She has worked in Tanzanian HIV/AIDS clinics and the executive team of a 650-bed hospital. She has an MBA from Vanderbilt.

Our Results

Leaf has completed a successful series of pilots in Rwanda and Congo focused on technical testing and market validation. The team has worked with 256 refugees and small cross-border traders to understand the population’s needs and design an appropriate solution. After a seven-country market validation in 2017, Leaf began piloting cross-border transactions in Rwanda and Congo in March 2018 using a blockchain product with an SMS/USSD user interface. Leaf has established companies in the US, Rwanda, and Congo. Leaf won the “Best Bootstrap” award at SXSW’s accelerator program and was the recipient of a $100,000 grant through the Catalyst Fund. Its founders recently participated in the Miller Center at Santa Clara University’s “Social Enterprise at the Margins” accelerator (GSBI). Leaf has engaged refugees at every point in the design and piloting process to prepare for launching operations.

Our future goals, thanks to your donations

Leaf will use any funds received through Laudato Si’ to launch operations in Rwanda and Congo. Leaf is seeking $350,000 to meet the capital requirements for microfinance and money transmitter licenses in Rwanda/Congo. These funds can earn interest while serving as adequate capital for regulators. An additional $500,000 will allow Leaf to secure partnerships with regional banks and aid agencies, continue technical development of its blockchain platform, hire a local team, and begin offering services in early 2019. With these funds, Leaf will be able to impact an estimate 74,000 refugee households in its first eighteen months. Refugees will experience increased access to funds, decreased dependence upon the host state, and will be able to avoid carrying cash across borders, all leading to financial security during an extremely vulnerable time.

More about us:

Company website http://leafglobalfintech.com

Company video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nUspFI5AMJk&feature=youtu.be