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Enable Merchant Acceptance of Mobile Money Payments (Round 15)


The Challenge

We are seeking novel solutions that promote adoption and use of mobile payments (or digital transactions) by merchants that serve those living on less than $2 USD a day in developing regions. Examples of merchants include:

  • Individual merchants that provide goods and services such as produce and airtime
  • Shops and points of sale, from small vendors up to and including super-market chains

What we are looking for: 

We will consider proposals with solutions relevant to merchants in these opportunity areas:

  • Devices. Apply or create new technology for exchange of mobile/digital funds at the time of sale.
  • Software. Apply or create software and/or applications that enable mobile transactions by merchants.
  • Business models. Develop alternative business and market models and/or processes that meet the needs of sellers as they transact.


Most poor people, particularly those living in countries where poverty is widespread, have limited to no access to formal financial products or services to help them manage their transactions and their money. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation believes that access to formal payments systems is fundamental to enable poor people to become more economically stable, prosperous and resilient. The foundation also believes that nascent mobile payments ecosystems have the potential to transform how people access financial services - accelerating the rate at which they move out of poverty and helping them hold on to economic gains.

One of the key characteristics of a vibrant mobile payment ecosystem is the ability of the local economy to support mobile money staying digital. One significant way to do this is to dramatically increase the number of places where a user can pay for goods and services with mobile money (i.e. drive strong merchant acceptance). 

Preference will be given to solutions that support the following objectives:

  • Scalable, easy to use, interoperable (solutions should enable mobile payments between buyers and sellers that choose to use competing mobile money providers), reliable, low cost, secure, portable coverage (users should be able to take their mobile financial service history and mobile funds with them when moving between providers) and transparent.
  • Relevant to the cultural and regulatory context in one of the following 8 countries: Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania or Uganda.

A few examples of work that would be considered for funding:

  • Novel devices that enable fast, secure and accurate transactions by people who are illiterate.
  • Novel practices or technologies that enable merchants to make and accept real time transactions at time of purchase in environments with limited or intermittent service connectivity.
  • Business models that enable merchants to make extremely affordable transactions on robust, secure, commercial-quality infrastructure.
  • Novel practices or technologies that allow sellers to easily understand, communicate and respond to fees at the time of payment processing.
  • Novel practices or technologies with low or zero new investment and usage cost that promote viral adoption of mobile financial services among small sellers.
  • Novel methods that incentivize merchants to accept digital transactions.
    • Economic incentives (e.g., cash payments or awards) may be paid only with respect to activities that have already occurred and without conditions on the use of the payment or award. This restriction regarding conditions on future use applies only to applicants other than US public charities, government organizations, and universities (e.g., for- profit organizations and foreign NGOs).
    • Incentives should be proportionate to the charitable benefit of the activity the incentive seeks to encourage.

We will not consider funding for:

  • Ideas that are not merchant focused. This includes ideas that address mobile money adoption generally and don’t have a specific focus on adoption by merchants serving the poor.
  • Ideas in which the mobile money solution could be viewed as ancillary to the focus of the project. For example, ideas that focus on the implementation of a mobile healthcare device for providers and the ability to transact would be a secondary value-add.
  • Ideas that are unrealistic and/or unsustainable. This includes
    • Projects that do not clearly consider the current context of available financial systems and infrastructure for the poor. For example, ideas that require expensive devices.
    • Solutions to sign up a large number of merchants to accept mobile payments without a realistic approach to provide sustained support to those merchants.
    • Ideas that have a limited or unrealistic path to broad use, including those that rely on long-term financial subsidies.
  • Ideas that simply replicate or repackage payment processes and ideas from developed countries.
  • Approaches that present significant data safety risks, relative to the risks inherent in developed world mobile payment systems.

Great ideas come from everywhere.

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is part of the Grand Challenges partnership network. Visit www.grandchallenges.org to view the map of awarded grants across this network and grant opportunities from partners.