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Enable Universal Acceptance of Mobile Money Payments (Round 14)


Enable universal acceptance of mobile money payments to create an economic ecosystem that will help lift the poorest out of poverty.


People living on under $2 per day need to transact with money just like everyone else. 

Just like everyone else, the people with the least income need to have money to buy stuff, a place to store money, and a way to transfer money. For example, the poor may receive income from work or by selling crops or products; they may need to borrow money for large purchases for important life events like weddings or funerals, or to invest in money making opportunities. Most poor people, particularly those living in countries where poverty is widespread, have no access to formal financial products or services to help them manage these 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. If popularly accepted and available at critical moments, effective financial products or services can help households capture an opportunity to climb out of poverty or weather a crisis or emergency without falling deeper into poverty.

Mobile Payment Systems

The foundation also believes that nascent mobile payments ecosystems have the potential to transform how people access financial services that move them out of poverty and help them hold on to economic gains in times of crisis. The high penetration rates of mobile phones and their ability to function as a channel to deliver financial services can be a catalyst for innovative financial services designed for people who survive on very low incomes. 

One of the key characteristics of a vibrant mobile payment ecosystem is digital liquidity: that 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 mobile money user can make mobile payments. People with mobile money accounts from any provider need to be able to use these accounts in the local economies where they live and work to easily buy essentials like health products, pay school fees, and purchase services. 

A number of marketplace conditions have impeded acceptance of mobile money by small merchants and service providers, including: 

  • Business Models & Economics: Costs for buyers and sellers using mobile payments are often excessive when compared with cash.
  • Connectivity: Power and network connectivity are intermittent preventing electronic transactions to clear.
  • Trust: Mobile payments are viewed as less dependable than cash.
  • Ease of Use: Pervasive feature phones have limited user interface capabilities. Users may have reading and technical challenges when compared to using cash.
  • Regulation: Sellers are concerned that the transition from cash to mobile payments will be burdened by excessive regulations, new taxes and additional costs.
  • Safety and security: Sellers feel that their transactions are not secure.

The Challenge:

We are seeking novel solutions that promote adoption and use of mobile payments by smaller merchants (such as local sellers of goods), service providers (such as local schools and health clinics), and other members of the ecosystem serving the poor. Solutions should seek to address the need for any provider of products and services to be able to easily accept mobile payments from customers with a mobile money wallet provided by any competing bank, telecommunication company or third party provider. 

In addition to mobile payments, the foundation will consider novel solutions that promote the use of digital transactions on any format that effectively reach and serve the poor. Mobile is targeted by the foundation because of the high penetration of mobile phone ownership among people with very low incomes.

What We Are Looking For:

We will consider proposals with solutions relevant to those living on less than $2 a day in developing regions in these opportunity areas: 

  • Devices. Apply or create new technology for exchange of mobile funds at the time of purchase.
  • Software. Apply or create software and/or applications that enable mobile transactions.
  • Business models. Develop alternative business and market models and/or processes that meet the needs of buyers and sellers.

Preference will be given to solutions that address as many of the following objectives as possible:

  • Scalable: Solutions should be able to reach a broad number of users in multiple villages, cities and/or countries. Proposals should describe the manner in which the solution could achieve broad use.
  • Ease of use: Making and accepting mobile payments should be as easy as using cash, including for those with limited reading ability.
  • Interoperable: Solutions should enable mobile payments between buyers and sellers that choose to use competing mobile money providers.
  • Reliable: Users should feel confident that transactions are executed as directed; payments should be complete and certain at the time of purchase.
  • Low cost: Transaction fees charged to buyers and sellers should be low and affordable by those living on less than $2 a day.
  • Secure: Users should feel confident that their funds, payment, and personal data are secure.
  • Portable Coverage: Users should be able to take their mobile financial service history and mobile funds with them when moving between providers.
  • Transparent: Relevant fees should be readily apparent to buyers and sellers before confirming payments.
  • Geographically aligned: Solutions should target or be applicable to mobile payment systems serving the poor in Africa and Southeast Asia.

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

  • Novel practices or technologies that enable real time transactions at time of purchase in environments with limited or intermittent service connectivity.
  • Applications that provide easy-to-use, value added services on top of payment processing that enhance the value proposition to small merchants.
  • Business models that enable extremely affordable transactions on robust, secure, commercial-quality infrastructure.
  • Novel practices or technologies that allow buyers to easily understand and respond to fees at the time of payment processing.
  • Novel practices or technologies that promote viral adoption of mobile financial services among small sellers.
  • Novel practices or technologies that demonstrate a compelling value proposition for the conversion to mobile payments for individuals conducting over the counter transactions, in which the consumer gives cash to an agent or a merchant to execute a mobile payment on their behalf.

We will not consider funding for:

  • Ideas that simply replicate or repackage payment processes and ideas from developed countries.
  • Ideas that are not applicable or affordable to those living on under $2 a day in developing countries.
  • Ideas that have a limited or unrealistic path to broad use, including those that rely on long-term financial subsidies.
  • Solutions to sign up a large number of merchants to accept mobile payments without a realistic approach to provide sustained support to those merchants.
  • 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 or require government-issued IDs in a country where few people have them.
  • 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.