Updated Apr 23, 2020

Leaf Global Fintech: A Virtual Bank for Refugees

http://www.leafglobalfintech.com/#

Tori Samples

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Leaf provides digital financial services to refugees so that they can store and transport assets across borders from a feature phone, avoiding carrying cash.

Leaf enables customer to digitally store savings, receive deposits from others abroad, and manage money from a mobile device (not necessarily a smartphone), focusing on conflict zones where refugees and migrants have few financial services options. Leaf uses existing mobile networks to operate almost entirely virtually. While mobile money cannot cross borders, Leaf is accessible anywhere. Wi...
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Leaf enables customer to digitally store savings, receive deposits from others abroad, and manage money from a mobile device (not necessarily a smartphone), focusing on conflict zones where refugees and migrants have few financial services options. Leaf uses existing mobile networks to operate almost entirely virtually. While mobile money cannot cross borders, Leaf is accessible anywhere. With Leaf, a refugee creates an account and deposits mobile money into it using a USSD messaging interface. They can then travel across borders without cash and check their account balance anytime. Once safe, cash is withdrawn into the new local currency. Leaf also creates a corridor for others abroad to contribute into refugees’ accounts, making remittances immediate, accessible, and affordable. Blockchain increases Leaf’s transparency and helps provide cheap, fast transactions to a population that demands high security. However, Leaf does not expose users to the volatility of cryptocurrency. A low tech front-end paired with a high tech back-end make Leaf accessible and secure. In light of COVID-19 and increased urgency around digital financial services, Leaf is moving forward as fast as possible to expand our services. These are times of global uncertainty, especially for the individuals and communities that Leaf serves. Our goal at Leaf is to help families isolated by the virus to send money across borders securely and affordably, directly to a mobile phone.
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Stage 4: Transition to Scale

Leaf is live in 5 countries across East Africa. Leaf ran a closed beta in 2019 in which 3 refugees in Uganda advertised Leaf to onboard 80 users with 700 transactions in 4 weeks. The next step is a full-scale launch across East Africa.
Registered in United States and Rwanda as For-Profit, in Congo, Democratic Republic of the as Non-Profitin United States and Rwanda as For-Profit, in Congo, Democratic Republic of the as Non-Profit

Focus Areas:

Digital Finance, Economic Empowerment and Refugees

Digital Finance, Economic Empowerment and RefugeesSEE LESS

Implemented In:

Rwanda, Congo, Democratic Republic of the, Nigeria and 3 MoreSEE ALL

Rwanda, Congo, Democratic Republic of the, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and TanzaniaSEE LESS

5
Key Partners
6
Countries Implemented In
80
Customers
8
Employees
$565,908
Funds Raised to Date

Problem

The UN has designated over 68 million people as forcibly displaced, with another 100 million at risk. Often their only option is to forfeit value or carry cash across borders, which is dangerous, inconvenient, and expensive to exchange. Refugees often rely on remittances but lack a way to receive them safely. Lack of access to their own assets, friends and family willing to send money, and the formal financial system puts refugees at a disadvantage, causing them to lose their economic identity.

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Solution

Leaf is a virtual bank for vulnerable populations crossing borders. Leaf stores and transports assets across borders from a mobile device—no smartphone required. Refugees/migrants can journey without cash. Friends and family abroad can contribute into the Leaf customer’s account. Leaf protects customers’ savings through blockchain technology without exposure to cryptocurrency. Leaf ultimately creates an economic identity by increasing customers’ access to funds and decreasing their dependency.

Target Beneficiaries

Leaf was designed for refugees by surveying them in each phase of resettlement and interviewing potential customers on 5 continents. Leaf is also beneficial to populations with similar financial needs, such as small cross-border traders and economic migrants. Leaf lowers the risk of violence and theft associated with carrying cash and greatly reduces exchange/transfer fees, making it ideal for those without access to the formal economy. Friends and family sending money home will benefit as well.

Mission and Vision

Leaf exists to enable economic security for the stateless and excluded. Increasing refugees’ access to funds gives them a better start with financial security. This reduces inequality, the risks of carrying cash, and long-term effects of trauma. Leaf also increases refugees’ ability to work and contribute to the host economy instead of being dependent on foreign aid. We will succeed when the 1.7 billion unbanked people in the world today have lasting economic identities, enabling them to thrive.

Competitive Advantage

Leaf offers both asset storage over time and transport across borders. Competitors offer one or the other, and few extend services to refugees. Existing solutions overwhelmingly require a smartphone or internet while Leaf operates on feature phones. Leaf is uniquely tailored to refugees’ and migrants’ values: affordability, convenience, accessibility, and physical security. Formal financial institutions often will not serve refugees; most refugees are unbanked before fleeing because they distrust banks. Mobile money doesn’t cross borders. Money transfer services like Western Union charge high fees and still leave refugees with cash. International remittance apps currently do not serve Rwanda and Congo. Leaf offers a low-cost, convenient, secure solution. Blockchain and a virtual model make Leaf cheaper to operate than brick-and-mortar companies. Funds are delivered straight to a mobile device for nominal fees. Leaf is trusted because of credibility built through word-of-mouth networks.

Planned Goals and Milestones

Leaf is still able to offer services during COVID-19 and will register new customers as quickly as we can. We are transitioning to self-registration (the only part of the process that was previously done in-person) with a digital KYC/AML service. Leaf is working with Western Union to use its retail locations as cash-in/cash-out points for Leaf. Leaf is also working on expanding its geographical footprint in Africa and across the globe to serve as many people as possible.
Funding Goal850,000
Projected Cumulative Lives Impacted74,000
New Implemented CountriesGhana, Gabon, Congo, Republic of the, Congo, Democratic Republic of the, Cameroon, Burundi, Niger, Zambia
Recruit3 developers, 4 sales/marketing, 1 country director, 1 risk manager, 10 community engagement agents
New FeatureSelf-registration instead of peer-to-peer, new countries/expanded footprint, addition of Western Union locations for cash-in/cash-out

The Team Behind the Innovation

Nat Robinson, Co-Founder and CEO, is the former CEO of Juhudi Kilimo, which provides micro-asset financing to rural smallholder farmers in Kenya. Nat is a Mulago Foundation Fellow and has a JD/MBA from Vanderbilt University. Tori Samples, Leaf’s Co-Founder and CTO, is a Data Architect and has fifteen years of personal experience working with resettled refugees in the US. She has an MBA from Vanderbilt. The rest of Leaf’s team includes local expertise, blockchain developers, and forex traders.

EXECUTIVE TEAM INCLUDES WOMEN

Milestone

Feb 2020
Funds RaisedPENDING
TITLESBIR Phase I
TYPEGrant
FOCUS AREAS
Refugees and Digital Finance
Implemented InUnited States
 
as part of
 SBIR Phase I Grant
Feb 2020
Key Partnership
Implementation
ORGANIZATIONFlash CFC
Mar 2018
New Country Implemented In
Rwanda
Jul 2017
Key Partnership
ORGANIZATIONTurner Family Center for Social Ventures 
as part of
 Summer Fellowship Program
Jun 2017
Created

Supporting Materials

Leaf-Global-Fintech-Executive-Summary-2019.pdf
Leaf-Global-Fintech-Deck-2020-3-2-orientation-null.pdf