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Cell phones connect an increasing number of Kenyans with digitally-based financial tools and services. (Gates Foundation Photo)

For the billions of people living without access to a bank account, simple transactions, like paying rent electronically or registering a child for school, are often out of reach. Although digital financial services are on the rise in the developing world — driven by growing mobile phone prevalence — progress is slowed by incompatibility between different banks and financial service providers. Each institution has to build its own technology to accept payments, meaning an employee may not be able to easily transfer money from a paycheck to a grocer or relative.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation set out to solve that problem and today the non-profit is releasing new open-source software that banks, digital financial service providers, and businesses can use to close the loop.

Mojaloop — adapted from “moja,” the Swahili word for “one” — connects the different ways a user receives and sends money so that their funds aren’t siloed in one or two accounts.

“Interoperability of digital payments has been the toughest hurdle for the financial services industry to overcome,” Kosta Peric, deputy director of financial services for the poor at the Gates Foundation, said in a statement. “With Mojaloop, our technology partners have finally achieved a solution that can apply to any service, and we invite banks and the payments industry to explore and test this tool.”

Mojaloop is available for free to the public on GitHub. The Gates Foundation convened the development partners and provided funding and support for Mojaloop but will not be owned or implemented by the foundation. Mojaloop was created by the Gates Foundation’s Leve One Project, which leverages in-house expertise and resources to build inclusive payment models for the world’s poorest populations.

“As we modernize and develop national and cross-border payments infrastructure in Africa, the only way to sustainably reach and serve the world’s unbanked communities is through new technologies,” BankservAfrica CEO Chris Hamilton said in a statement. “Our aim as an organization is to offer national payments platforms for the next generation of financial innovators and Mojaloop gives us some tantalizing new options for doing that in a way that integrates with the entire national economy.”

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