Collaborating to deliver open-source software for digital payment systems to benefit the poor

Those of us in developed countries have difficulty imagining what it would be like not to have access to a bank account — or any of the other benefits and security provided by basic financial products and services. For those in developing nations, it means they’re not able to save money or build credit.

A recent collaboration project supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation aims to change that.  Crosslake Technologies has had the good fortune to work with Dwolla, Ripple, ModusBox and Software Group to deliver Mojaloop, a completely free and open-source software for digital payment systems.

In this post, we’ll highlight why this project was so profound for us, and we’ll detail our contributions.

The background

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Financial Services for the Poor program works with partners and makes investments to broaden the reach of open, low-cost digital payment systems that can benefit the poor.

Current data shows that a staggering 2 billion people around the world lack access to essential financial services, such as bank accounts or the ability to send and receive payments outside of the physical transfer of cash. As such, they cannot take advantage of the benefits those services provide, from increasing their savings to building credit or investing in education.

In 2015, the Gates Foundation started with its vision for “designing a new system for financial inclusion,” aspiring to accelerate efforts to expand access to financial services for the world’s poor.

The design principles

To further their mission, the Gates Foundation published a series of design principles to shape the open-source software for digital payment systems project and act as a call to action to encourage collaboration across organizations. These principles include:

  • A push-payment model with immediate funds transfer and same-day settlement
  • Open-loop interoperability between providers
  • Adherence to well-defined and adopted international standards
  • Adequate system-wide shared fraud and security protection
  • Efficient and proportional identity and know-your-customer (KYC) requirements
  • Meeting or exceeding the convenience, cost and utility of cash

After establishing these principles, the Gates Foundation set out to build a real-time payments system and make it available to financial institutions and commercial providers (e.g., telecommunications companies) in developing countries.

The project was designed as a reference model for payment interoperability and to be used to overcome the barriers that slow the spread of financial services to the poor and unbanked populations in the developing world. Mojaloop is available free of charge to developers, banks, financial service providers and other companies. The expansion of financial services for the poor was previously hindered by the lack of interoperability between digital financial services and payment platforms.

There are four critical components to the software:

  • An interoperability layer that connects bank accounts, mobile money wallets and merchants in an open loop
  • A directory service layer that navigates the different methods that providers use to identify statements on each side of a transaction
  • A transactions settlement layer that makes payments instant and irrevocable
  • And components that protect against fraud

In the past, banks and financial services providers were faced with interoperability issues. Delivering services to the poor was a challenge for most businesses because it was difficult to invest in sophisticated technology while maintaining a commitment to low-cost, inclusive services.

Crosslake Technology’s contribution

Crosslake Technologies facilitated the project as a whole, leveraging vast experience in program management, Agile development and microservices-based software architecture on a new technology stack. The following is a sampling of some of the critical activities we performed:

  • Scaled Agile. Instituted a custom development model based on the Scaled Agile Framework (SAFe) to ensure rapid, high-quality delivery at 10-week checkpoints (program increments, or PIs). The SAFe model enabled in-person planning sessions of critical leaders and developers, as well as revisiting the requirements as learning and feedback were continuously gathered from the product owner and other customer proxies. Team objectives (commitments) were rolled up into program objectives for the next 10 weeks.
  • Architecture definition and documentation. Worked with the teams to ensure an end-to-end architecture was defined and documented via GitHub, adhering to principles such as high cohesion, loose coupling (via microservices), robust security and extreme testability.
  • Resilience and threat modeling. Introduced resilience and threat modeling to the teams to ensure that all components could handle and deal with failures, and all components were developed with security in mind from the outset.
  • Tools. Leveraged collaborative tools like Slack as a key communication mechanism. Also, rolled out open-source friendly tools like GitHub + ZenHub for repository and work item management, CircleCI for automated build, Ansible to help with continuous deployment and for diagram collaboration. The primary environment management Infrastructure-as-a-Service was Amazon Web Services (AWS).
  • Frequent integration. Key integration points across teams were at sprint boundaries (at a minimum) and system-wide, end-to-end demos were done at the end of every program increment.

The result is the Mojaloop technology you see today.

Democratizing digital payment systems

This technology can help bridge the gap between mobile networks and financial providers to create pro-poor payment systems. Mojaloop is open-source and free of charge. It is available to developers via GitHub. Crosslake Technologies and the Gates Foundation encourage companies and organizations to explore the software, use it to build or adapt products and services, or offer updates to the software.

To learn more about Mojaloop, please visit

“Just as the internet revolutionized digital communication, open-source solutions like Mojaloop can spark innovation and democratize access to digital payments, empowering billions of new customers and driving massive economic growth in developing markets,” said Kosta Peric, Deputy Director, Financial Services for the Poor, at the Gates Foundation. We’re excited that our experience in distributed development, scaling Agile, and software building blocks are quite literally helping to change the world.