Our Journey

 

In 2016, we set out on a journey to build a new type of financial institution for aid. We made a lot of progress - but we didn’t achieve our biggest ambition. We wanted to encourage anybody who’s thinking to start their own moonshot project, so we‘ve converted our website into a learning hub, where we can share our journey - and the lessons we learned on the way.

Our Story

Ben Joakim
Founder
Paul Currion
Founder

4 years ago, we set out on a journey to transform the way money flows for social impact. We came together to build Disberse - a new type of financial institution - to address key problems for the aid industry. 

 

During those 4 years, we developed the first version of the platform, secured authorisation from the FCA as a small electronic money institution, delivered a series of alpha pilots, and secured pre-seed investment from Comic Relief, and went onto secure partnerships and deliver projects with key institutional donors. 

 

The Problem

The global financial system is slow, expensive and opaque. 

Banks weren’t built to meet the needs of the aid industry.

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Transparency

 

Funds cannot be traced from end-to-end, creating potential for mismanagement, and decreasing accountability.

Speed

 

It can take weeks for transfers to arrive, even during an emergency, slowing down the response and making it difficult to plan.

Efficiency

 

Bank charges, poor exchange rates and currency fluctuations raise costs, reducing the amount that reaches those in need.

Mismanagement

 

These three problems increase the likelihood of waste, including potential 

for fraud and corruption.

Alpha Phase

In 2018 we delivered an alpha series of pilots in partnership with the Start Network and its NGO members. These pilots validated our model of distributing funds faster, cheaper and more transparently.

Dorcas International, 

Terre des Hommes, SOS Kinderdorpen

Cash distributions between Netherlands & Ukraine

Dorcas International 

Flood response between 

Netherlands & Albania

Troicaire & Caritas Rwanda

Livelihoods project between Ireland & Rwanda

Positive Women & BoMake

Girlds education project between the UK & Swaziland

Following the success of our Alpha Pilots, Dorcas Aid International asked us to participate in a Dutch Relief Alliance NGO consortium bid with the Netherlands Red Cross, to launch the 121 Project

 

We were responsible for setting up channels between individual donors in the Netherlands and UK, and individual recipients via banks in Ethiopia and Malawi. Unfortunately the pilot was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Beta Phase

In 2020, we partnered with the UK Government Department for International Development (DFID) and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

The pilot was organised as a series of sprints, during which we conducted research and analysis of Country Based Pooled Funds in Iraq & the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The pilot culminated in a Simulation Exercise based on historical transactions worth over $140 million, with the planned next step of carrying out live transactions on our platform.

SPRINT 1

 

We carried out a consultation round with key stakeholders in DFID and UNOCHA, to establish whether our idea made sense, and which problems we could potentially address.

SPRINT 2

 

We collected existing data from UN databases, and new data from interviews with implementing partners. We analysed this data and started to develop visualisations.

SPRINT 3

 

We implemented the Simulation Exercise, compared the performance

of the Disberse platform to existing channels, and analysed where the potential improvements were found.

SPRINT 4

 

We produced a learning document that captured key lessons from both the FTL pilot and our longer company history. You can read the report here, and a blog summary here.

During this time, we faced the typical challenges that all fintech startups face - time to market, product market fit, talent fit - but also faced events that created significant uncertainty for our business, the aid industry and key clients. 

In July 2020 we were closing a seed investment round of $8 million when our key investor withdrew at the last stage due to ongoing economic uncertainty. The challenges that we sought to address still face the aid industry - but we hope that we moved the discussion forward.

 

One of our core values was sharing our learning, and so we set up this website to make those resources available to others. We believe that this is essential to help other organisations to develop their own innovative solutions to the challenges we aimed to address.

Timeline

 

Resources

DFID Beta Pilots

Alpha Pilots

Podcasts

Other resources

 

With thanks to

Aleksandar Ostojic

Alex Johnson

Amir Rizwan

Annemarie Poorterman

Antony Hermann

Archie Graham

Asad Rahman

Ashley Kemball-Cook

Carwyn Jones

Claire James

David Vigoreux

David Woolcock

Francisco Riera

Gavin Francis

Imogen Bunyard

Kathryn Llewellyn

Laura Bailey

Mark Bloom

Marko Kovacevic

Martyn Davies

Miljan Milidrag

Nick Ward

Númi Östlund

Paul Harwood

Paul Webb-Jones

Pavle Batuta

Peter Chapman

Rachel Hillier

Rhodri Davies

Ruben Mulder

Sam Goudie

Sean Lowrie

Sue Guy

Tom Keatinge

Tomasz Mloduchowski