Welsh fintech start-up helps charities worldwide
A social entrepreneur who wanted to combat the inefficient donation system for international charities met his business partner at an event which helped to bring the idea to reality; building a partnership with a donor which manages £100 million in funds, and working in international markets.
In September 2016, Ben Joakim from Monmouthshire attended leading tech event, Digital where he crossed paths with Laura Bailey from Zerado, experts in financial services and software development.
The 30-year-old spent 10 years running charitable trusts in both the UK and internationally, working with a number of large international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and was a Global Advisor at SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, leading a $30m project portfolio across sub-Saharan Africa.
Ben saw first-hand the detrimental effect that inefficiencies like upfront banking fees and poor exchange rates had on charitable donations. Additionally, estimates from the UN suggest that up to 30% of official development assistance, or foreign aid, is lost due to fraud and corruption.
Disberse was born from Ben’s desire to combat these losses, and he quickly realised that blockchain technology could hold the key. Blockchain is the technology behind cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but the technology has a wide range of uses besides these digital currencies. In the case of Disberse, the technology could help make monetary transactions much more efficient and ransparent.
In order to make the company a success, Ben needed to add technical and finance expertise into the Disberse team.
After meeting Laura at Digital, Ben founded Disberse. Fast forward nine months, and the organisation has forged a partnership with a donor managing £100 million in charitable funds, has built a team that spans across Wales, London, and Serbia, and is already saving charitable organisations huge sums of money. They are now looking to raise investment to harness this momentum.
“I went to Digital to learn more about blockchain technology, find out more from people in that space, and with an open mind in terms of collaboration with others. For Disberse to be successful, I was aware that I needed to find people with additional knowledge, expertise, and networks, and Digital was the place to make that happen.”
Laura Bailey added
“Meeting Ben at Digital was a chance encounter, but a good match as his expertise in international development and social enterprise combined with my background in traditional, before moving into innovative finance and blockchain, makes for a good team.
The meeting at Digital, an event supported by Welsh Government, has resulted in a business partnership that’s catapulted Disberse to international success. The company has begun working on a partnership with the Start Network, which manages £100 million in humanitarian response funds on behalf of leading global charities such as Oxfam and Save the Children, and has recently been accepted onto the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) Sandbox.
A pilot in Swaziland has enabled Welsh charity Positive Women to trace the flow of funds through the chain, resulting in zero losses at the points of delivery for a girls’ education project. Through Disberse, Positive Women saved 2.5% on transfer fees; a saving that resulted in an additional three young girls receiving a fully-funded education for an entire year.
Speaking about the company, Ben added:
“In essence, Disberse is about making sure less money is lost and more money is available for its intended purpose. We want to ensure charitable funds have as much impact as possible, and by challenging the inefficiencies in these processes we are already supporting charities to achieve more and have a bigger influence in areas where it’s needed the most.”
David Warrender from Innovation Point, the digital innovation company organising the event on behalf of Welsh Government said
“Digital is not just another tech event. It’s a place where ideas are sparked, partnerships made, and real business happens. The emergence of Disberse is a prime example of the difference that can be made when the ideas-people, dreamers, and doers are in the right place at the right time and have the opportunity to connect.
“The future is exciting and we’re eagerly anticipating the success stories, partnerships, collaborations, and investments that will undoubtedly spring from this year’s event.”