I have often heard from some colleagues and even TV personalities, that the rhetoric of the world entering a ‘post-racial’ society in which the horrors of ethnic-targeted oppression - fashioned through policy, law enforcement and media - have faded away to make space for a utopic meritocracy. Yet, if we look at the reality of racism today, nothing could be further from the truth. Many historically oppressed ethnic communities still bear the economic and psychological scars of centuries-long prosecution without as much as federal acknowledgement and resolution to bring equity back into society. This painful truth is particularly the case in the United States, from which I have learned about and unwillingly experienced racism my entire life. One question that many Black boys and girls ask themselves as they become more aware of their surroundings and that this truth is a foundational part of that environment is, “How can I help? What can I do to strengthen my community knowing that there is a lot of pain to reconcile and wealth to rebuild despite the sheer difficulty of amassing the resources to do it?”
These questions infinitely bounced in my subconscious with no answer for years until I got to college, where the national conversation around race had materialized yet again in the murder of an unarmed black boy named Trayvon Martin in 2012. As a young activist and to-be-engineer at the University of Michigan, me and many of my friends found the call to action to start a local movement that focused on institutional injustices locally, rather than drown in the larger ocean of inequity that surrounded us around the country. This movement, which we named #BBUM, or “Being Black/Brown at the University of Michigan,” was the direction my wandering passion needed so that I could answer that blaring question in the back of my consciousness, “How can I help?” The answer: Use technology to uplift and empower underserved communities at all costs. While the movement became viral on twitter, inspired generations of students to come to engage in on-campus activism, and resulted in the development of a $10M new multicultural facility at the center of campus, this answer was my primary motivation to continue my work at the intersection of blockchain technology and social impact.
Emerging Impact was a product of three African American founders wanting to positively impact communities across the African diaspora in ways best fit to their skill sets. If you ask most people from ethnic minority communities, particularly within the United States, you shouldn’t be surprised to find that there’s a strong urge to make their communities stronger and undo a great deal of historic trauma that has befallen said communities.
Umoja co-founders (from left to right): Jon Lewis, Robby Greenfield, and Sandra Hart
A few years later, this passion enabled me to co-found ConsenSys Social Impact, which was the social sector vertical of renowned Ethereum development-studio ConsenSys. During my time co-leading the social impact team, we went on to deploy 13 blockchain-based products and initiatives across 17 countries to support some of the most underserved communities on the planet, including in Syria, the Philippines, Mexico, and Vanuatu to name a few. Many global firsts, such as the first crypto-based humanitarian aid program, the first blockchain grant awarded by the U.S. State Department, and the first blockchain bootcamp in Lebanon were some of the things our team accomplished. As ConsenSys began to focus more on enterprise decentralized finance (i.e., DeFi), I had the opportunity to externalize what ConsenSys Social Impact did in the form of Emerging Impact to continue our work in emerging markets. Of course, doing so would not be possible without my co-founders Jon Lewis and Sandra Hart, who, respectively I had worked with while at ConsenSys and while deploying the Unblocked Cash initiative in Vanuatu. At the time, emerging impact was a social enterprise focused on supporting aid organizations to leverage blockchain technology to develop solutions purpose-built for hard-to-reach markets. Our goal: evolve into a product company to sustainably scale our global impact.
What is Umoja?
Nearly one year and over $400k in revenue later, Emerging Impact was accepted into the 500 Startups (now 500 Global) flagship accelerator in San Francisco, as well as the amazing Celo ecosystem incubator “Celo Camp” to mature our product development aspirations. During Celo Camp, our team developed Umoja, a blockchain-based product suite that enables emerging market internet businesses to build and deploy blockchain-based fintech products and services to underserved communities 2x faster and 40x more affordably.
Umoja consists of an entire DeFi product suite, including: feature-phone compatible digital wallets, a mobile point of sale for merchants, a mass-payouts dashboard, and an API that supports digital wallet generation, stablecoin custody, and the provisioning of on & off-ramps between stablecoins, mobile money e-float, and fiat currency.
How does Umoja change lives and who do you hope to impact?
Anyone from farmers to humanitarian aid beneficiaries can use Umoja’s products to receive payments, transfer money, access yield accounts, and soon, borrow money without collateral. The vision is to accelerate the global majority’s access to DeFi-based, wealth generating tools to accelerate the social mobility of billions of people at a time - all without the friction and barriers propagated by the traditional financial system.
To date, our team is collaborating with the Celo Foundation, Care, Oxfam International, World Vision, Hope for Haiti and Save the Children to distribute crypto-based humanitarian aid globally. Additionally, as our product suite leaves private beta, we’re excited to introduce the Umoja Money API to crypto-native fintechs in the Celo ecosystem that need a one-stop solution for cUSD custody, on/off-ramps, and automated transactions between digital wallets.
Digital Cash for work pilot in Kenya’s Laikipia County with Celo, Kotani Pay, local and international NGOs, and Emerging Impact
Upon recently finishing a $1.5M pre-seed round backed by a group of amazing investors, including Coinbase Ventures, Mercy Corps Ventures, 500 Global, Davoa Capital, Audacity Capital, MyAsiaVC, K Street Capital, One Planet VC, and Ayon Capital, we are strengthening our focus to bolster product adoption amongst aid organizations, crypto-native fintechs, and agro-dealers. In particular, we see a massive opportunity to bring DeFi to rural, Sub-Saharan smallholder farmers to bridge Africa’s agriculture financing gap and bring low-cost, high quality financial services to those who feed the rest of the world through our products.
Author: Robby Greenfield, co-founder at Emerging Impact and Umoja