Meet the Winner of Women World Banking’s Fintech Innovation Challenge
By Nicole Casperson
Fintech companies, with a focus on sustainable growth and financial inclusion, have the potential to close gender gaps and support economic progress faster, particularly in challenging times like today.
This is especially significant for women in low-income communities and emerging markets. In the past few years, we have seen a dramatic increase in women’s adoption of digital financial services.
Based on the latest Global Findex Report, for the first time in a decade, the gender gap has decreased from 9% to 6% in key emerging markets, thanks partly to an increased number of low-income women leveraging fintech.
That’s why, live in Mumbai, Women’s World Banking hosted its Fintech Innovation Challenge, featuring four fintech companies and leaders using technology to help low-income women gain access to financial services, which can help unlock an additional $700 billion in revenue.
So, what’s the challenge?
It started with a 25-minute panel discussion moderated by yours truly, where I helped showcase each founders’ journeys into becoming a fintech founder and CEO.
As entrepreneurs, it’s important to remember that our personal experiences play a crucial role in innovation. The stories we tell about ourselves shape our leadership style, our ability to overcome challenges, and, ultimately, the success of our business – ask Serena Williams.
Afterward, each finalist had 5 minutes to pitch their product, followed by a Shark-Tank-styled Q&A from a panel of judges that included Mary Ellen Iskenderian, President and CEO of Women’s World Banking, and Deon Woods Bell, Senior Advisor Global Policy Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Let’s meet the finalists…
Each comes from different countries and regions worldwide, including South Africa, India, and Singapore. The finalists stood out from 98 applicants, each with the same goal — to develop innovative products that will close the gender gap in the low-income women’s market.
#1 MeraBills‘ founder and CEO, Piya Bahadur
Profoundly inspired by her 17,000-kilometer motorcycle expedition across India and the Southeast Asian Peninsula, Piya connected with countless entrepreneurs, particularly female business owners, who, despite facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, demonstrated tremendous resilience.
Drawing from her experiences, Piya created MeraBills, an app designed to help small business owners make more money, run operations more efficiently, and ensure sustainability.
#2 Martyna Malinowska, Co-Founder & CPO of GajiGesa
Martyna booked her one-way ticket to Indonesia leaving her home in Poland, with a passion for making a difference.
Taking the plunge and traveling to the other side of the world, she uncovered the power of fintech and how it could be used to not only make money but do good. After seeing the potential of this technology, she was inspired to use her skills and knowledge to make the world a better place.
So Martyna launched a B2B2C earned wage access platform (which means that employees get access to their earned wages when needed), rapidly taking on predatory lending, with a particular emphasis on serving women workers.
A critical need, given the loan sharks and predatory lending that goes on every day.
#3 Neha Juneja, Co-Founder & CEO of IndiaP2P
After spending her life witnessing the discrimination faced by women in India when accessing credit, despite their worthiness as borrowers, Neha launched the peer-to-peer lending platform IndiaP2P.
Neha started working on IndiaP2P as an experienced and accomplished entrepreneur, having co-founded, grown, and successfully exited Greenway – India’s largest clean cooking business.
Operating across rural India and sub-Saharan Africa, she developed numerous credit partnerships focusing on women as borrowers. Neha’s commitment to her vision and her cause has seen her create real change, and her drive for success is inspiring.
Fun fact: She’s never had a “real job” she says, she’s always been an entrepreneur.
#4 Gabriel Ruhan, CEO of Paycode
Inspired to ensure women and diverse demographics in emerging markets have equal access to capital and financial services, Gabe and Paycode identified one of the consumers’ most significant challenges: needing an ID.
Paycode solves this by giving the unbanked and underserved biometric identity and affordable access to essential financial services.
For example, a farmer in Zambia who has grown up her whole life without ever having or needing a physical ID. These consumers earn less than $2 a day and often have their earnings stolen from them since they need a secure place to bank.
Paycode goes into these communities and, with biometrics, offers an entirely secure internet-free way for the unbanked to store their money for the first time.
And the winner is…
This year’s challenge had an unexpected outcome as there were two winners selected by the judges instead of just one.
This decision was justified as both companies are tackling the fundamental issues faced by low-income women and addressing the root cause of the problem.
Neha Juneja, Co-Founder & CEO of IndiaP2P, and Gabriel Ruhan, CEO of Paycode, were crowned winners of the 2023 Fintech Innovation Challenge.
Congratulations to the winners!
As a reward, they will have priority access to important fintech-investor networking events organized by Elevandi. These events include the Point Zero Forum, Elevandi Connects, and the Singapore Fintech Festival.
Remember also to check out the platforms of all the finalists (they are all raising!) and listen to the Humans of Fintech podcast for insightful interviews with the winners.
An extensive fintech ecosystem is doing incredible work for financial inclusion that we can all learn from and collaborate with – we just have to look across the world.