According to the World Bank, nearly 1.7 billion adults worldwide (almost all of them in the developing world) remain unbanked as they fail to meet the traditional criteria for ‘creditworthiness’. As a result, unbanked individuals often find it difficult to attain their financial goals and end up trapped in a vicious cycle of debt and poverty.
DreamStart Labs was founded in Silicon Valley with the mission of alleviating poverty in the developing world by democratizing financial inclusion through technology. Their savings platform DreamSave is a mobile app and web platform that has been built with the explicit goal of empowering informal community banks and savings groups by making it easy for anyone, tech-savvy or not, to manage their financial records, achieve savings goals, build credit history, and connect to formal financial services.
The initial version of DreamSave was developed by a global team spread across the US, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. But DreamStart Labs found itself in need of an experienced Head of Engineering who could manage the ever-growing distributed project team, and asked for our help. We happily seconded one of our own software architects who met all the requirements of the role. We had no qualms about this arrangement, simply because the flexibility to work closely with a partner’s team is something that is built into our ethos.
A partnership in every sense of the word
However, there was no way we could’ve predicted what was to come. Our architect and engineering team impressed key members of DreamStart Labs’ team during a visit to our office, and over time, we were invited to take on a progressively larger role in the project. As the first order of business, we collaborated with DreamStart’s engineers to build a real-time dashboard (christened DreamSave Insights) that could visualise the aggregated data of all savings groups on the DreamSave platform. In the developing world, community-level savings groups are a very important part and parcel of life, as they help unbanked individuals save or borrow money while holding each other accountable.
The launch of the dashboard came with a very tight deadline, but our team pulled through and was able to complete and launch the dashboard on time.
Since then, we have gone on to help develop a streamlined onboarding module for DreamSave Insights that makes it possible for intermediaries such as NGOs to see how savings groups under their purview are doing. We also contributed towards the development of DreamSave’s mobile app, and helped make sure that it was available for download in keeping with the timeframes specified in the project’s roadmap.
To this day, our engineering team proactively contributes towards making sure that the DreamSave app suits the lifestyles of those who use it. For instance, having understood that most users possess only ‘dumbphones’ and cannot afford to pay for data (which can sometimes cost a fortune), we suggested that the app be able to run offline and also send out notifications via SMS. Our UX team regularly steps up to suggest improvements to the app so that it remains fun and engaging to use, regardless of age, mother tongue, or tech-savviness.
Making life better through technology
DreamSave commenced operations in multiple countries including Kenya, Eswatini, Vietnam, Paraguay, Benin, and Bangladesh in the first quarter of 2021, and is gaining traction rapidly. For its work in helping to uplift people out of poverty, DreamStart Labs has gone on to win prestigious accolades such as the Inclusive Fintech 50 award, the Vodafone Innovation Award, a grant from the Women Saving for Resilience Innovation Fund, and most recently, four awards at the annual Fast Company World Changing Ideas Awards 2021.
With every new user, DreamSave (and by extension, DreamStart Labs) moves one step closer towards its goal of eradicating poverty, and it makes us immensely proud to be an active partner of this project.