This Ripple Insights series spotlights Ripple Impact partners, the non-profits and mission-driven companies Ripple works with to advance financial inclusion, combat climate change, and make a difference locally.
Next up in the series is a Q&A with Laura Chioda, Research Director of the Lab for Inclusive FinTech (LIFT) and the Institute for Business and Social Impact (IBSI) at the University of California, Berkeley.
Q: What is the Lab for Inclusive FinTech and what are your main areas of focus?
A: The UC Berkeley Lab for Inclusive FinTech is a research partnership aimed at unlocking the potential of digital financial technologies to benefit underserved populations around the world. This includes crypto, blockchain and other emerging financial technologies.
With funding and support from Ripple as part of the University Blockchain Research Initiative, LIFT launched in 2021 and is led by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Business and Social Impact (IBSI) at the Haas School of Business, in collaboration with the Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA) and and the Blum Center for Developing Economies.
The lab has three major thrusts: research, experiential learning, and community building. We link academic researchers with industry partners and policymakers with the goal of reimagining the design and reach of digital financial services to build a healthy, inclusive, and sustainable digital economy.
Q: Why is research important to expanding financial technology?
A: With increasing access to the internet and adoption of blockchain technology, fintech products are rapidly revolutionizing the global financial ecosystem, yet research to assess their impacts has not kept pace with innovation. Research and evaluation will play a critical role in ensuring that technological advances reach and benefit users, particularly vulnerable and traditionally excluded populations.
LIFT aims to improve the design, reach, and efficacy of digital financial services and financial technologies. The goal is to accelerate the financial inclusion and wellbeing of underserved communities in emerging and advanced markets. LIFT’s distinctive feature is its emphasis on partnerships with key actors in the private sector, non-profits, and policymakers, generating opportunities to build high quality and high impact research agendas and evidence. Overall, LIFT seeks to address unanswered questions about the impacts — positive and negative — of digital financial services for individuals and businesses. We focus on digital and data-driven solutions designed to foster firms’ competitive potential, generate inclusive growth, and empower youth, women, and minorities.
Q: What are some of the research projects LIFT has been involved in?
A: We are continuously identifying and evaluating a wide range of areas where digital financial technologies can support underserved populations. We also develop new and productive research partnerships with NGOs like CARE, Mercy Corps, and UN World Food Program.
Some of the research projects we have taken part in include:
- How stable wallets can promote financial health for vulnerable women and youth in Uganda
- How fintech innovation can promote financial access during pandemics
- The role of Digital ID in expanding financial inclusion
- Expanding access to credit with digital repossession
You can learn more about some of our research projects here.
Q: How is LIFT engaging with UC Berkeley students?
A: We are working with students in a variety of ways. Overall, LIFT aims to equip and inspire UC Berkeley students to contribute to the next wave of inclusive innovation and research. We hope these students will go on to pursue careers as fintech researchers, regulators, and industry leaders. Through the Blum Center, we are launching student engagement and training activities, including undergraduate and masters’ level curriculum, while expanding the Blum Center’s student innovation ecosystem with a focus on digital financial inclusion.
We recently held our “FinTech for Social Good” Big Ideas Contest which supports students working on fintech ideas to advance social change. Student teams submitted proposals and two finalists were selected to receive “LIFT Implementation Awards” of $5,000 along with access to skill-building workshops and online resources, 1-1 mentorship, networking opportunities, and extensive feedback. This contest was made possible with funding by Ripple, and Jonathan Perri, Ripple’s Senior Social Impact Manager, served as a judge.
Q: What will LIFT be focused on in 2024?
A: We will be holding our second LIFT conference in December. The event will feature a combination of policy, research and industry panels covering topics like modernizing humanitarian aid delivery, digital wallets, privacy, and embedded finance.
We plan to continue engaging with UC Berkeley students as interest in the applications of blockchain, crypto and other technologies to advance financial inclusion grows.
Learn more about Ripple Impact or check out Ripple careers today.