A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Ours has been no different. We began ours in 2018 when we started working as validators on various blockchain networks. We organized community events, held developer training sessions, and worked at creating foundations for this revolutionary technology in our own backyard. However, we discovered that there were challenges that created barriers to access for our local community. It is estimated that of the 770 million people in Africa with a mobile phone, 440 million people do not have an internet-enabled device. Furthermore, Africa hosts a large percentage of the 1.7 billion unbanked adults globally. While blockchain technology has created solutions for the unbanked, current blockchain technologies are built with the smartphone user in mind, locking out millions of people who do not have mobile phones that can access the internet.

The need to create a solution to address these challenges was massive. Yet there were still other problems that seemed to arise. Firstly, exchanging value on any blockchain platform requires one to securely create and maintain a number of complex identifiers known as keys, and in some cases, additional phrases that serve as recovery passes. These complexities made on-boarding a very cumbersome procedure. Additionally, there seemed to be a need for a platform to enable the conversion of currency from fiat to crypto, yet the existing ones had their own complexities and a steep learning curve. This discouraged users from onboarding.

Having identified the fact that Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) is the primary mode of the mobile interface for a majority of the population in developing countries, we opted for a USSD-based solution in a quest for inclusivity for all. With Celo Foundation’s secure decentralized mapping of phone numbers, we created a solution that does away with the need to handle the complexities of public and private keys, allowing users to easily send and receive payments with their existing phone contacts.

The advantages that Kotani Pay has over other services that are conferred by the nature of USSD service include the fact that the user does not need to install any additional application, they can access the service without any internet access requirement, and the whole process has a very short learning curve.

Our experience at the Celo Camp has been transformative. Our interactions with experienced mentors have challenged us to refine our process and make the application more intuitive. Other teams that we have shared the time with have encouraged us to keep working, and we have gained useful insights and partnerships in the course of our interactions. The camp has been a crucible, giving our nimble team some sleepless nights that have yielded some of the greatest outputs for Kotani Pay, refining the product to create a service that users can truly enjoy.

We still have some way to go, but the experience we have had has made the journey worthwhile, and we look forward to providing a service that bridges the gap of inclusivity for the African continent and creates financial access and freedom for the masses, especially those whose only access is the feature phone. Celo has provided a reliable platform for many startups in the frontier markets to launch innovative solutions, and we hope that we shall see the Celo ecosystem grow into a platform of inclusivity in the quest for beautiful economics and beautiful money.

The team at Kotani Pay is grateful to the teams at Upright, Celo Camp, and Celo Labs for the unwavering support and warmth, and to our amazing community for encouraging us and offering thoughts and feedback to improve our product. Our journey is not over, and we’re glad you’re a part of it. Forward ever!

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Carbon Neutral Blockchain infrastructure provider and validator. Developers of @kotanipay.