Quipu is a digital marketplace like eBay or Alibaba, but for unbanked micro-businesses at the bottom of the pyramid.

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  • Yes, I fulfill all of the eligibility criteria.

Initiative's representative name

Mercedes Bidart

Initiative's representative date of birth

May 9th, 1992

Initiative’s representative gender

  • Woman

Which eligible market are you based in?

  • USA

Where are you making a difference?

We are a US based organization building a solution for informal settlements in Latin America.

Website or social media url(s)


When was your organisation founded?

February 2018

Focus areas

  • Financial skills and capability
  • Creating digital tools

Project Stage

  • Pilot (have done first proof of concept)

Yearly Budget: How much capital do you need to accomplish your proposed project?

  • $100k - $250k

Organisation Type

  • Hybrid

1. Founding story: Share a story about the "Aha!" moment that led the founder(s) to get started or the story of how you saw the potential for this to succeed

Our team was born and raised in Latin America. We connected through our work in slums in micro-finance, economic development, and skills training. We understand from our firsthand experience that while these communities live on dollars a day, they’re not necessarily poor. They’re rich in entrepreneurial capacity, they’re hubs of commerce with a strong offer and demand for goods and services, and they have strong social capital. So we came together to answer the question, “How can we design solutions that put improving the lives of marginalized communities at the center?” We created Quipu to build an alternative economy that works for the informal sector - an economy where when one wins, everyone wins.

2. The problem: What problem surrounding employability or financial capability are you helping to solve?

2/3rds of the world works in the informal economy. They struggle to generate and retain wealth in their communities - they lack access to capital and during times of economic downturn, like we are experiencing with COVID-19, low-income families are hit hardest and often lack the cash needed to afford their basic necessities. The issue is of economic justice - our challenge is to create money liquidity and access to equitable financial services.

3. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

Quipu is a digital marketplace for the informal economy. With the Quipu app, users create business profiles to buy and sell goods and services without cash using local tokens called quipus. The quipus are an exchange currency not meant for accumulation but instead as a compliment to cash and are valid at all businesses on the marketplace. Because the currency circulates internally and is issued by those who use it, there will always be enough quipus in a local economy to meet the needs of the community so users can save cash and maintain commerce even when money is scarce. By bringing the billions of cash-based, micro-transactions online with the touch of a smartphone, Quipu generates a massive ledger of transaction data we leverage to inform business decisions, improve supply chains, and prove creditworthiness enabling our users, for the first time, access to equitable financial services like loans. We’re connecting anyone who has anything to sell on an online marketplace with a digital payments system where none else exists. With Quipu, informal workers can make their offerings accessible and enable people the money liquidity needed to afford their everyday necessities.

4. How are you innovating or using unique approaches to solving the problem?

We understand solutions work best when coming from people closest to the problem. That’s why we chose a co-design process with a group of micro-entrepreneurs living in Barranquilla, Colombia. From scratch, together we designed the entire platform and now have a MVP we are piloting. We’ve involved our users to visualize and be the makers of their own systems. We didn’t want to just be another financial inclusion company, including users into the formal economy which marginalizes, but instead have our users be the creators of an alternative economy that allows them to collaborate to be the agents of their own economic development. Financial inclusion is solved, Quipu addresses the real challenge of locally-owned economic growth.

6. Financial capability: how is your organization or project creating innovative solutions that arm people with ability to optimize their current and future financial health

Increase Income Opportunities: Mapping businesses allows users to reach more customers, increase income opportunities, and drive growth in sales. Save Money: The Quipu local token system provides users the ability to buy and sell amongst each other without using cash allowing users to save money and transact even in times when cash flow is limited. Build Credit: We leverage transaction data to prove creditworthiness and unlock access to financial services like equitable loans. Inform Business Decisions: Quipu’s real-time sales and analytics reporting allows users to see and manage their cash flow, track customers, and understand what products are selling and which aren’t. Efficient Supply Chains: Quipu aggregates users into collective purchasing groups to enable collective bargaining and secure cheaper pricing for basic necessities and business inputs.

6a. Please describe what aspect of financial capability your organization is focused on fostering and how you have measured / plan to measure progress.

Quipu is a digital anti-poverty platform helping informal economies transition from financial uncertainty to financial prosperity. We’ve created a tool enabling users to manage their business incomes and expenditures so they can visualize their behavior as individuals within the context of their local economies and make informed decisions on what to produce, how to sell, where to buy, and more. Plus, the local token system increases purchasing power which helps users save their money more effectively. We will track progress through user growth and the number of communities we launch in.

7. Marketplace: Who else is addressing the same problem? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

MercadoLibre is competitive but requires bank accounts to process transactions. However, micro-businesses are unbanked. The local token system makes Quipu the only marketplace offering digital payments to previously unbanked, offline places. Other micro-lenders like Tala and Branch focus on individuals. But poverty is about place, so Quipu innovates by addressing the interconnectedness of place-based, informal settlements. We provide micro-loans to support weaknesses in local economies and offer a trading system that injects money to stimulate economic growth and share it locally

8. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

In 2018 the team received a grant to co-design a digital platform for the informal economy. From scratch, we gathered a community called Villas de San Pablo to collaborate, workshop and map local businesses as a means to address economic failures and counter-plan against systems that marginalize them. From this, we co-developed Quipu as a tool helping communities redesign their economies in ways that work for them. We now have partnered with a MFI and development bank and are piloting our solution in Colombia. We will measure the impact of the Quipu economy in 3 ways: economic growth, cash savings, and access to fair loans. We can validate our network by tracking income levels and poverty rates by analyzing percentage growth in sales, recording the amount of digital tokens transacted to quantify cash saved and shared locally, and monitoring interest and default rates on micro-loans.

9. Financial Sustainability Plan. Can you tell us about you plan to fund your project and how that plan will be sustainable in the short, medium, and long term?

Quipu is supported financially through partnerships with accelerators, micro-finance institutions, and development banks. We secured our first paying partnerships with Fundación Mario Santo Domingo, a MFI in Colombia, and the Inter-American Development Bank who are covering the costs of implementation for our pilot as well as distributing Quipu’s first micro-loans. Quipu will generate revenue as banks pay us for proprietary financial scores that assess user creditworthiness while we also collect interest on micro-loans. In the long-term, we plan to be the first Neo Bank tailored for informal economies. We want to have a complete offering of financial products and services made accessible and affordable to the informal sector.

10. Team

Quipu is a team of Latin American born, MIT and Harvard graduates who have witnessed firsthand how marginalized communities struggle to survive. The team brings a diverse set of skills and backgrounds including urban planning, urban & informal economics, public policy, community engagement, UX design and computer science. As we grow, we plan to add teams of community organizers to help Quipu implement on the ground and data scientists to manage and evaluate marketplace data.

Help Us Support Diversity! Are you a member of an under-served , under-represented, or marginalized group in your country of residence? (yes/no) (this question is optional – if you choose to fill it out, the response will not be shared with your fellow contestants)

  • Nationality
  • Ethnic group
  • Gender

If you selected “yes” to any of the categories above, please explain how being a member of this group has impacted you and your work?

Being an entrepreneur from Latin America is very difficult. We live in economically and politically unstable countries that have complex problems. I've witnessed firsthand how families living in slums struggle to survive. Throughout my life I've worked directly with female entrepreneurs and been inspired by their efforts to support one another. These are my people, now I want to dedicate my career to creating collective prosperity for my region.

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Other

11. Bring it to life: Please walk us through a concrete example of how your solution will solve the problem you’re trying to address

Our users are producers and consumers on the marketplace simultaneously. They purchase locally at least three times a day in small quantities, and that is what's important here. There's already an extensive network of cash-based transactions in place. We want to move those transaction chains online via the Quipu Market. A Quipu street vendor creates a profile to advertise her business. She shares the location of where she sets up shop for the day, uploads stock and pricing information for her prepaid airtime cards, bottles of water, and fresh fruit, and checks her sales numbers from the previous week. She can also browse through local offerings on a map, chat and negotiate with other vendors, and transact digitally from her wallet of quipus. The app allows users to reach new customers, manage their sales history, and record transactions to prove credit. See attached PPT for a demo

12. Skills Matching: HSBC Employees will have the opportunity to offer skilled-volunteering. If matched, which of the following skills would you be most interested in receiving?

  • Accounting & Finance
  • Monitoring Impact
  • Legal Services
  • Staff Development
  • Marketing Strategy, Design
  • Web/Mobile Development

13. Financial Sustainability – funding breakdown: please list a quick breakdown of your funding, indicating an estimated percentage that comes from each source.

Individual donations or gifts: 10 %

Foundation or NGO grants: 50 %

Bequests: 0 %

Corporate contributions 0 %

Grants or contracts: 40 %

Earned income (product or services sales, licensing, franchising, consulting, financing, etc.): 0%

Other: 0%

14. Financial Sustainability – please tell us more about how you plan to fund and scale your project over the next 12 months.

The next 12 months are committed to rolling out our pilot in partnership with the IDB and FMSD. The program will cost $195,000 with $150,000 funded by the IDB, $35,000 from FMSD, and $10,000 hopefully to be covered by this Ashoka grant. The project will be conducted in 3 phases: Definition (Months 1 - 4; $55,000), Implementation (Months 1 - 9; $125,000), and Evaluation (Months 9 - 12; $15,000). We are in the Definition stage testing and adjusting the web-based app to prepare a release version with all the functionalities and features necessary to be launched to the public. In the Implementation stage, we will roll out a full functioning token system and test our creditworthiness algorithm. In the Evaluation phase at the end of the pilot, a final report/case study will be presented on key results, impacts achieved, and lessons learned. See attached PPT for revenue projections

15. Growth Strategy: What are your main strategies for scaling your impact?

In order to achieve scale, Quipu must grow its network of partnerships with local stakeholders in the communities we aim to serve. Quipu’s strategy for growth is to engage and build trust among local governments, MFIs, & NGOs who help with implementation and user adoption throughout the communities they operate in. This way, instead of devoting the entirety of our focus towards targeting individual micro-business owners, which would be both cost and time expensive, we focus on local stakeholders who already work with our target users so we can onboard many micro-businesses seamlessly. 

16. Activating changemakers: How are you giving people the power to control their own destiny and support other people to become changemakers in their communities?

Quipu entrepreneurs already had ideas for solutions to advertise their business and connect with other vendors but they lacked a platform to cooperate. We designed Quipu to serve as a radical planning tool to promote the necessary spaces of collaboration needed to create counter-traditional economic spaces. With Quipu, micro-entrepreneurs can be changemakers for and serve as cornerstones for local economic development. They can create strategies to support local businesses in solidarity, can prove their communities are creditworthy, and can even fund community development projects.

17. Awards & Recognitions: What awards or recognitions, if any, has the project received so far?

Initially we were awarded with a cash grant by the MIT Transnational Innovation Alliance and MIT Sandbox for the idea of Quipu and the web-app prototype. Since then, we've been awarded  first prize as the most innovative financial inclusion platform in Colombia by the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) and were recognized by and pitched at the World Bank Youth Summit.

18. Tell us about how collaborations and partnerships would enhance the scalability and impact of your project

Our first step in every implementation process for launch in a new community is to establish a partnership with a local stakeholder which could be a city government, micro-finance institution, development agency, etc. So, in order for us to grow we need to have channel partners who can onboard micro-businesses they already work with. This network of partnerships and access to micro-entrepreneurs is our path to scale.  

Finally - Your Selfie Elevator Pitch: Share a 1-minute video that shares a quick summary of the problem you would like to solve, how you’ve chosen to solve it, and the impact you hope to see.

Evaluation results

9 evaluations so far

1. OVERALL Evaluation:

Yes, absolutely! - 44.4%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 11.1%

Maybe/no - 11.1%

No - 0%

2. Is this entry INNOVATIVE?

Yes, absolutely! - 33.3%

Yes/maybe - 33.3%

Maybe - 11.1%

Maybe/no - 11.1%

No - 11.1%

3. Does this entry have SOCIAL IMPACT?

Yes, absolutely! - 77.8%

Yes/maybe - 11.1%

Maybe - 11.1%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 0%

4. Is this entry VIABLE financially and operationally?

Yes, absolutely! - 11.1%

Yes/maybe - 44.4%

Maybe - 33.3%

Maybe/no - 0%

No - 11.1%


Yes, absolutely! - 11.1%

Yes/maybe - 66.7%

Maybe - 11.1%

Maybe/no - 11.1%

No - 0%

6. FEEDBACK: Highlights

IMPACT POTENTIAL: You use specific numbers and evidence to describe what your project has achieved so far (or plan to achieve in the future) – and you have a concrete plan for future impact. You have specific tools for measuring impact. - 100%

QUALITY OF INNOVATION: You have a great understanding of the problem, have researched existing solutions, and have developed unique, thoughtful solutions - 50%

FINANCIAL AND OPERATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY: You have given a great deal of thought to not just the idea itself but how to make it work operationally and financially in the present and future; your plan is specific and you value sustainability. - 66.7%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: You have a good plan on how to activate changemakers and empower them to innovate through your product or programming - 83.3%

Other option - 50%

7. FEEDBACK: Areas for Improvement

IMPACT POTENTIAL: make sure to provide specific instances of your social impact (or how you plan to measure impact) – it may be helpful to describe the beneficiaries, the main activities/products, and provide evidence of (or plan for) impact evaluation - 20%

QUALITY OF INNOVATION: make sure to describe how your solution is unique and innovative – it is helpful to include the research you have done on past solutions and how your solution is different from (and/or builds upon) these. - 20%

FINANCIAL AND OPERATIONAL SUSTAINABILITY: make sure you have provided descriptive information about your financial sustainability plan. Where do the funds come from now and do you have a concrete plan for future sustainability? - 100%

CHANGEMAKING ACTIVATION: make sure you describe your plan for how to empower others to become changemakers through your programming, service, or product - 0%

WRITING STYLE. Try to be concise, descriptive, and specific. Avoid jargon. - 40%

Nothing stands out! I thought it was great. - 20%

Other option - 80%

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