Bloinx: Crypto for more reliable savings communities among low-income populations
The UNICEF Venture Fund is proud to see portfolio member BX Smart Labs graduate. What started as an idea brought by aggravated poverty at the height of COVID-19 is now a blockchain-powered application that helps increase crypto literacy among the poor and helps them leverage blockchain technology to create and sustain more reliable and trustworthy savings communities or circles.
Bloinx is a decentralized app — or dapp — that facilitates the administration of savings circles, or as they are called in Mexico, tandas. Tandas, or savings circles, are a tool that makes it easier for low-income population to cover their needs and improve their quality of life, they are the second informal saving tool in Mexico (22%), preceded by saving at home (42%). The money is destinated mainly for emergencies, payment of household services and assets.
In the span of a year, with the support of the Fund, we were able to validate our idea with real users to get feedback that has help us shape our product. We ran 3 usability tests to define the best UI approach, 2 pilots that helped us verify the interactions of the app with the blockchain and released our beta version to verify the complete functionality. We also got valuable mentoring in business development and social impact that kept our efforts focused on our target users.
How tandas work and why blockchain helps
Let's say 6 people agree to make weekly payments of 10 dollars. The first week, everyone pays, except for the first person on the list who ends up with 50 dollars, usually this spot is taken by a person who has an immediate need and has no access to formal credit. On the second week, the second on the list gets 50 dollars, and so on until the savings circle is complete. The first on the list gets an interest-free loan and the last uses it to save and help other members of their community. It's community lending that relies on the trust between participants.
There is usually one person that is responsible for the success of the savings circle. They are the ones that keep the list of who has and hasn’t paid, remind people to make their payments, and sometimes even physically gather the cash. It is a lot of work, and they usually don't get rewarded.
With Bloinx, you can create a saving circle and invite others to join within minutes. Also, everyone can check the status of the round on their phone, with the reassurance that the information is reliable because it's on a blockchain. This also means payments can be done remotely in crypto world over.
Developing with and for users
One of our greatest achievements was the constant version improvement of the dapp by testing with users, who became a very important part of the team. During development, Bloinx changed from being a version with basic and inflexible rules of what a round is, to one that was flexible, adding complexity to the contract, with enhanced user experience. The latest version features more structured smart contracts with events to map on the blockchain. We have also launched our ERC20 token, BLX, that is minted directly to users wallets when a saving round ends. The users in the last places of the list are rewarded with more tokens because they are using the saving circle as a saving method.
In addition to testing with Mexican users and small groups, collaboration with a group of Venezuelans learning about blockchain technology, specifically the use of cryptocurrencies and tech significantly informed the improvements of the application. Their feedback helped usher improvements to the technical components and usage of the application.
This participation highlighted the importance of teamwork and the willingness of people to use technology as a resource to improve lives.
With this group, our first rounds began, and the first version of the application was tried out. The findings showed some improvements in the contract and functionality.
Tandas work because participants trust each other. Since Bloinx is digitizing tandas, the platform needs to be trusted by users and other developers. We encourage this by having public Open Source repositories. This licensing strategy has been beneficial for us because improvement is always latent and continuous.
One of the main challenges we encountered was the adoption of the application by non-crypto users. Users who are unfamiliar with cryptocurrencies aren’t very receptive to the use of this type of technology. We must work more on raising awareness and sharing information about blockchain, cryptos, and electronic wallets, to demystify some concepts and provide the security that blockchain offers.
We need to deliver an application that all users feel comfortable with and that can reach more people and more families. Without hesitation, we will consider finding the necessary resources and connections for Bloinx to continue growing and we trust that technology will advance so that together we can break down barriers.
The Venture Fund’s support helped us reach other countries and gain the interest of other companies and platforms. This opportunity was also valuable because we represented more than an idea, we represented our country with the upgrade of a daily and regular practice, tandas.