Diversity & Inclusion
DEI / Funding / Women in tech

This CEO keeps fighting for financial inclusion in an anti-DEI world

Briana Marbury heads up the Interledger Foundation, one of the only Black woman-led major tech philanthropies, and refuses to back away from its work to make financial services available to everyone.

An Interledger Summit Breakout Session (Courtesy ILF)
Immediately after the Francis Scott Key Bridge tragically collapsed in Baltimore in the early hours of March 26, many voices on social media decided exactly where to place the blame: on DEI.

By the time most Americans woke up that morning, the narrative had already gained steam. Actual reporting on what happened was still being gathered, but a piece of internet fiction had been woven that because of DEI, the city has a Black mayor and the shipping company hired unqualified “diversity hires” that caused the disaster due to incompetence.

It wasn’t true. But it gained such a foothold that media outlets questioned Baltimore’s Mayor Brandon Scott about it.

That’s how low the conversation around DEI has gotten since a right-wing group filed a lawsuit against Fearless Fund for offering grants to Black-women-owned small businesses last August.

The term “DEI” may be poisoned, but whatever you call intentionally helping people who are disadvantaged and underresourced, it’s not going anywhere.

Fighting for financial inclusion

Briana Marbury (Courtesy ILF)

Briana Marbury, CEO and president of the Interledger Foundation (ILF), is one of the only Black women leading a major tech philanthropy.

ILF, based in Tampa, Florida, with employees spread remotely across the US and internationally, is a grant-making, independent foundation with a focus on financial inclusion for the collective good. Since its launch in 2020, the foundation has awarded over $14 million through 188 grants in over 40 countries.

A lack of financial inclusion, or access to financial opportunities and services — including bank accounts, business loans and investments — is no small issue.

According to the World Bank, 1.4 billion people globally are unbanked, having no bank account or access to financial services. While the vast majority of unbanked people live in countries with what are considered developing economies, the United States has the largest percentage of unbanked people in any of the high-income economies.

“People don’t realize how big the problem is,” Marbury told Technical.ly.

The rise of the internet and digital banking opened the door for more accessible peer-to-peer payment apps like Paypal, Cash App and Venmo that let unbanked people store cash and send it digitally. While these kinds of apps have been adopted worldwide, they haven’t solved issues like a lack of savings or ability to access emergency money, and they’re not universally available.

For example, an ILF grantee in Chile, where they don’t have Cash App or Venmo, is working on a local peer-to-peer program. Another organization in Mexico connected rural banks to each other, then to the central bank and then to partners in the US to make exchanging money easier.

Navigating obstacles

While progress is being made, there are challenges.

“One of the biggest obstacles that I didn’t realize when I first started this position is getting the stakeholders on board,” said Marbury. “Getting the regulators and the policymakers on board with what you’re trying to do.”

Getting the people they’re trying to reach involved and informed of the solutions available to them is another challenge, Marbury said: “Outreach and education are big areas.”

Anti-DEI campaigns or lawsuits have not yet impacted ILF, but knowing we’re in a social climate where being intentional about inclusion carries risk doesn’t deter Marbury from the work.

“It’s important that we do what we can as an organization to continue to give grants and awards to people,” said Marbury, noting that less than 1% of business investments go to Black women founders and more than 30 states have introduced or passed anti-DEO bills in recent months.

“All the momentum from 2020 and George Floyd, it just feels like they just weren’t real in their efforts to begin with,” Marbury said. With large companies and institutions increasingly dropping DEI initiatives, she said, it’s up to communities to create their own chances.

‘We’re here and we’re ready’

Opportunities for grants through ILF are ongoing and open to people with ideas for programs globally. Even if you have an idea that’s not all the way there, ILF will help you further develop it and move toward getting a grant.

“Oftentimes, we have great ideas, but we might not just know how to go about executing them,” said Marbury. Not reaching out for help can be a major barrier for people struggling with financial inclusion issues. So even as a CEO and president, Marbury’s door is open.

“I always say, connect with me, find me on LinkedIn, reach out and build those networks and communities, because we’re here and we’re ready to talk and ready to help in any way that we can.”

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the Interledger Foundation’s location.

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