Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

Encointer Association

What is the name of your solution?


Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

A platform that enables communities to establish decentralized local digital currencies with basic income which are independent of donors and do not require banks or state-issued ID

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

Local economies are often held back by a very basic problem — a lack of stable and reliable money for transactions. This means that even when people have skills, services or produce to trade locally, economic activity is stifled by a lack of liquidity.

The problem has multiple causes. In 2021, the World Bank estimated that 850 million people globally cannot prove who they are because they have no official identification documents. About one in three of these people report difficulties in accessing basic financial services like opening a bank account. These barriers are most prevalent in low-income countries.

Marginal and seasonal employment can also lead to liquidity shortages. People who are self-employed or rely on informal jobs need to contend with low pay and fluctuations in their income. According to the International Labour Organization, this particularly affects the 1.4 billion individuals in low- and middle-income countries classified as “own-account and contributing family workers”. In addition, disadvantaged communities sometimes rely on industries such as agriculture or tourism that are highly seasonal, resulting in liquidity droughts during periods of low yields or low demand.

Mobile phone-based money transfer technologies like M-Pesa in Africa have proven to be popular and successful, but they still rely on the supply and stability of national currency to operate and require participants to present a valid ID to open an account.

Decentralized digital currencies have often been touted as an alternative way of promoting financial inclusion, but they tend to be unsuitable for basic income initiatives for three reasons. Firstly, there is nothing to stop a single individual opening multiple digital asset wallets anonymously, which makes it very hard to distribute a basic income while preventing double claiming without requiring a state-issued ID. Secondly, users typically need money to purchase digital currencies via an exchange (and this usually requires an ID), so it is not a true alternative. Thirdly, high transaction fees pose an insurmountable barrier to adoption adoption of decentralized finance (DeFi) in many cases. 80% of the global population earn less per day that a typical cost of a single pure ETH transaction on Ethereum, for example.    

Beyond purely monetary considerations, low-income communities often feature lower levels of trust, economic connectedness and social capital. This makes it more difficult for individuals to form the networks that are important in achieving upward income mobility. 

What is your solution?

Encointer is a decentralized platform and payment network that enables communities everywhere to create their own local digital currency and distribute it as a basic income, without requiring a state-issued ID to participate.

The App: Participants install the free Encointer Wallet App, currently available for Android and iOS. In regions with an active community currency, the app enables users to send and receive funds and participate in gatherings to receive their community income.

To make a payment at a participating business, users simply need to scan a QR Code in the Encointer Wallet app. Users can also send funds to other individuals in the community through the app.    

Distribution of Community Income: The Encointer protocol is based on a very simple principle — one person cannot be in more than one place at any given time. Each community currency is distributed on a periodic basis (currently every 10 days) to all active participants. To claim their community income, each member needs to attend a small in-person gathering at a randomly assigned place in their locality. The Encointer Wallet App displays the time and location of the next gathering. All events are held concurrently, making it impossible to claim an income more than once each cycle. At the gathering, each attendee scans the QR code of the other participants to confirm their attendance. Within 48 hours, all attendees will receive their community income in the wallet app. Watch a video of an Encointer gathering here.

The Platform: The underlying network that powers Encointer is built on the Kusama/Polkadot blockchain network. Encointer has been granted the status of a “common good” project by Kusama, meaning that it does not need to pay to lease a place on the network.

Currencies are subject to demurrage, which means that unspent account balances are reduced by a fixed percentage each week. This encourages spending and economic activity, discourages hoarding, and thereby stimulates a local multiplier effect in the area.

Governance & features: Encointer community currencies are governed democratically according to the principle of one person, one vote.

The demurrage rate, the size of the community income and other factors are set democratically by participants. Participants are also free to decide whether they want to notionally peg the value of their community currency to the national currency or — if that currency is unstable — to a basket of local goods and services. Ultimately, however, the only true value of the currency is that it is accepted as a means of payment for local goods and services by participants.  

In sum, Encointer offers a toolkit for communities to increase the level of disposable income among participants, enabling them to boost the local economy without relying on external donations or aid.

See our intro video here.

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Encointer is a flexible framework by design that could be used by any community seeking to encourage local spending, strengthen local supply chains, and increase social capital. 

However, it is reasonable to assume that Encointer will be most beneficial in communities underserved by traditional finance, populations with low social capital, and regions where the national currency is volatile or scarce. 

Communities underserved by traditional finance

One of the key advantages of Encointer is that it allows participants unconditional access to a secure and transferable local digital currency. When people have no access to financial services, it is harder for them to integrate into economic life. Using survey data, the World Bank cites the three most prevalent reasons that individuals remain unbanked:

1. they lack the money to open an account 

2. they live too far away from the nearest financial institution 

3. they lack the required documentation.  

The Encointer platform addresses each of these issues. Firstly, by taking part in a gathering, every participant will receive a community income, at no cost, regardless of their current income, gender, age, race or social status. Secondly, Encointer currencies are locally based and governed, and can be established in any area with internet coverage that is underserved by conventional financial institutions. Thirdly, Encointer currencies are open to all individuals who live in a particular region, regardless of whether they possess identification documents or even citizenship.

Communities underserved by decentralized finance In addition, to overcome the problem of digital currency and DeFi transaction fees outlined earlier, Encointer takes advantage of the pooled security on the Kusama network to enable digital transactions that are adjusted to purchasing power of the respective community.

Populations with low social capital

In both the developed and developing world, low-income communities often suffer from low levels of trust and social capital. First popularized by Robert D. Putnam, social capital refers to the networks of social connections that help a society function effectively. These social bonds tend to be useful for individuals seeking job referrals, and to hear about opportunities for work. By requiring regular in-person gatherings, combined with the sense of belonging to a grassroots network with participatory governance, Encointer fosters greater social interaction and economic connectedness.  

Regions where the national currency is volatile/scarce    

In certain cases where the national currency is particularly scarce or unstable due to a macroeconomic shock or hyperinflation, an Encointer community currency could help to serve as a means to facilitate transactions among participating businesses and individuals in the local economy.

To be clear, however, Encointer currencies are intended to be complementary and work in tandem with the national currency. Participation in an Encointer currency community could help individuals to build important social connections, cover some of their basic needs and interact in the local economy. It is intended to be a stepping stone toward greater financial inclusion, however, not a wholesale alternative to traditional finance.  

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Alain is well-travelled in many countries of the global south. Besides travelling in Western Africa, South America, India and Asia he also participated in a voluntary schooling project in Togo where he learned a lot about the situation on the ground. A social climber himself, he also experienced inequality in his home country Switzerland which nurtured his interest in macroeconomics - besides his formations as an engineer. He entered the blockchain space in its early days (2011), but was increasingly disappointed by the devastating ecological and social consequences of the design of early cryptocurrencies. So he developed the alternative concept of Encointer in his whitepaper. Still, we want to emphasize that Encointer - as a grassroots protocol - should not depend too much on its founder. We have adopted two main approaches to ensuring proximity to target populations.

Firstly, the Encointer Association does not centrally determine where new communities will form. Instead, we run information campaigns about Encointer and encourage interested local leaders to contact us with their questions and queries. After a short screening process, we provide local founding members known as “bootstrappers” with technical, marketing and financial support in establishing their currency community. By allowing the formation of new currencies to be demand-driven, we seek to attract local populations willing to take ownership of their community currency and tailor it to their needs.

Secondly, we follow the principle of subsidiarity in decision-making, meaning that we devolve as many decisions as possible to local communities. As the Encointer protocol requires individuals to attend in-person meetings to participate and claim their community income, it provides a secure and robust basis for democratic decision-making processes based on the principle of one person, one vote. There are a number of in-built incentive levers available to communities to tailor their local currency to their needs. They can set the size of the community income, decide whether it is notionally pegged to fiat currency or not, determine the time gap between community gatherings, define the demurrage rate on unspent balances, and stipulate how long a participant can retain their reputation if they fail to attend one or more gatherings.

We will monitor, collect anonymized data, and write reports about existing Encointer currency communities in order to generate learnings and help inform the decisions of other communities. Ultimately, however, the decisions will rest with the communities themselves.  

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Create and/or reduce frictions to scale safe personal identification methods for individuals who have been kept out of the formal financial system due to a lack of formal identification

In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?


In what country is your solution team headquartered?

  • Switzerland

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Pilot: An organization testing a product, service, or business model with a small number of users

How many people does your solution currently serve?

There are approximately 150-200 users regularly using Encointer community currencies. The majority of these users use LEU, the longest established pilot currency based on Encointer, located in Zurich. A second, new community GBD is located in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA and is gaining its first regular users.

In addition, community leaders are in the process of establishing new Encointer community currencies in Kigali, Rwanda, Felipe Carillo Puerto, Mexico, Dar Es Salam, Tanzania, Zaria, Nigeria and Berlin, Germany.    

Why are you applying to Solve?

Encointer is best suited for areas with limited access to traditional financial services, unstable national currencies, or corruption issues. The team has begun outreach in these areas and has received positive feedback, but cultural, legal, and market barriers make the process challenging. We believe that partnering with on-site development organizations is a viable way to introduce the platform. We believe MIT Solve can help to facilitate these partnerships.

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Legal or Regulatory Matters
  • Monitoring & Evaluation (e.g. collecting/using data, measuring impact)
  • Product / Service Distribution (e.g. delivery, logistics, expanding client base)

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Alain Brenzikofer

More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

Encointer has developed a mechanism to introduce universal basic income globally, without the need for distribution through state institutions or financing by taxpayers/donors. To achieve this, the properties of money are being changed. The Encointer protocol enables local digital currencies with a built-in redistribution mechanism combining basic income and Demurrage. In order to make sure a human claims the basic income only once Encointer uses an innovative social protocol to prove personhood without an ID.

The mechanism of in-person gatherings paired with hyper-local currencies is a new concept in the world of digital currencies and strengthens community cohesion. 

Summarized: Encointer is delivering permissionless access to a decentralized financial system including means to be able to participate in it. 

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

Our impact goals are:

  1. Individual people in Encointer communities perceive an improvement of their well-being and social capital.

  2. Encointer improves access to local goods, services, and better job opportunities for individuals of Encointer communities.

  3. Consumption is more local and therefore more sustainable, socially and environmentally

  4. Encointer communities observe improved macroeconomic performance.

  5. Individuals can access financial services like credit, and insurance and can participate in global asset markets through the Encointer ecosystem.

The focus of the next 12 Months: 

Grow the Encointer system in the pioneer community in Zurich, such that impact goals 1-4 are measurable. Learn how to enable more people to launch and grow communities around the globe. 

For the Next 5 Years

  • The 100 global Encointer communities are growing and demonstrating impact goal 1-4.
  • A significant portion of indivudals previously unbanked have now gained access to financial services (impact goal 5.)
  • Encointer has become the democratic digital infrastructure our world needs and is a true alternative to existing infrastructures.

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

We measure participation on a community level by looking at active individuals and businesses. The total turnover and money velocity of community currencies gives us an idea of economic value. The number of active communities helps us track our global impact. Social impact is tracked with individual interviews. 

We use the Objective and Key Results Framework to guide our efforts. Currently, we have two Objectives with each four Key Results until the end of 2023.

Objective 1: The pioneer community in Zurich is diverse and successful through and for Encointer

With Key Results:

  • Sustainable growth of participants in the pioneer community ecosystem (3% week over week)

  • Sustainable growth of businesses in the pioneer community ecosystem (5% week over week)

  • Economic cycles are detectable and make up a significant portion of the current turnover

  • A revenue-generating model in order to self-sustain the community currency is established

Encointer is growing and able to create sustainable social value on a global level

  • Globally there are 5 active communities

  • Collaborations with international NGOs to deliver Encointer systems in underserved countries

  • The Encoitner proof of personhood has been used by other organizations

Objective 2 Encointer is growing and able to create sustainable social value on a global level

With Key Results:

  • Besides Leu in Zurich, there are 3 active and growing communities. 2 of these communities have reached a lively community with participants and busineses.

  • 2 specific projects in collaboration with an international NGO are in the funding process.

  • The Encointer platform and its communities suffer less than 1 day of downtime in total.

  • The value created by Encointers' proof of personhood has been used bay at least 3 third-party teams.

More information can be found in our OKR Report here.

What is your theory of change?

We are building and improving the technical platform. This makes the tools easier to deploy and more stable to use. Which leads to faster and better adoption within the pioneer community as well as globally.

In Zurich, we are actively growing the pioneer community. Which includes marketing, community building, and business development. The growing pioneer community enables us to find friction with the technical platform and remove it. The learnings are documented and help us build guidelines, best practices, and playbooks such that new communities can grow. The community building efforts improve the cohesion in Zurich as well as the financial literacy of the community members. The more people and businesses accept the local currency in Zurich, the more the impact goals 1-4 as described above can be observed.

To grow global communities we run information campaigns and support new community leaders with their efforts. This way we increase their financial literacy and help to improve the community cohesion in their area. With our support, more global communities can grow in a way to improve the well-being of their community members and the economic performance of the community itself.

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

The core technology consists of: 

The Encointer-Blockchain, which is built on the Kusama/Polkadot blockchain network using the Substrate development framework. The use of a decentralized network removes the need for centralized financial intermediaries to transact funds, reducing costs. The blockchain is our core decentralized backend which runs the encointer protocol

The App: Participants install the free Encointer Wallet App, currently available for Android and iOS. In regions with an active community currency, the app enables users to send and receive funds, view their account balance, manage their account, and participate in gatherings to receive their community income.

To make a payment at a participating business, users simply need to scan a QR Code in the Encointer Wallet app and enter the transaction amount. The payment will clear within 10 seconds. Users can also send funds to other individuals in the community through the app.    

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new application of an existing technology

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Blockchain
  • Software and Mobile Applications

In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Rwanda
  • Switzerland
  • United States

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Argentina
  • Germany
  • India
  • Kenya
  • Mexico
  • Nigeria
  • Rwanda
  • Switzerland
  • Tanzania
  • Uganda
  • United States
  • Zambia
Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?


How many people work on your solution team?

Cross-organizational and interdisciplinary team with a head count of 17 corresponding to 10.5 FTE / part-time staff: 5 / contractors: 12

How long have you been working on your solution?

4 years

What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

At Encointer, we are on a mission to build an equal-opportunity monetary system that empowers local communities to launch their own currencies in a permissionless manner.

We believe that diversity, equity, and inclusivity are critical factors in the success of community currencies, and we consciously promote these values in our team and communities.

Our protocol is designed to treat every human being equally and with worth, and we strive to be respectful to every participant while respecting their privacy.

We believe in being open and welcoming to new participants, and our solutions are built in the open, with the source code available for viewing and commenting online. We are committed to creating a more equitable and inclusive financial system that benefits all individuals, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

Encointer is creating value by delivering a digital proof of personhood, which for instance can be used to verify a social media profile or for democratic voting processes. Before designing a system to capture this value, we are focusing on generating it on a large scale. Early value-capturing ideas are personhood as a service license or a fee-based structure. 

Encointer community currencies create value in a local ecosystem, by complementing the national currencies. The community currency boosts local economic activities and improves the well-being of its community members. Encointer is providing the tools and support to community leaders in order to launch and grow their own local community. After the startup phase, the communities transition into a self-sustaining operating mode. To cover occurring costs on a local level, services can be provided for the ecosystem. E.g. with a liquidity or exchange service, such that participants can exchange community currency for other currencies. A gift card offering or organizing a freelance workforce can be another service with a clear revenue mechanism.

Additional ideas on the technical protocol level include collecting the small-transaction fees into a community-owned treasury or funneling a small percentage of created community currency into the treasury. Developing a viable revenue mechanism is currently being developed for the pioneer community. 

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)

What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

Apart from enabling grassroots communities, Encointer is a platform for proof of personhood. The proof of personhood is a product in itself: 

The demand side consists primarily of B2B or B2G relationships. Organizations want to use the proof of personhood to for instance deliver financial aid to every person or to implement a democratic vote.

The supply side of personhood is a B2C relationships. Where the C stands not only for consumers but for communities. 

As a public good in the Web3 ecosystem, we are financed by grants. In a next step, we want to supplement this income stream with subsidies from foundations, NGOs, and governments. 

Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

The development and operations of Encointer have been financed with numerous grants from the Web3 ecosystem as well as donations from individuals. The total amount raised is in the low 7 figures.

Solution Team

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