Category Archives: Microleaders in action

TAQANU: Banking accessible to all

Imagine watching with despair your home being destroyed, unwillingly placing the bare necessities in a small bag and slinging it hurriedly over your shoulder leaving the place that once represented safety and security for the unknown and uncertain. You set out on a life-threatening voyage across the ocean with nothing more than hope for a brighter future for you and your loved ones and suddenly find yourself in a foreign country, facing distrust of the new system where you are desperately trying to blend in.

You want to join the local labour force but are lacking the necessary paperwork that would allow for it. Without a permanent address, no bank will permit you to open an account; without a bank account, legally signing a job contract is not an option. You are stuck in a vicious cycle of rejection, ridicule and regret.

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Committed to constructively addressing this ongoing struggle of many refugees, in 2016 Balázs Némethi, an architect by profession and social entrepreneur by design, founded Taqanu, a bank for refugees and people without a fixed address. He has been dedicating his energy, passion and resources to fuelling its vision and mission since.

In his native Hungary, talking about refugees is almost a political act against the government; the country has virtually no refugee support organizations. Living and working in a more socially responsible Norway at the time he wanted to help these people whose human rights were being violated. He was also curious about how one can open a bank account when they are a refugee and realized that it is a one-way street: they don’t.

We first met in September 2016 in the beautiful historic Greek capital of Athens at the annual European gathering of World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers and I was immediately inspired by his dedication to the project. A few weeks ago, Balázs who currently resides in Berlin agreed to sacrifice one of his lunch breaks to a skype call and talk to me about Taqanu, his aspirations and motivations.

  1. Could you walk me through the basics of Taqanu?   

Taqanu is a word that comes from Akkadian, now an extinct East Semitic language spoken by Hammurabi, the sixth king of the First Babylonian Dynasty and author of the Code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest surviving codes of law in recorded history. It means ‘to be safe.’

Taqanu’s vision is to solve financial inclusion for disenfranchised people with an initial goal to serve refugees globally, to have one solution accessible anywhere and by anyone without dealing with the problem of needing a government ID to obtain banking services.

I started working on my own. I applied for an accelerator programme in Switzerland and my project got accepted. The most important part was to research the incendiary, understand the problem and the technology that would resolve it: blockchain.

  1. What were you doing prior to founding Taqanu and what motivated you to leave a permanent job and move to Berlin?

I was living in Norway and working as an architect. I moved to Berlin because Germany has the most open Know Your Customer (KYC) regulation and also because of its dense intake of refugees. They of course need a bank account but unfortunately, the way regulatory entities are set up this is not possible. There has been a regulatory change but banks have been unable or unwilling to serve the newcomers. Unless a shift in willingness of banks occurs, refugees won’t have access to their own bank accounts and as a result to jobs.

Here in Berlin, I have the opportunity to work with relevant organizations on the ground, steadily building a network in refugee circles and fostering connections with organizations that are working directly with refugees to sustain Taqanu’s market growth. Taqanu is now officially endorsed by the German Development Bank and is also part of a working group within the The German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (BaFin) as a result of the support of Deloitte in Frankfurt.

  1. What have been the biggest challenges in the process of managing a financial intermediary?

As I have mentioned before, regulation is challenge number one. It is a steady but slow progress towards more flexibility. The second and an even bigger issue I dare say is, understandably, fundraising.  The ratio of success is somewhere around 1:60 whereby one successful investor is gained after sixty encounters.

  1. What is Taqanu’s greatest achievement to date? 

The greatest achievement has definitely been the official endorsement from the German Development Bank (KfW). This is something that no other start-up can show for itself because it has actually never happened before. I am especially proud of this because, historically speaking, the KfW was created within the Marshall Plan to rebuild Germany after the Second World War and is today one of seven biggest development banks in the world.

  1. What skills and experience gained in school and previous jobs have been the most valuable in your work at Taqanu? 

As strange as it may sound, having studied architecture and worked in the field for some time has been extremely useful. It helps to be able to think of the larger picture while at the same time focus on the details without getting overwhelmed by the scale of it all.

  1. What does leadership mean to you?

Leadership is the capacity to not just show direction but also to move in that direction and to inspire others to go there with you.

  1. Do you see yourself as a leader or entrepreneur?

I don’t see myself as a leader yet. I do, however, think I am an entrepreneur. I may eventually fall into a situation where I have to act as a leader but more as a role that needs to be fulfilled. I realize I have a lot to learn still but I do have a strong enough willpower and other capacities that give me confidence in achieving my goals.

  1. What is the best aspect of having founded Taqanu?

The fact that there is a good chance of this idea taking off, that there is a noble goal behind my work. It is empowering to be the initiator but in the end it doesn’t matter if I am the founder of something unless it succeeds and makes an impact.

  1. What would you say to someone who has an idea for a project or an organization but is afraid of failure, humiliation, insecurity, uncertainty, instability, or lack of followers?

Do you believe this is actually something good? If the answer is no, don’t pursued it. The truth is that the amount of obstacles and hurdles you have to go through is unbearable unless you are overcoming them with passion that can only come from the strength of your belief in the idea itself. Without conviction, you will be the first one to quit. If you believe that what you want to do is going to be awesome, make it happen! If you can make something even 70%, do it because it is a lot more than 0%; then do the fine tuning as you go.

  1. What is your favourite quote?

Definitely this one passage from the book “The subtle art of not giving a f..k” by Mark Manson: “It is not about giving a f..k about everything your partner gives a f..k about; it’s about giving a f..k about your partner regardless of the f…s he/she gives. That’s unconditional love, baby.”

And on a more serious note, Albert Einstein is a true inspiration:

THINKING GLOBALLY, CREATED LOCALLY – A Night with Ottawa’s documentaries

The Global Shapers Ottawa Hub was proud to support and promote the screening of three Ottawa-produced documentaries presented at the Mayfair Theatre on Wednesday, March 4th. There is a strong belief in our Hub that local action can have global impact, and so the idea behind ‘Thinking globally, created locally’ truly resonated with the Ottawa Shapers.

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The first film, titled Sacred River brought us far away from Ottawa to meet Pratik Mahant who shared his love for the Ganga River, referred to as the “lifeline of India.” Realizing that the future of nature is under an imminent threat, directors Jennifer Macklem and Sajan Sindhu wanted to make a film about the sacred versus the profane. In the sixteen days that it took to make the documentary, their dedicated team discovered that the Ganga River, while under a serious threat of industrial pollution, also has a unique self-purifying capacity thanks to the high dissolved oxygen levels in the water.

Through the second documentary film, Secret War directed by students from the Carleton University Journalism program, the audience travelled for a brief visit to Afghanistan where the war that had lasted thirteen years left many Canadians struggling with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) upon their return home. With memories of seeing children set on fire by their dads, piercing screams for help, loud explosions, and the unbearable loss of comrades, these soldiers come back in need of understanding and patience, but often find only ignorance and rejection. They are forced to resort to denial, ineffective self-medication and desperate calls for assistance that keep going unanswered. Shannon Gray, who worked in Afghanistan as a medic, returned home from the war only to realize that the symptoms she had been trained to recognize in others were her own, too. That is when she found out about the War Horse Project in Pembroke, which uses horse therapy to help PTSD patients face their fears and anxieties and rediscover their sense of self without judgment.

This inspiring evening ended right with the film, Turning the Page at the H’Art of Ottawa. The H’Art of Ottawa is an art studio managed by Lin Rowsell that encourages and celebrates self-expression of people with developmental disabilities and where “art is made of heart.” The film showcased last year’s project which the studio organized to help its members explore different ways of making music. Using a variety of objects, including goat’s toenails as instruments, they learned to appreciate sound, listen to each other and take turns. Conducted by Ottawa’s composer, percussionist and artist Jesse Stewart, on April 30, 2014, they had a unique opportunity to showcase their connection with music and one another on the fourth stage at the National Arts Centre (NAC). The studio organizes regular exhibitions in a range of venues and is a place where creativity meets dreams.

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This fascinating trio of films reminded us that there are wonderful people doing wonderful things for others and that inspiration is closer than we think. We just have to take the time to look for it. More often than not, we don’t even have to stray too far away from our backyard.

 

Note: Originally written for for the Global Shapers Ottawa Hub and published at https://www.globalshapers.org/fr/node/28261