This article by Sabaa Notta was originally published on The MasterCard Foundation website and is republished with permission.

Somewhere along Banana Road in Accra, the bustling capital of Ghana, lives the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) office. Its purpose is to provide opportunity and demonstrate that a new generation of successful software entrepreneurs can originate from Africa This is also where the first launch of the 2017/18 Data Hackathon for Financial Inclusion (DataHack4FI) took place in November 2017.

DataHack4FI is a competition for programmers, data scientists, enthusiasts, and fintechs to build solutions for real problems of poor people using the tool data. More specifically, how to understand data, make it usable, grow with it, and use it in an effective manner. The competition seeks to advance collaboration among young, innovative groundbreakers, and financial sector players.

The Ghana launch kicked off the 2017/2018 season of DataHack4FI, which will also take place in five other countries: Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia. The final competition will be held in Rwanda in May 2018, where finalists will have a chance to compete for US$25,000 in funding.

DataHack4FI was created by insight2impact (i2i). Started in 2015, i2i is a collaboration between Cenfri and Finmark Trust in partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The aim is to address the gap that exists between decisions made in the financial inclusion space and available data.

There are many places where those decisions are made and data is needed. According to InterMedia's Financial Inclusion Insights, Ghana is home to more than 27 commercial banks, 60 non-bank financial institutions, 138 rural and community banks, 503 licenced microfinance institutions and hundreds of licenced individuals and susu collectors. Moreover, the Bank of Ghana signed the Maya Declaration in 2012 and joined the Better Than Cash Alliance in 2014 to commit to enabling digital financial services in the country.

MEST is a rigorous 12-month training programme for entrepreneurs offering opportunities in seed funding and incubation resources. As i2i’s country partner in Ghana, MEST offers their Entrepreneurs-in-Training (EITs) a chance to also partake in the DataHack4FI.

Many of the young people present at the Ghana launch do not have the financial means to take their ideas to scale or to afford business development services. DataHack4FI provides them an environment to partner with others, share resources, gain mentorship, and find a platform to showcase their ideas.

Among the individuals participating was Heather Mavunga, an Entrepreneur-in-Training at MEST with interests in blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies.

“Every year, migrants from developing countries, people such as myself who have moved to western or developing countries, send home over US$500-billion,” she says. “This far exceeds FDI (foreign direct investment), and with fees for international transfers between six and10 percent, this is a tremendous burden. There have been many times I have paused before sending money due to these costs. Cryptocurrency and ledger technology can save people a fortune every year by allowing them to make instant transactions.”

Through MEST and the DataHack4FI network, Heather hopes to learn how to manage tech products and services and how to acquire customers as a startup.

Also among those present was Adam Muhammed Muhideen, CEO and CTO of TroTroTractor, a powerful platform that connects farmers and tractor operators. This agribusiness allows tractor owners to monitor movements and the work of their equipment. Adam is a part of the MEST community and started TroTroTractor from proceeds of winning a previous competition.

Akin-Awokoya Emmanuel, Co-Founder of InvestXD, discussed how investing money for young adults is a challenge, with limited understanding of investments and a lack of options available to people in his situation. This is what led to the creation of InvestXD, an online tool that makes it easy for individuals in Ghana to learn about investment, discover investment options with the best rate, invest, and then monitor the performance of their portfolio.

The excitement among local fintechs and other young people to use data in a way that improves lives of poor people brought a sense of exhilarating energy to the event. As noted at the DataHack4FI launch by Jorn Lyseggen, CEO of Meltwater Group, “Talent is everywhere, though opportunity is not.”

Through continued support by the government and initiatives such as DataHack4FI, the development community can collectively provide an opportunity to listen to the voice of the youth, understand what they are doing to address financial inclusion challenges, and catalyze partnerships that best utilise the strengths of various stakeholders in the ecosystem.

The next DataHack4FI launch will take place in Rwanda in January 2018. For more information on how to take part, and how to follow the trajectories of those competing, visit the DataHack4FI website.