Staff Spotlight: Dr. William Derban
When you hear Dr. William Derban speak about the transformative power of technology for our clients, you cannot help but ask “how?” He promises that by listening to the needs of people living in extreme poverty, there you will find your answer. Leading by example, Dr. Derban is laser-focused on providing human-centered solutions that keep the people we serve at the center of our work—solutions that can be scaled at an ultra-low cost and make lasting change in communities facing incredible obstacles.
Dr. Derban serves as the Head of Digital Financial Services for Opportunity International, defining technical standards, developing business strategy, and negotiating collaborations across mobile money and mobile/cell phone banking. His team has built out a multi-year strategy to scale digital solutions for our clients in all our program areas: for instance, tablets for teacher training and sharing of farming best practices; mobile apps to teach financial literacy; digitizing savings groups at a greatly reduced cost for members; and dashboards for microbanking partners. Opportunity’s approach combines high-touch (personal support, training, and connections) and high-tech to create high impact for people in need.
Dr. Derban has witnessed the transformative power of technology himself, especially advances in mobile phones. In 2006, he was sent to Eastern Uganda as the Financial Inclusion Manager at Barclays. His mission: to figure out how to provide banking services for the residents of the small village of Katine. At that time, the best they could do for the people who could travel to the nearest bank branch miles away was to save them the trouble of bringing a passport photo by taking their picture at the branch. Ten years later, the people of Katine were accessing mobile wallets on their phones right from their village. They could transfer, deposit, and withdraw money at the local banking agent, all without leaving Katine.
Fast forward to today, multiple mobile applications are available to our clients living in remote areas. For instance, the Opportunity International savings application allows savings groups to capture all their transactions on a phone, reducing travel time and keeping their data secure. As Dr. Derban notes, “Mobile technology and the mobile phone continue to revolutionize the way we provide financial services, especially to people living in poverty.”
Not only does Dr. Derban lead a team of experts at Opportunity International, he also believes in the power of collaboration: he is the convener and co-founder of the Financial Inclusion Forum Africa, a network of professionals passionate about promoting financial inclusion across Africa. Dr. Derban sits on several financial inclusion-related boards and is a passionate speaker on development and financial inclusion. In November 2022, he was featured as a guest author in Next Billion: The Power of Trust in Digital Finance: How to Leverage Trusted Technology to Maximize Inclusion and Impact. In his article, he outlines six key areas for developing trusted technology innovations, always rooted in human-centered design.
Dr. Derban lives in London with his wife and three children, who, not surprisingly, love all technology, especially games. While he spends much of his time thinking and “living” in technology, he says he enjoys spending time in the “real world”: “I feel at peace when I am out in the field visiting clients in remote rural locations. Listening to stories not necessarily of hardship, but of hope. [I recommend that we] Walk in their fields, see their children. It is the best way to understand the lives we seek to change.”