Interview: Meet Briana Marbury The Black Woman Overseeing a $100M Tech Foundation

Briana Marbury, executive director of the Interledger Foundation has spoken candidly with POCIT for an in-depth interview. As one of the only Black women leading the major tech philanthropy, she is overseeing a $100 million foundation and the Grant for the Web fund that has already committed more than $10 million to projects around the world.

Growing up in Detroit, she witnessed the lack of financial access that many people who were living below the poverty line endured, forcing them to use predatory check-cashing services and now she’s working directly with communities to solve this issue.

Briana represents a new kind of philanthropic leader who comes from a financial background but is motivated by a mission. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a degree in accounting, she first worked in a traditional accounting position but soon realized she had to find a way to engage her passion for social justice and advancing equality. 

After obtaining an MBA, Briana held finance roles in the nonprofit sector, at organizations that included Uncommon Schools, Repair the World, and Education Pioneers.

Then in July 2020, she became executive director of Interledger Foundation, a position that gives her an opportunity to deploy her nonprofit and financial acumen to shift the paradigm of financial inclusion. Her journey is focused on betting on yourself even when others tell you ‘no’ and kicking imposter syndrome to the curb.

We sat down with Briana to talk more about her journey.

I would love to know what three words best describe you?

I would say tenacious, good-intentioned, and kind.

You’ve done amazing things already in your career but I’d love to know did you always know you’d want to get into tech?

Absolutely not. It was also a surprise to me that I ended up in the tech space or I guess in the tech-payment space. I did always know that I wanted to be associated with an organization that did good for other people, but I never imagined it would be this.

My undergrad was actually in accounting and finance and I thought that I was going to go to one of the big four accounting firms and be a partner. But I quickly realized that was not what I wanted to do. I just couldn’t see my life going in that direction and I had to take active steps to create the life I want. I really wanted to work for an organization that I felt very passionate about.

That’s when I learned about Interledger and how it worked to change payments worldwide. Because I had worked in accounting and finance and saw how difficult it was to get payments made – I knew this was an important issue they were tackling.

What did you learn early on in your career that you think is still important now?

So the first thing would be the importance of networking. You should know that there’s a really good chance that you’re going to run into people again and again, especially in the finance, accounting, and tech space. It’s a really small industry.

The second thing is having confidence in yourself, having confidence in your skills, and being able to say, no. Sometimes you just have to say no to things that don’t serve you.

I would also say it’s definitely about knowing your worth. People talk about imposter syndrome a lot and I find that with people of color, women of color in particular, we are all afflicted by it. But knowing that you are enough, knowing that you have a good grasp on your area of expertise, and having confidence in yourself is so important.

You’re obviously one of a few Black women leading tech philanthropy – when navigating your career did you experience any challenges, bias or discrimination?

Absolutely, I’m going to keep it real and speak honestly. I have faced many challenges – from microaggressions to people thinking they need to go above me and then they’re surprised that I am the manager or the leader for that task. So yeah just being in those uncomfortable positions and having to really assert my authority. You don’t want to have to do that. But sometimes it’s necessary.

I don’t feel some of these things would happen if I were a white male.

Close to one-third of adults-1.7 billion people are still unbanked, without an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider. How do you and your company work towards solving this issue?

While people don’t have access to banking, about 68% of them do have mobile phones. So if you are able to connect them with a mobile money provider that is not siloed then you’ve done something useful because currently, if you have a mobile money provider, like Venmo for example. Anyone with Venmo can only transact with someone on Venmo but if you are over in parts of Africa, you have Orange and Mtn, so anyone in those networks has to stay within those networks. So what the Interledger foundation allows you to do is be a bridge – so you can be a bridge with anyone else in the network.

So if you have a person who has Orange, they can transact with someone, maybe in the US who has an uphold account, that’s another digital wallet here and what that will allow you to do is if you’re a small vendor, and you want to transact with someone who was outside of your country, it just opens up more possibilities for you to participate in the digital economy.

And how are you guys looking to support more young people of color into the tech or fintech space?

We are trying our best to see how we get more diversity in our applications. Firstly – we have 26 different countries that we have given grants to at this moment, but we’re still looking at how do we reach more people. So we have ambassadors, who have connections in communities that we might not have strong ties with and they’re going out, and letting people know about the intellectual protocol and the grants that we have, and encouraging them to apply for the grants, walking them through the grant-making process.

We’re also working on an HBCU project here in the US with the historically black colleges and universities, where we can create a sort of like an incubator program, where students can have a capstone in their senior year where they can present to venture capitalists and possibly get their ideas funded – so we want to create the same opportunities for students at HBCUs.

Abbianca Makoni

Abbianca Makoni is a content executive and writer at POCIT! She has years of experience reporting on critical issues affecting diverse communities around the globe.