Collaborative Ecosystem is the Best Way to Foster Progress – Interview With Laura Gaviria Halaby, Global Head of Acceleration at Citi

Amidst FinTech’s hype, entrepreneurs around the world often overlook one of the greatest innovation opportunities – the public sector. Meanwhile, the government is one of the most complex and resource-consuming ecosystems in a desperate need for innovation.

Fortunately, the public sector support for the startup community around the world has not gone unnoticed with leading representatives in private sector developing solutions dedicated to enhancing the business of government. One of the most amazing initiatives the private sector has nurtured is the Citi ‘Tech for Integrity (T4I) Challenge announced in February 2017 – an open innovation competition led by Citi in collaboration with its strategic Allies – (LTP), IBM, Microsoft, Mastercard, Facebook, Clifford Chance, PwC, and others – that aims to source solutions to promote integrity, accountability, and transparency in the public sector.

Over 1K talented teams have registered for the 2017 edition of the challenge since its announcement, representing 70+countries in four regions (North America, Latin America, Europe Middle East & Africa, Asia-Pacific), and 300+cities. Out of 1K+registrations, Citi and Allies chose 213 outstanding teams from 34 countries to participate in the world-class growth accelerator with an aim to reimagine ways to help public and private organizations in their fight for greater transparency, security and integrity across crowdsourced critical pain points.

The LTP Team had the pleasure and privilege to be a part of the T4I journey, collaborating closely with the T4I Team members. As the T4I 2017 resumed its global event, we spoke with one of the key figures and our close Apply – Laura Gaviria Halaby, Global Head of FinTech Acceleration at Citi, about the experience of being a part of one of the most prominent initiatives connecting the private and public sectors.

We hope you enjoy our conversation with Laura!

Aditya Khurjekar: Laura, our audience is now familiar with your recent work at Citi, but please give us a brief introduction to your prior experience and background.

Laura Gaviria Halaby: I studied Applied Mathematics at American University in Washington, D.C., because I was not sure what I wanted to do when I graduated and I knew that Mathematics would teach me how to think and solve problems.

I started my professional career as in intern at Marlborough Gallery (Art gallery) and quickly moved into financial services, where I have been for the past 15 years.

I started at Deutsche Bank, where I held positions in Capital Markets and Syndicate. From there I started to pursue business opportunities that yielded positive community-level impacts in Colombia – that is how I founded my company Visión de Valores, a Broker Dealer that sought to offer financial services in a fair way and become the strategic partner of its clients. A lot of our work focused on using crowds as innovation and funding partners and finding ways to democratize financial offerings.

I took a sabbatical and went back to school to study at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where I earned a Master’s in Innovation and Leadership, focused on digital transformation.

During this period I developed projects that leveraged crowdsourcing and crowdfunding in several types of ventures focused on housing, medicine, and financial services. One of my projects in financial inclusion earned me a Legatum Fellowship by demonstrating my commitment to promote economic development through entrepreneurship in low-income countries, a cause to which I remain committed.

Tech innovation has gone from being considered an option to a basic necessity. I’m a believer that innovation has been and is a fundamental engine for the growth of companies and society in general, and that responsible innovation is the way to contribute to the economic, social and environmental development of society. This philosophy has guided me throughout my career and life.

AK: From your perspective, what part of your role do you cherish the most as Global Head of Acceleration at Citi? How does your work translate into company’s strategy and development?

LH: I am passionate about what you can achieve from collaboration. I’m convinced that the best way to foster progress is by working as a global and collaborative ecosystem; all the initiatives that I lead seek to foster a partnership between different stakeholders for the greater good.

Clear examples of collaboration include the open innovation initiatives that my team has led, where we seek to find the best tech innovators around the world and offer them tools to grow. And this effort goes well beyond Citi. APIs, mentoring, office hours, legal guidance, regulatory frameworks, awards and the fact that the entire ecosystem can access solutions are some of the tools and opportunities that come out of our programs.

As a Global Head of FinTech Acceleration, I support Citi’s strategy to accelerate its transformation into a digital business. In order to achieve this, I lead the design and deployment of high-impact innovation initiatives that leverage open innovation.

AK: One of the amazing initiatives you have been leading, of course, is for Integrity Challenge. How did Citi come to launch T4I challenge, and as you now wrap up a very hectic year, what does this initiative aim to achieve going forward?

LH: The Citi Tech for Integrity Challenge originated from what Citi identified as a significant and growing problem that many public and private sector organizations face: integrity, transparency, and corruption. The Challenge made a significant impact both inside and outside of our company, most importantly helping to source innovative technology solutions for our clients, our allies, and society at large. We hope that T4I has helped these companies take their ideas to the next level and that some of them will ultimately make it to market and have a real impact on promoting transparency and integrity and fighting corruption.

AK: Could you share your most memorable experience from the Citi T4I run around the world this year?

LH: Over the past year, my team traveled around the world and met with developers, innovators, accelerators, governments, visionaries, entrepreneurs and industry leaders. We participated and hosted meetups, attended conferences and visited accelerators and regulators across six continents. Throughout these conversations, I got the opportunity to see the different tech ecosystems around the world and learn about the most innovative technologies currently out there. Learning from tech innovators was the greatest experience of all.

AK: You are an entrepreneur at heart and you have encountered an extensive community of entrepreneurs during the course of the latest T4I challenge in different parts of the world. What advice would you have for new founders as they look to get into FinTech?

LH: Being a new entrepreneur should be all about solving a problem that you are passionate about – and making solving that problem your mission. An entrepreneur with a mission has a passion that cannot be faked. That passion and determination are what keeps an entrepreneur going and gives them the determination to surpass any setbacks.

In addition, for FinTech entrepreneurs, I encourage them to always look for partners to collaborate and innovate, from private and public sector entities to their own peers.

Tech changes are progressing faster and faster, so companies must seek forms of collaboration that allow them to accelerate their innovation and digital transformation process, and thus contribute to the development of society. That is why corporations see start-ups not as a threat, but as potential partners to create more value for their company, consumers, and their industry.

AK: Any final comments for the LTP audience? What can you share about the next milestone in your journey that we should look out for?

LH: I am always looking for ways to change, evolve and continue to be relevant. When you reach a goal you have to set higher one. As part of my philosophy of life, I’m always looking for opportunities that yield positive impact in the communities that I operate. Continuing to be a driving force in developing tech ecosystems is something that I am really passionate about and that will continue to focus on.