Ripple is a real-time gross settlement system (RTGS), currency exchange and remittance network. Using a common ledger that is managed by a network of independently validating servers that constantly compare transaction records, Ripple doesn't rely on the energy and computing intensive proof-of-work used by Bitcoin. Ripple is based on a shared public database that makes use of a consensus process between those validating servers to ensure integrity. Those validating servers can belong to anyone, from individuals to banks.
The Ripple protocol (token represented as XRP) is meant to enable the near instant and direct transfer of money between two parties. Any type of currency can be exchanged, from fiat currency to gold to even airline miles. They claim to avoid the fees and wait times of traditional banking and even cryptocurrency transactions through exchanges.