Using blockchain technology to help people with no legal identity
Fintech and IT finalist in the 2018 Innovation Awards, Aid:Tech allows for the creation of a secure identity for aid or welfare recipients
Syrian refugees in Bekaa, Lebanon. Photograph: Furkan Guldemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Support for young mothers in remote areas of Tanzania, aid to Syrian refugees in northern Lebanon and assistance for struggling farmers in Serbia. These are just a few examples of the benefits of the blockchain-based platform created by Irish company Aid:Tech.
The solution offers a secure means to deliver aid and other benefits to people around the world who previously might have had no bank account or legal identity in the form of a social security number of equivalent.
According to Aid:Tech chief operating officer Niall Dennehy, there are 2.4 billion people around the world with no legal identity. This presents huge difficulties in providing them with a range of benefits such as welfare, medical entitlements, remittances, healthcare, aid and peer-to-peer donations.
The Aid:Tech platform allows for the creation of a secure identity for an aid or welfare recipient, which is stored on a blockchain ledger and can’t be subsequently altered or erased. Aid in the form or vouchers or actual cash can be sent via the platform completely securely with an unalterable record of receipt, thus helping address corruption and improve efficiency.
The idea for the solution came from an unfortunate experience. Dennehy’s co-founder Joe Thompson ran the renowned 151-mile Moroccan desert marathon in 2009 to raise money for charity – but the money disappeared. That led to an interest in the security benefits of blockchain technology for such endeavours. “We asked ourselves if we could use it to bring transparency to international aid,” says Dennehy. “We found out that 30 per cent of international aid goes missing each year and we developed a solution which could verify to donors that their money has gone where it was intended.”
They approached the Irish Red Cross with the technology and partnered with them to deliver aid to Syrian refugees – the first time blockchain technology had ever been used for that purpose.
The system is quite simple. The aid or government agency involved can create a digital identity for the individual recipient, which is stored on the Aid:Tech platform. The recipient stores these details in a QR code on their mobile phone or, if they don’t have one, a plastic ID card. To receive aid or other entitlements they simply scan the QR code.
“They go on to the platform and sign up for the identity,” Dennehy explains. “All the usual know your customer and anti-money laundering systems are in place as part of the verification process.”
This gives full end-to end visibility from donor to recipient. Indeed, the company has just created a new app for the Irish Red Cross for that purpose. “Donors will be alerted when their donation has been used so they can be sure it has been used for the purpose intended.”
While the solution was originally created to support the international aid community, there are plans to roll it out to other areas. “It can be used to help people around the world to participate in the digital economy”, says Dennehy. “People will be able to use it to gain access to micropayments services, banks and so on.”