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Interviews

'Blockchain is about traceability and transparency' - Interview with AID:Tech

Wednesday 21 November 2018 | 08:41 AM CET

The Paypers interviews AID:Tech to find out how blockchain can bring transparency and accountability for people without access to financial services or a legal identity.

During TEDX TCD 2018, AID:Tech’s COO Niall Dennehy stated that the company’s mission is “to bring social and financial inclusion to the under documented and underserved with blockchain”. Could you please comment on it?

The idea behind AID:Tech was conceived after a personal experience of mine. In 2009, I ran a 6-day, 151-mile called Marathon des Sables and in doing so raised around USD 122,000 in charitable donations. Several months after the run and having given the money away, I followed up with the organisations, on behalf of my donors, only to find out that no one was able to determinately confirm where, how and to whom the money went towards.

It became clear that experiences like these are not isolated. They are not only frustrating, but seemingly without solution. It was when I came across blockchain several years later and had a light-bolt moment in its potential in addressing issues around traceability and transparency – exactly what I encountered in 2009. It was at this point that my long-time friend and colleague, Niall Dennehy – AID:Tech’s other co-founder and now COO, and I began to develop and build a technological solution to challenge this status quo.

The solution prototype was launched and it saw its first pilot in December 2015. Specifically, we partnered with the Irish Red Cross to deliver international aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon. An all-round success but most importantly, the pilot proved that blockchain, as an integral component to the solution, is capable of injecting transparency and traceability into processes around aid distribution – by making the relevant data available, and subsequently improving efficiency by reducing administrative burden.

Both the experience that started it all, as well as the original prototype, evolved around the aid and the development sector. But we very quickly realised that efficiency and transparency are key challenges in sectors such as welfare delivery, digital healthcare delivery, and international remittance payments. After the launch of the pilot, it became clear that these issues are faced by organisation and end-users alike all over the world, since these services are widespread across industries and across the world.

Moreover, these problems underlined the significance of verifiable identity as a basis for access, followed by understanding what issues around access arise.

As AID:Tech grows and through ongoing interactions with partners and industry leaders, including the UN, IFRC, Mastercard and Citi, we have learnt that many of the company’s objectives clearly align with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for 2030. These similar goals are:

  • SDG 16.9 – to provide legal identity for all including free birth registrations (underpins all AID:Tech solutions)

  • SDG 3 – to promote good health and well-being (digitally delivery healthcare to women in Tanzania with PharmAccess Foundation)

  • SDG 10.C – to reduce to less than 3% the transaction costs of migrant remittances and eliminate remittance corridors with costs higher than 5% (enabling affordable and traceable cross-border remittance for the Serbian diaspora)

  • SDG 17.17 – to encourage effective partnerships

How can harnessing big data support the SDGs? How about businesses, what is the economic opportunity for them in this context?

Studies already show that the SDGs are a USD 12 trillion opportunity. And using big data to support development initiatives is well-recognised.

The UN introduced specific initiatives to promote the responsible use of data for development. And so has the World Bank. Different from conventional troves of data, big data can go beyond current analytical capacity. For instance, by automatically collecting people’s interactions with digital services, big data features offer traceability (geography/temporal). Whether from retail consumers’ perspective, or businesses and organisations, it is clear that big data has become the bedrock to (active and passive) decision-making. Data, so ingrained in our everyday lives, contain a wealth of information that can directly inform what suitable course of action is, especially in the context of development programmes and policies.

To maximise the economic and commercial opportunity around global development, big data is therefore an unequivocal tool to get us there.

What are the main takeaways for our readers from the ‘Blockchain links Serbian diaspora and their families back home‘ project?

That innovative technology has a role to play in global development, whether it is to advance what is already available in the developed world or to enable developing economies to leapfrog infrastructural barriers. And needless to say that blockchain technology specifically has the potential to change people’s lives.

Most importantly, that by leveraging innovative technology, we can approach development in an entirely different manner. Enabled by innovative/disruptive technology, the idea of marrying access with identity becomes possible. It becomes possible to provide access and protect privacy whilst harnessing transactional data all at the same time.

It spells great potential for the development of the remittance/fintech space – quite interestingly, whether disruption will displace the status quo, or how incumbent (technology, methodology and actors) will incorporate promising development into their way.

Congratulations! You have just received the Florin Award for Best Innovative Practices in “Hassle-Free Transacting”. What, would you say, are the main elements that make AID:Tech stand out from othersimilar services?

Whilst there’s a lot of hype around blockchain as a revolutionary technology, deployed and proven products like AID:Tech’s are actually far and few between. A key challenge is to develop a product that meets the needs of partners and users which AID:Tech has successfully achieved by building our solutions collaboratively with international organisations such as the UNDP. This means that anything that we build – based on our core technology, has a clear business case. And this is enabling the company to move quickly beyond POCs and into scaling and really refining what we offer to partners and users.

About Joseph Thompson, Co-founder and CEO, Aid:Tech

UN Sustainable Development Goals Pioneer for Blockchain Technology 2017

AID:Tech addresses the corporate needs in the blockchain space, providing real-world utility & support and as a single point of contact. The company develops solutions and applications for the USD 500 billion crisis-solution market. We recently delivered USD 10,000 in private donations to Syrian refugees in Lebanon using our Intelligent Voucher solution. Every single cent was accounted for and all transactions were viewable to the donor's in real-time.

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