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How digital identities could shape the future of humanitarian aid

How digital identities could shape the future of humanitarian aid

By Fraser Edwards, CEO at cheqd and Sharanya Thakur, Project Manager at Gravity

The current wars in Yemen, Palestine and Ukraine have sparked an enormous humanitarian appeal. Humanitarian organizations across the globe have extended their support to refugees, working to provide them with a sense of stability that in many cases was lost along with their assets and documentation when fleeing their homes. What differentiates the Ukraine crisis from other recent humanitarian crises in particular is the unprecedented role that new technologies such as cryptocurrency have played in delivering aid.

This brought into perspective the extent to which technological innovation can be applied and adapted to assist with real world problems. In a time of crisis such as this, there is a significant emphasis placed upon ensuring that each refugee’s transition into their new lives is as smooth and painless as possible. Such circumstances have, thus, brought into the foreground the value of implementing innovative technologies such as portable digital identity wallets. This technology is key in helping to ensure that even when displaced from your home and physical documentation, you are never displaced from your identity and ability to seamlessly enter and participate in the global economy.

Over the past few weeks, the value of crypto assets tech innovation has come into focus as the Ukraine economy plummeted and numerous Ukrainians turned to Bitcoin- and Ethereum-based stablecoins as an alternative to traditional banks, many of which have limited the amount of money people can withdraw. Even the Ukrainian government opened itself up to crypto donations, with Bitcoinist recently estimating that Ukraine has received over $100 Million in cryptocurrency donations, compared to the United Nations Emergency Response Fund, which allocated $20 million to “scale up UN humanitarian operations in Ukraine.” Although the volatility of the crypto assets market continues to hinder mass adoption, the growth of digital economies not only evidences the extent to which tech innovation can truly make a difference to the people who need it most, it has also precipitated a widespread acknowledgement of the value of being able to store and access your assets in a digital, portable form when their material counterpart is no longer available.

Self-sovereign identity (SSI) technology – an identity method that centers the control of information around the user – serves as another example of a technology whose tangible value has become even more pronounced in the wake of the crisis. Just as people turned to cryptocurrency after losing access to material assets, so too could a digital ID wallet help smooth the transition of those entering new countries, many of whom left crucial documentation and personal records behind. To begin the process of establishing a life in another country — applying for a job, renting an apartment — individuals need to be able to prove their identity and credentials. Refugees lacking this documentation may thus escape conflict only to meet further obstacles and frustrations in another country, finding it difficult to access opportunities and critical services. Even those who do have access to their records may find the process of applying for services lengthy and tedious, forced to input their details over and over again for each new application.

SSI holds the potential to alleviate such pain points. By storing an individual’s information digitally and under their control, SSI can create a system whereby validating an identity can be done without any needless paperwork on hand, making it easier for many individuals fleeing dangerous parts of the world to access services. Instead of data being administered and owned by third-party institutions, individuals would instead be able to create a digital profile that they can securely share with other parties as and when they choose.

Housing all of your credentials in a single digital identity wallet would also make the process of applying for services significantly easier, removing the need to remember hundreds of different passwords and accounts. This solution has already been implemented in an impactful way in Turkey, where the government worked with digital identity platform of cheqd’s partner, Tykn, to help optimize and speed up the process of issuing Work Permit documentation for over 3 million refugees.

Not only this, but SSI technology could also be used to streamline the delivery of humanitarian relief. This has been demonstrated by another of cheqd’s partners, Gravity, who used digital identity solutions to help humanitarian organizations with direct cash transfers to vulnerable populations during COVID-19.

During the pandemic, many people in Kenya were unable to access humanitarian services because they did not have an official ID to meet the criteria and apply for the aid distribution. Gravity’s digital identity solution enabled Kenya Red Cross Society to issue digital credentials to beneficiaries on their behalf – while still allowing them to retain full control of their data and credentials – which could then be used to verify their identity and thus distribute aid to those most in need. This project serves as another demonstration of just how impactful SSI solutions can be in times of humanitarian crisis, not only alleviating the burden of paperwork from refugees but also improving the efficiency of aid delivery. The transformational effects of SSI will of course be contingent upon individuals either having a digital identity, or third parties being willing to create one on an individual’s behalf.

SSI thus has the potential to shape the future of humanitarian aid by granting individuals access to an immutable digital record of their own history. These implications could begin to mobilize people who have lost everything and give them the best chance in life to write a new story for themselves and their loved ones. While SSI cannot eradicate the legacy of grief that will undoubtedly texture their new lives, it can nonetheless help minimize the pain and uncertainty of the transition.

About the authors

Fraser Edwards is the CEO at cheqd. Sharanya Thakur is a Project Manager at Gravity.

DISCLAIMER: Biometric Update’s Industry Insights are submitted content. The views expressed in this post are that of the author, and don’t necessarily reflect the views of Biometric Update. 

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