Irish company AID:Tech was the first organisation in the world to use blockchain technology to prove that international aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon was delivered and to whom. The Irish Red Cross team had almost real time information on the distribution of the aid. In the process, AID:Tech demonstrated that blockchain can be applied to activities beyond its well-know role supporting crypto-currencies. Many activities that need to show provenance and transparency are ripe for the application of blockchain.
AID:Tech was co-founded by Irish entrepreneurs Joseph Thompson (now its CEO) and Niall Dennehy (the COO). The idea came to Thompson after a 156 miles marathon in Morocco’s Sahara desert in 2009. He had raised large sums of sponsorship and wanted to know how the money was spent. “But,” explains the company’s program manager Grace Ma, “as he attempted to follow-up with the NGO on behalf of his donors to learn about the impact of their donation, he was surprised and disillusioned to learn that it was not possible to confirm whether the funds did go towards the cause as intended. The donations could not be traced.
“Whilst studying a pioneering master’s program for digital currency at the University of Nicosia, Cyprus, Joseph learnt of the potential of blockchain technology and came to realise the role it could play in addressing the lack of transparency and traceability in the development and humanitarian sector that he experienced first-hand when in Morocco. By providing recipients with AID:Tech digital identity, they are equipped with not only an identity tool, but also a means to receive and hold digital entitlements, including aid, welfare, remittance, healthcare, etc.”
According to AID:Tech, 30% of official development aid never reaches the intended beneficiaries, because of losses by reason of fraud and corruption. Through blockchain, donors know exactly where aid resources are, who receives them and obtains assurance they have not been misappropriated, providing transparency and accountability to the process. “By marrying access with identity, our client partners can digitally deliver entitlements including welfare, remittance and aid packages directly into the hands of end-users; to their digital identity,” says Ma. “Long term deployment accumulates transactional data; with records permanently recorded. Structural data builds scope for insight, offering invaluable capacity into understanding contextualised consumption, delivery and performance.”
AID:Tech is now moving beyond working with aid agencies, to now supporting individuals who donate to charities through its ‘DonateApp’. “Our goal is to challenge the status quo of everyday giving,” says Ma. “Going beyond digitisation, the aim is to completely revolutionise the global giving culture and how consumers think about charitable donations. Consumers are increasingly informed and ethics driven – they are thinking more about how best their money is spent. There is a growing demand for meaningful engagement with their service providers. In the current trend, the current approach to everyday giving seems entirely unsustainable. Consumers rarely gain insight into how donated funds are being spent on the ground.
“We are confident that a blockchain use case like the DonateApp will bring change to the charitable donations landscape. We are currently building this application by working closely with the sector, to fully understand existing pain points and what incentivises donors. Donors will be able to give to the organisation, appeal, or individual/individuals of their choice using the app, wherever and whenever. Once a donor’s donations have been delivered to the end recipient/receipients, or end point of tracking, the donor would receive a mobile notification. In conjunction, donors can also see via their profile of their app – their personal donation history, and a record of notifications. In the case of our DonateApp, organisations have the scope to be very transparent about admin overheads, enabled by our technology. For instance, they can even create a giving option that is available to a donor, specifically for admin overheads. Donors are often more than happy, and are very understanding, that portions of their giving are necessarily to support administrative and infrastructure needs.”
Blockchain applications are all about verification, in this instance verifying that aid has gone where it is supposed to. For Aid:Tech there is a further aspect of verification – it has won a series of awards for combining technological innovation with humanitarian objectives. Together with the Irish Red Cross, the company won the grand prize at the IsDB Fintech Islamic Finance Challenge. Its founder Joseph Thompson was recognised as the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals Pioneer for Blockchain Technology, while the company was the overall Game Changer Award winner in Citi’s Tech for Integrity Challenge. That recognition also feels like verification that the technology could be a game changer in many ways that have not even been thought about yet.
Using blockchain for beer
Given the recent history of scandals in the food supply chain – including the introduction of horse meat into the supply chain – it should be no surprise that blockchain is being applied to demonstrate the provenance of food items. Belfast business Arc-Net has partnered with PwC Netherlands to do exactly this. But consumers of beers are similarly keen to know about ingredients and brewing methods. This has led to Ireland Craft Beers, which is based in Belfast and London, to enter a joint venture with Arc-Net. Ireland Craft Beers’ chief executive and founder Shane McCarthy is by background a technology developer and previously worked in fintech. He explains: “We have launched a beer product which shows complete transparency in the whole chain of production. We work with a lot of small independent suppliers which need to prove provenance, showing they have nothing to hide. It can be a strong marketing tool.” Ireland Craft Beers provides export routes for breweries and distilleries on both sides of the Irish border, selling into the United States, Hong Kong, China and the Middle East, and also supplies to Marks & Spencer and airlines.