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Use of technology to transform the aid sector

Use of technology to transform the aid sector. Main image: JNT Visual, Shutterstock.com
Written by Vaishali Naroola

Vaishali Naroola considers the possibilities surrounding technology’s ability to help the aid sector, particularly where it relates to traceability.

An impressive array of aid support activities are being transformed and supported by technology. From the registration and identification of an aid recipient, distribution and delivery of aid, location services, and the use of different types of aid resources, and last mile services. The types of aid include communication, health, financial or education related. At the outset, though, we need to be able to establish that aid delivery and distribution is to occur under emergency situations. If it is an emergency situation, it goes without saying that human considerations become paramount.

A report of the high-level panel on humanitarian cash transfers estimates that only around 6% of aid worldwide is cash and there is a desire to move to cash completely. The supposed arguments in favour of this position are that, by giving aid recipients cash, we somehow preserve their sense of dignity and allow for purchasing choices regarding their use of cash.

While a preference for cash for humanitarian aid can be viewed as a noble position to hold, we can also take the counter viewpoint, which is that when aid transactions are digital, traceable and direct, there’s less opportunity for waste, intermediary fraud and intentional abuse of vulnerable aid recipients. The most egregious example of aid is the billions of dollars the US gives to the UN. The US currently contributes 22% of the UN regular budget, and more than 27% of the UN peacekeeping budget. None of it is traceable. You may find high level allocations, but not actual traceability. As more and more aid donors demand accountability and transparency of aid organisations, technology is increasingly being seen as the answer.

To identify and register the aid recipient, we can use fingerprinting, signatures and the more advanced iris scanning. By doing this, governments and aid organisations can develop consensus data and target aid more precisely. Financial aid can be provided digitally to allow for purchasing choices. This would reduce waste and possibly help (and even create) micro-economies to an extent. Delivering financial aid and having that be coupled with digital identification and verification procedures reduces the possibility of fraud, abuse and theft.

Providing financial aid digitally and partnering with local merchants not only helps the economy, but also frees up the aid agencies from the hassles and perils of having to provide transportation and supply logistics. Retailers and other economic partners can manage the retail and distribution logistics, which would be their natural competency, as opposed to having the aid agencies developing this competence.

Blockchain is an integral weapon

Another possibility is the use of blockchain in aid distribution, acknowledging receipt and keeping track of the use of aid funds. This can be done using cryptocurrency and cryptofinance technologies, which can address the issues of falsification and misrepresentation.

Blockchain is an integral weapon in the fight against terrorist financing as well. Group communication can greatly be enhanced by technologies such as group messaging, presence checks, and so on. Pre-set codes can be set up to send SOS messages in case of abuse. Health information can be archived as digital medical records that aid recipients can store on their digital devices, and transport it as their circumstances and location changes.

However, even with all the technologies available to us to assist in humanitarian aid delivery and tracking, the successful implementation of these technologies depends on having a clear and strong policy position, and the political will to implement that policy.

READ NEXT: Digital identity – keeping ahead of fraud

Main image: JNT Visual, Shutterstock.com

About the author

Vaishali Naroola

Vaishali Naroola is a consulting executive focused on technology and financial services. She has led business transformation and value creation projects for Wells Fargo, Bank of America, American Express and Apple. She holds an MBA in International Affairs from Thunderbird Global School of Management and a Graduate Certificate in Technology Management from La Trobe University, Australia.

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