How can blockchain technology make life easier for immigrants?

9 Feb 2018

Blockchain could have a global impact. Image: RTimages/Shutterstock

Joshua Gordon-Blake, vice-president of global partnerships at Pangea Money Transfer, says the potential of blockchain extends far beyond cryptocurrency.

Blockchain technology has serious potential but often the cryptocurrencies using it to function gain much more attention. spoke to Joshua Gordon-Blake of Pangea Money Transfer about some other potential innovations in the area.

We hear a lot about blockchain in terms of cryptocurrencies, but what are other benefits of the system?

You’ll find countless articles on the nuts and bolts of blockchain, but in the way that I wouldn’t describe the benefits of the internet by describing how computers talk to each other, with blockchain it’s important to step back another level of abstraction and understand what it enables.

We have become accustomed to the digital transmission of data, but blockchain takes us a step further to the digital transmission of assets. While the technology is associated with cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, Ethereum and IOTA, its potential goes further to any digital asset.

Any asset that is currently documented in paper can be stored online with better security, lower cost and instant transmission. The coming years will see a movement to the blockchain for real estate deeds, healthcare records and media airtime – and, in Pangea’s case, international money transfers.

 How can blockchain achieve social good?

It removes costs from the system by eliminating middlemen.

Without blockchain, there are middle men in every industry that must confirm the correct owner of an asset.  You want to buy a house? You need a lawyer to do a title search. You want to provide a new doctor with your health records? You need to call your old doctor.

With blockchain, you no longer need the middle men. The blockchain network confirms current ownership and enables fast transmission. This lowers the cost for transactions, in terms of both money and time.

In addition, blockchain will completely change the way we track the supply chain. For industries like diamond or coffee, it could help ensure products are responsibly sourced.

We are already seeing this in practice. The World Food Program, for instance, used blockchain when distributing food to 10,000 refugees in Jordan. This allowed them to efficiently track food distribution, eliminate fraud and make sure everyone gets fed.

 Can you give details on your own mission in this area?

We’re still exploring the possibilities for Pangea. If we can use this technology to better help people transfer money back home to friends and families, then it’s something we’d be interested in integrating to our platform.

What developments in the area do you think have the most potential?

One of the things I’m most excited about is blockchain’s benefits for immigrants.

Immigrants can receive official documents securely that prove their residency, allowing them to safely and confidently obtain their identification papers. Accenture and Microsoft, for example, have teamed up to build a digital ID network using blockchain technology as part of a UN-backed project aiming to give legal identification to the 1.1bn people worldwide who don’t have official documents.

The financial applications are also incredibly beneficial for immigrants. They can use credit and debit cards backed by blockchain to avoid using a bank as an intermediary.

This helps immigrants who are unable to immediately open bank accounts when they arrive in their new home country. Immigrants in Finland, for example, can receive prepaid Mastercards that use blockchain technology if they don’t have access to a bank account.

Having access to government services is another great application. Governments can use the technology to store records and securely share the information with those who need it. It also prevents any hackers, system administrators, government officials or anyone else from altering the information. This is what Estonia did when developing its Keyless Signature Infrastructure (KSI).

And, finally, the implications for remittances – they’ll be able to send money back home to their families instantly with programmes like UAE Exchange’s potential partnership with Ripple’s bank-friendly public blockchain.

 Who will benefit the most from these applications of blockchain?

It’s hard to say which industry will be most impacted from the implementation of blockchain. There are so many different applications that, in some ways, it’s the industry which is fastest to adapt.

 What would you say to sceptics?

Many people believe that blockchain is over-hyped – and the recent run-up in the prices of bitcoin certainly look like a bubble. However, blockchain’s utility as a tool for businesses and consumers will survive fluctuations in the price of cryptocurrencies.

The cost reduction and level of security it provides can help protect private information that allows people to confidently transfer and log data. Data security has become an increasingly prevalent issue as millions of people and businesses have become the victims of data hacks.

If blockchain can remove costs from the system and reduce future data breaches, then how can sceptics brush it off as a passing fad?