Irish blockchain start-up to help refugees makes final 10 of EC award

29 Sep 2016

Syrian refugee scanning their Aid:Tech digital voucher. Still from AID:Tech Techstars London 2016 Demo Day. Image: Aid:Tech/YouTube

An Irish start-up using blockchain technology to develop an intelligent voucher system to distribute aid fairly to refugees has made it to the final 10 of a European Commission (EC) award for social innovation.

The uses of blockchain now and in the future appear to be multifaceted, from financial transactions to changing how business is regulated.

Now, an Irish start-up called Aid:Tech – currently working from London – is winning acclaim for its attempts to use the technology to revolutionise how aid is distributed to refugees across the world.

Europe is in the midst of a refugee crisis, with thousands of people seeking shelter from war-torn countries like Syria and Afghanistan. Finding solutions to help those most in need has been the focus of this year’s European Commission Social Innovation Competition.

Announced today (29 September) by the EC’s judging panel, Aid:Tech has been selected as the only Irish representative to make the final 10 for its entry, entitled Financial Democratisation for Refugees and Migrants.

The technology being developed by the team would see an intelligent voucher system rolled out in refugee camps, whereby each person would be registered with a unique ID and smart card.

€50,000 up for grabs

The system stores a digital record of a person’s ID on the smart card, along with an array of additional information such as electronic cash, social welfare entitlements and dental/health records.

The necessary aid can then be collected by the person scanning the card, either via a QR code or shared over a Bluetooth connection.

By using blockchain technology, the entire process of distributing aid to the refugee is completely traceable, preventing any syphoning of funds due to corruption.

The team of four is led by Joseph Thompson and was one of 1,095 entries to this year’s competition that was eventually whittled down to 30.

Teaming up with Red Cross and UN

Now in the final 10, Aid:Tech will pitch its project to a panel at the final awards ceremony on 27 October, where the three final winners will receive a prize of €50,000 each.

The start-up has already revealed that the International Federation of the Red Cross and the United Nations Development programme are to initiate projects on its platform.

Another project to make the final 10 included Capital Digital, a playful training tool for 15-20-year-old migrants and asylum seekers to teach coding and programming to their younger 9-12-year-old peers in the poorest neighbourhoods of Brussels.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic