DLT-based identification in the humanitarian sector

July 31, 2019

A new report supported by the Identity for All (I4A) Council of the Sovrin Foundation

While the humanitarian sector is broadly seen as a laggard in new technology adoption, it has not been immune to the hype of blockchain or distributed ledger-based solutions. New service providers are promising to solve a wide range of persistent challenges in the sector, including identification of beneficiaries, and there are a number of pilot projects that have launched. 

But designing identification systems for humanitarian use cases is hard. Beneficiaries are often highly vulnerable, with critical security and protection needs that complicate any kind of data collection regime. The power dynamics between them and organizations serving them is typically extreme, challenging the legitimacy of consent and the resulting contractual relationship. And low levels of technology adoption and digital literacy mean that while digitization opens many possibilities, in many contexts, beneficiaries still effectively depend on organizations for credential and data management.

To help build a shared understanding of this space, the Sovrin Foundation asked Aiden Slavin, visiting fellow for humanitarian innovation at the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University, to analyze how DLT-based identification systems may provide advantages in the humanitarian sector. In this report, he examines:

Slavin also looks, in detail, at two pilot projects using DLT-based identification systems. The first, run by the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS), used blockchain technology for cash transfer programming in Kenya. The second was a cash transfer program for the Za’atari and Azraq refugee camps in Jordan piloted by the World Food Programme. 

While the Sovrin Foundation believes that decentralized technologies offer real promise for building better identification systems in the humanitarian sector, it’s critical that stakeholders have a clear and objective understanding of which use cases and challenges these technologies may be well-suited to address, and which they may not.  

Download the report.


About I4A

The Identity for All (I4A) Council leads Sovrin Foundation’s efforts in developing more inclusive and ethical identification systems. We believe that while the decentralized, privacy-preserving nature of the Sovrin Network is a tremendous step forward for the agency of individuals, that technical architecture alone does not guarantee that it will be accessible or fair to the marginalized and underserved populations most in need of robust identification. Part of our remit is thus to help the broader community understand the distinct needs and opportunities in serving these populations, and facilitate efforts at designing appropriate best practices, standards, and solutions. 

In doing so we occasionally support the work of other organizations or individual contributors that are working in this space. We aim to support work that is objective, critical, and empirically grounded, and believe this report fits that description. As with all external contributors, the views expressed herein are those of the author, and may not reflect the views of Sovrin Foundation. 

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