Finn Church Aid

How blockchain can increase trust and transparency in humanitarian aid

Finn Church Aid wanted to learn about the potential of blockchain to increase the speed and transparency of cash donations, and to improve the overall efficiency and donation tracking. Combining background research with ethnographic insights and prototype testing in Kenya, Solita delivered in-depth findings and a concept proposal for Finn Church Aid to build on in the future.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) is an international aid organisation fighting poverty and advancing human rights in 13 developing countries. Dedicated to creating permanent change, FCA works in close cooperation with the local communities and people, regardless of their religious beliefs, ethnic background and political convictions.

In humanitarian work, cash-based interventions have been recognised as critical measures for increasing efficiency, supporting people’s urgent needs, enhancing individual dignity and stimulating local economies. Many aid organisations have committed to increasing the percentage of cash-based interventions, prompting the need to enhance security and standardise digital payments.

Antti Toivanen, lead for new technologies in humanitarian aid at Finn Church Aid, wanted to look into the potential of blockchain solutions to increase the speed and transparency of donations, and to improve operational efficiency and donation tracking.

”The field of humanitarian work is evolving, and we’re looking for innovative ways to be more transparent and accountable to our beneficiaries and donors. Blockchain technology is particularly attractive due to its democratic nature. To complement our solid understanding of humanitarian work, Solita brought in their insight on technological solutions, so we were a great match,” says Toivanen.

Background understanding on cash-based interventions

In early 2019, Solita had created a proof of concept for a biometric checkout solution, building trust for the collaboration that began in October. Together, Solita and FCA agreed on the goals:

  • Understand the practices, needs and the value creation of target groups (beneficiaries, aid workers and merchants) in the selected country
  • Find and prioritise solutions that deliver the greatest impact on the target groups
  • Evaluate and compare novel technological solutions for delivering cash assistance
  • Design a concept that works in the context of the target country

While cash transfers in most cases are preferred over in-kind benefits, distributing monthly allowances is both time consuming and costly. Auditing and reporting is complex. In some cases, it’s difficult to guarantee that the cash reaches the target groups who need it the most.

Digital solutions have limitations, too. How does FCA reach people without bank accounts or mobile phones? How about those without proof of identity? Or those not willing to use their real identity? Other things to consider are limited connectivity, required devices, required ID documents, and literacy, among others.

During background research, Solita also started building cultural understanding on the role of money and how it relates – in a myriad of ways – to human activities outside of modern Western societies. Equipped with initial understanding, a team of two Solitans, an ethnographer and a code-savvy service designer, set off to the field.

Human encounters and digital touchpoints in Kenya

Kenya was chosen as the target country due to its relatively light bureaucracy and widespread use of digital currency. The team would spend time in the towns of Lodwar and Lokichar along with Kakuma refugee camp which, together with its integrated Kalobeyei settlement, has a population of around 200,000 refugees and asylum-seekers.

In the field, Solita combined ethnographic research methods with hands-on testing of different prototypes for cash delivery. The duo observed, interviewed and ran workshops with several target groups: current and potential beneficiaries, merchants and vendors, key informants such as teachers and community leaders, as well as other stakeholders.

Close collaboration with the local FCA team, especially country director John Bongei and coordinator Miriam Atonia, was instrumental for enabling successful fieldwork.

“The two Solita gentlemen showed exceptional flexibility in the field. They were always respectful, professional and easy to work with. It was clear that they were genuinely interested in finding the best possible solutions for us. The collaboration was rewarding,” describes John Bongei.

"They were genuinely interested in finding the best possible solutions for us. The collaboration was rewarding.”John Bongei, Country director, FCA

Reflections on the donor-to-beneficiary chain

From their research and observations, Solita uncovered problems with the current cash-based interventions. The prototypes also revealed both pros and cons. The team presented these and other findings in detail to FCA in January 2020.

“Some of the findings were eye opening. One example from Lokichar showed us how long it actually took for a beneficiary to access their claim. We received a lot of food for thought regarding ways to simplify the process and to address issues like phone theft,” says John Bongei.

Solita’s findings supported the use of blockchain to increase transparency, efficiency and speed from donor to beneficiary, especially in the upstream parts of the process. The team also found that a mix of existing payment, distribution and cash delivery methods would be ideal in increasing efficiency and offering options to beneficiaries.

”Solita’s research showed us on a concrete level what’s possible and what isn’t in Kenya, but their suggestions have the potential to be scalable globally. Especially now with COVID-19 worries affecting direct cash transactions, there’s an interest and need for a more widespread use of digital tools in humanitarian aid as well,” sums Antti Toivanen.

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