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Providing Refugees with An Economic Identity

Startup Spotlight

BanQu has developed a platform that empowers refugees by giving them an online economic identity. It was one of the seven winners at the MIT Enterprise Forum Innovate for Refugees Competition in partnership with Zain Group and MBC Hope. 

By Maya Sioufi

How can a refugee prove that he or she have been regularly paying their rent at the end of the month? How can they prove that they attended a particular university? Refugees are not able to pull up their identity and prove who they are. They don’t have a credit score for banks or corporates to assess in order to decide if they can provide them with a loan.

With cell phone penetration reaching over 60% of the global unbanked population, one company Banqu is aiming to address this massive issue. By partnering with New-York based Boloro, a patented transaction authentication and mobile payment network, Banqu has developed an economic identity based solution application that runs on any smartphone or via SMS on non-smartphones with an aim to empower refugees by providing them with an economic identity.

 

How will they do that?

 

They will do that by utilizing the blockchain technology. Blockchain is a decentralized digital ledger that records transactions that cannot be altered on thousands of computers globally. By using this technology, Banqu will allow the registration of numerous transactions that would previously have no record. These transactions include university degrees, IDs, financial transactions such as utility bills and bank statements, the transfer of money, receipts of all sorts, etc.BanQu also enables remittances for refugees and from migrant workers for their families.

 

Say for instance that an uncle wants to send money to his Syrian refugee nephew in Amman, by using Banqu’s platform his transaction is recorded and recognized. If a refugee is paying his rent in cash, he can now record his timely payments through the platform. “You become empowered as a refugee” says Ashish Gadnis, CEO of Banqu.

 

Or in the healthcare field for instance, a lot of medicine that is sent to Africa and the Middle East ends up stolen or lost and the people it never reaches the people it was meant to be for. With blockchain, the recipient needs to confirm receipt of the medicine. Minneapolis based Banqu is also a mobile site so if a user doesn’t have a phone, he or she can still access the platform.

 

Banqu is the brainchild of Ashish Gadnis, Hamse Warfa and Jeff Keiser – a group of entrepreneurs who have had personal experiences of poverty, being a refugee and disparate economic opportunities respectively. Ashish was lucky enough to move to the US where he spent over 20 years developing numerous startups until he started volunteering in Eastern Congo in 2012. That’s when he realized that the lack of identity was the root cause of a lot of problems and he was determined to tackle this issue.

 

Partnership with Boloro

 

The goal of the partnership with Boloro is to enable over 6,000 refugees to get access to an economic identity on the blockchain in order to collect critical pieces of their lives that can be accessed remotely as well as access a mobile wallet brought by Boloro which is tied to the identity enabling the payment for expenses such as retail groceries, transportation, etc. As their financial transactions and legal documents become recorded, refugees can eventually participate in rebuilding their credit worthiness and economic history.

 

With the Rockefeller foundation as one of our funders, the company is now in the process of rolling out their pilot project in Amman by end of the year with the support of Boloro and building a network of retailers and non-governmental organizations that would allow the record of transactions on the blockchain. “If you are an NGO, instead of using a spreadsheet, you can now interact with people and see their identities on the blockchain and it is portable and more importantly extremely secure. If a refugee moves from Jordan to Germany, when I look him or her up, I’ll know who they are,” adds Ashish.

 

Privacy

 

The economic identity can be access through a thumbnail, selfie or a password and can be retrieved from anywhere in the world. As for privacy concerns, Ashish is confident of the extra security that such a platform provides. “We created a combination of passwords or thumbnails that open access to different things. It is very tech savvy” he says.

 

With just under 20 employees based in offices around the world (Ukraine, Texas and Somalia), Banqu has just announced a partnership with Chemonics that will allow the company to roll out through 22 countries.  Their focus is on extreme poverty and refugees. For now, they are aiming to support the unbanked in Somalia as well as Syrian refugees. For refugees, their plan is to start in Jordan then quickly move to Lebanon and Turkey.