How Blockchain Could Transform The Way International Aid Is Distributed
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
The future of world food aid arrived, in early May, unnoticed by its first recipients: the grocery shoppers inside a supermarket at the Azraq camp in Jordan, home to 36,000 Syrian refugees. To be fair, their buying process already looked pretty high-tech, especially for a store with a dirt parking lot in the middle of the desert. Before paying, each shopper peered into a black, rectangular iris scanner mounted at eye-level, which confirms users’ identities with the camp’s organizing group, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and allows them to access a food stipend from the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP).
That’s a spiffy authentication process, but it had been there for months. What the shoppers didn’t see was the new back-end procedure. Instead of receiving WFP funds via a third party, such as a bank, the grocery store was reconciling each purchase directly with the aid group through a secure platform called Building Blocks, based on blockchain technology. Inside the store, Houman Haddad, a finance officer for the WFP and the founder of Building Blocks, watched as each eye scan led to a cashier’s tablet flashing a green check mark, signaling a completed transaction. “It was the moment when I knew this was technically possible,” he says.