Biometric payment solution gets aid to hard-to-reach households

An app that supports the local supply of essential goods and services to the world’s hardest-to-reach families has been developed and piloted by F4ID in partnership with digital product company Xoomworks Technology – now part of Accenture, together with Save the Children, Barclays and Standard Chartered.

Already successfully piloted in Northeast Kenya and Afghanistan, the app helps NGO funds to go straight to local merchants, lowering the risk of aid diversion to serve families who need humanitarian aid and do not have access to a bank account. The pilot results are promising. Biometric verification provides proof of supply to beneficiaries who remain safely anonymous, while NGOs can make traceable bank transfers promptly to known merchants in a cashless transaction.

Giving communities the tools to prosper

With one in 33 people worldwide needing humanitarian assistance (Mark Lowcock, UN, 2021) and 1.7 billion without a bank account (World Bank, 2018), many families can’t access the assistance they require.*

Cash and voucher programmes are still widely used in the humanitarian sector but present real traceability challenges and risk of fraud to NGOs and financial institutions. They can also be unsafe and unreliable to those people who distribute and receive aid.

At the same time, increasing regulatory, compliance, and reputational pressures on humanitarian aid response are driving banks to look at how they can de-risk and improve due diligence in their financial transactions across this sector.

F4ID’s mission is to give communities the technology and tools they need to prosper while providing banks and NGOs with the visibility and traceability they need. A social enterprise, it needed a digital supply and payment platform with a focus on how local trade could more easily and transparently serve the NGOs’ last-mile environment.

Aware of the potential expense of custom technology infrastructure – as well as the challenge of how to make it accessible in the field – F4ID worked with Xoomworks Technology, part of Accenture, to develop an easy-to-use tool that would practically support getting essential aid to the hardest to reach households and bolster micro-economies.

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With Xoomworks Technology as project partners, we could focus on building the right delivery model that would provide humanitarian assistance, support local trade, and build communities, using new technology on devices that were already being used in the field

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Steve Harvey

Founder and Chief Impact Officer, F4ID

Biometric solution reduces risk

A combination of field research, deep expertise, and a benchmarking exercise of mainly legacy technologies currently in use by the humanitarian sector made clear to the project team the need to build an app that would work on local merchants’ smartphones.

Xoomworks Technology developed an efficient, low-cost tool that is easy to set up and use. It is designated to maintain the anonymity of the people receiving assistance, which was a critical factor. This is because the digital supply and payment platform uses biometric verification to verify someone through their biometric features, not their identity.

How does it work?

L20, the digitally enabled app, is secure and is part of the move to help reduce fraud and aid diversion risk. It supports the local supply of essential goods and services to people requiring aid by enabling them to select what they need from a network of local providers, who are paid promptly under the scheme.

Field workers use their Android devices to carry out a needs assessment on vulnerable households and enrol a representative from that household using the biometric verification tool on the app. The householder is given a QR key and certificate of entitlement which can be used to receive essential goods and services. When they visit a merchant, the merchant scans the certificate’s QR barcode to recognise the scheme. Once facial verification takes place via the merchant’s phone, the individual can select the goods they need from the list on the merchant’s app. The merchant will then take a second biometric verification to confirm the receipt of goods and the entitlement. The app automatically sends a request for payment from the NGO, which will settle the payment to the merchant within seven days.

One of the main goals of obtaining greater transparency into the supply chain is to use QR codes to identify and approve trade routes. These track information about products in the supply chain to provide robust dynamic reporting with rich digital analytics for NGOs in real-time.

L20 is a collaborative model for the humanitarian sector that brings together an NGO, two banks, and a product engineering firm to support communities that need aid to help them to prosper. It addresses how to de-risk the provision of that aid to satisfy the banks’ need for regulatory and compliance requirements. Better traceability, reporting, and analytics meet those needs with the tool supporting the move to reduce fraud and aid diversion risk.

“Xoomworks Technology has built us a data-led app that works in the local supply chain and provides performance-based outcomes. Unlike credit card data, we’re using this valuable data to analyse and improve programming outcomes and local trade eco-systems at ground level, ensuring people get the essential goods they need”, explains Steve.

Expanding a successful pilot scheme

The results of the pilot schemes in Northeast Kenya and Afghanistan are promising. In Afghanistan, merchants used the L20 system to distribute 63 tones of food to over 3,000 people in 15 hours. Every transaction was time-stamped and biometrically verified. NGOs like the fact that rather than handing out cash, they are making payments to several known wholesalers and merchants that are directly serving the harder-to-reach households. The biometric verification data is evidence of supply to these households, and the beneficiaries remain safely anonymous.

These empowering programmes are giving these communities flexibility and choice. End-to-end tracking to ensure goods get to the right households and fewer, safer supplier payments is a business model that NGOs and other regulatory bodies are keen to expand to humanitarian areas in deep crisis.

Steve concludes, “NGOs are on the front line of aid, working with banks with a commercial need to de-risk and ensure security and compliance. We have created a secure and risk-reducing tool with a tangible result that’s worked in Kenya and Afghanistan. We look forward to rolling it out more widely in the very near future to communities that desperately need support”.

Since these numbers were reported in early 2021, there has been a 16.5% increase – 1 in 30 people requiring assistance. Progress on financial inclusion, however, means we should expect a reduction in the number of people without access to financial services from 1.7bn in 2018 to 1.5bn today.

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