hiveonline founder and CEO, Sofie Blakstad set off to Oslo last week to speak at the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) Conference 2019: Digitalisation and Development on “Blockchain for Development”.
The session panelists shared their experiences in utilising and adapting digital technologies to solve some of the world’s most critical development challenges to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
On the panel, Sofie discussed how hiveonline is partnering with CARE to develop a blockchain based application which hurdles traditional barriers to financial inclusion in Africa. For over 30 years CARE has developed and expanded Village Savings and Loan Associations in Niger, which provides savings facilities through community group structures.
Sofie explained the huge opportunity in digitalising these savings groups:
“In Niger alone, savings groups have an estimated 800,000 members -making the largest financial provider in the country – larger than the entire banking sector. But entirely in cash”.
But like with most opportunities, challenges arise as well. Many members of these groups have had limited access to technology or education, many are illiterate and do not have the government issued documentation required for KYC.
Building Bridges to Financial Inclusion
To overcome these challenges one by one, hiveonline has taken a tiered approach to the introduction of the new mobile technology thereby to maximizing impact to communities by using networks that already exist.
The introduction of the eArziki App for VSLAs provides the opportunity to both reinforce and accelerate the financial and digital education that CARE is already providing to savings groups. When the VSLA secretary records group transactions on the app they are recorded on blockchain -creating a financial history and digital identity for each VSLA member that can then be presented to a formal lending institution such as an MFI to validate creditworthiness. Sofie remarked: blockchain mimics what we see in the savings groups: distributed community trust.
It’s All About Trust
Sofie concluded the presentation with the bigger picture: that trust builds relationships. For the women of CAREs VSLAs the challenge has been that with no formal financial history, institutions are unable to lend to the groups. Blockchain solves this trust problem. In societies where trust has the biggest problems, blockchain has the most potential impact: to rebalance economies, to rebalance power, between the small guys and the big guys,
Also on the panel were Aya Miyaguchi, Executive Director at Ethereum Foundation who discussed the opportunities presented by smart contracts for insurance in regions subject to extreme climatic events and Christopher Fabian, Head of UNICEF Innovation who explained the UNICEF Innovation Crypto Fund which aims to direct digital assets to companies that are building digital public goods in a transparent way.
UPDATE: hiveonline stopped working on the CARE eArziki project in March 2020 after mutual agreement to end the partnership. While the savings group application was developed and tested, it did not go live and was not used by groups in Niger.