Securing Foreign Aid Distribution with Democratized IoT and Blockchain

By July 5, 2018Blogs, Case Studies

A natural disaster strikes.

Maybe it’s an earthquake in China or a tsunami in India. Or both. And it’s causing havoc for hundreds of thousands of people and frightening images begin to flood our screens.

Your first thought is likely to be, “How can I help?” 

Chances are, you don’t live near the disaster area, so your second thought is probably, “Where do I send money?”

It could be $10 or $1,000. It could be donated online, or through a swift text via your cellular provider. Throughout the process, there’s likely to be a tiny voice in the back of your head wondering how your dollars are helping. Are they getting to where they need to go? If so, you’re not alone. Even if you’ve determined that the relief agency is legitimate and generally responsible, you have no guarantee that your money ends up in the right hands.

Of course, no matter the questions marks, most of us still want to help in whatever form we’re able — individuals and Fortune 500 companies alike. 

The financial stakes rise as the aid dollars add up, which is especially the case with donations at an organizational scale, but even smaller donations add up eventually. Unfortunately in some cases, the question marks surrounding foreign aid’s reputation and its bottom line are enough to kill the impetus to send aid.


The Problem: The Chain of Distribution

Transactional difficulties are something relief agencies grapple with every day. They are openly fraught with these issues, which affect both those in need, as well as foreign aid’s reputation. 

Relief organizations lose as much as 3.5% of each aid transaction to various fees and costs, alone, aside from corruption. As things stand, the checks and balances necessary for corruption-less movement of funds simply aren’t enough to make certain that everyone knows where the money is moving. In fact, estimates tell us that as much as 30% of all development funds don’t reach beneficiaries due to theft or mismanagement.

This uncertainty is how people — especially large organizations — become less willing to expend the amount of money that can make a difference. And even when the funds are transferred to the intended organization, those who are most in need can be left wanting, as the funds can be siphoned off to nefarious types who take a little, or not so little, off the top.


A Solution: Ubiquitous IoT and Blockchain

Countries like the United States and Denmark are waking up to the potential for better foreign aid delivery, and are already actively looking at blockchain as an answer to these mass-scale transactions. Organizations and businesses are following suit.


“IoT applications could help promote monitoring and evaluation, and achievement of nearly all the existing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)…” — UN / Cisco Report


Thanks to its ability to improve supply chains, IoT too has also been lauded as a problem solver when moving resources to help people in need: from smart sensors for inventory control, to pairing M2M with blockchain to allow instant transactions, to tracking inventory over remote and rugged terrain that was previously not serviced by cell and WiFi connectivity. 

This is where space-based IoT can make major inroads.

In terms of connectivity, it all comes down to accessibility. Foreign aid is typically distributed to those in developing nations that don’t have the funds to afford wide-scale connectivity and tracking technologies (never mind the exorbitant cost of acquiring connectivity in remote locations) or those where cell and internet access has been knocked out by mass-scale events. That’s when space-based IoT can bring affordable, accessible connectivity to the table when it’s most needed.

With space-based IoT and blockchain, no cell towers or wifi signals are needed.


Putting Cutting-edge Technology to Use: Challenge Accepted

Consider, for instance, the United Nation’s #Envision2030. As a part of the program, the agency laid out 17 goals to help humans with disabilities with the principal of “leaving no one behind” — a holistic approach to achieving international sustainable development, which includes blockchain.

As a part of Envision, IBM’s Challenge Accepted program, running May 15 to July 14, asked developers to solve the data communication breakdown plaguing relief organizations by harnessing existing blockchain technology.

“Challenge Accepted asks developers to construct the foundational layer of the much larger lifecycle of impact and accountability tracking; validating government and large corporate commitments and fund transfers resulting from Global Citizen’s advocacy work.” — IBM

There are other avenues that lead to funding security and massive movements of transactional data. One answer lies in space technology. Because we all know there are challenges that face IoT, we are also finding that blockchain — especially space-based blockchain — can help mitigate the associated risks and challenges

“Even with such thorny problems looming, these intelligent machines are already altering spheres as diverse as health care and manufacturing, city planning, transportation and power generation, agriculture and household management. The devices themselves might be micro, but they’re causing macro shifts in how we live and work.” — the Globe and Mail


Space-based Answers

While blockchain adds multiple levels of security to the transfer of funds — allowing supply chains to collaborate in a standardized, trackable way — space-based networks can further secure that sensitive big data. (Fintech times has a great description of the system basics, for blockchain on a traditional network.) 

And the ways in which blockchain can help those less fortunate go beyond disasters and foreign aid.

Any time money is is transferred, the process never fails to be complicated, unsafe, and costly. For instance, in 2016 alone, emigrants sent approximately US$442 billion to family in their home countries. Not only are the transactions themselves expensive, but also clunky and inefficient. With the financial well-being of societies in developing nations dependant upon the transactions, it seems as though blockchain would be well-served in any transaction, from not only an affordability standpoint, and not only in times of crisis, but also for the continued growth of developing nations.

“… in international aid, where documentation is scarce and operating budgets are low. By eliminating intermediaries, blockchain technology creates faster, safer, and, ultimately, cheaper ways of doing business.” — Fast Company


Going Far Beyond Foreign Aid

The same abilities that lend themselves to facilitating foreign aid also give rise to better daily movements of support, en masse. While IoT is currently associated with the likes of Amazon and Monsanto, what we’ll likely soon see is how democratized IoT can impact those living at every level of economic ladder, both in personal and professional lives. That means, everything from cheap smoke detectors for those in extremely low-income housing to tracking shipments of life-saving medications.

Those industries linked to food, health, money and security, will feel an especially noticeable impact of democratized Iot and blockchain. Already, we are close to having the ability to broaden the scope of this technology for widespread uses, particularly where supply chains are concerned. Supply chains vary greatly, and affect all connected industries, meaning that optimizations have the potential to significantly help those in developing nations — from foreign aid, to transfer needed funds back home, to the food supply chain

Better logistics make for better distribution of our resources, and space-based IoT and blockchain hold at least a few answers to some of the associated challenges. 

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