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Ken Banks

Head of Social Purpose at Yoti. Technologist, anthropologist and author of The Pursuit of Purpose (out now).

How Curio traders in Malawi could benefit from digital identity

How Curio traders in Malawi could benefit from digital identity

As we go about our social purpose work we regularly get to speak to local, national and international non-profit organisations. Over the years, we’ve found that many struggle to understand the many ways digital identity solutions might help them in their work.  As part of our wider efforts to help the sector make sense of the technology, today we’re publishing the last in a series of articles looking at the use of digital identities in six different humanitarian and environmental settings. Please note that, while the technology use case is real, the scenarios are hypothetical in nature, and the projects do not exist as stated. Location Malawi Scenario Security for Curio Traders Background Visitors to Malawi are spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting authentic curios and souvenirs to take home with them. Apart from locally produced paintings, baskets and batiks, there are countless beautiful wooden carvings that are made on site and sold to visitors. Malawi has always been known for its talented wood carvers who create a diversity of sculptures and plaques depicting mostly African scenery, people and animals. Carved pieces by Malawian artists can be found in Buckingham Palace and the Vatican Museum, as well as in several churches in western countries, where they decorate the walls. Wood carving is a traditional Malawian art form and a skill that is passed from fathers to sons. Selling the pieces to tourists is a way for many families to earn a living as the ornate detail and beauty of the indigenous hardwoods from which they are made, are prized by tourists. Curio vendors have been assisted by the Malawian government, building markets in which the vendors may display their wares and conduct business. This has resulted in improved sales as the vendors do not need to pack up their wares and take them away each evening or cease business during times of inclement weather. The government promotes wood carving as a potential earner of foreign exchange through exports and a generator of income for poor Malawians.   Challenge Since early 2020, the curio vendors in Malawi have suffered serious financial setbacks. With the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, international borders have been closed and tourism has ground to a halt. Some vendors have given up and moved back to rural areas where they hope to cultivate enough food to stave off starvation. Others remain at the markets where they spend the days polishing dust off their carvings and hoping that someone will come along and purchase something that day. A group of struggling vendors have got together to explore the possibility of sending small consignments of carvings to neighbouring South Africa which has a much larger and more affluent population. They hope that there will be a market for their goods, despite the current travel restrictions. Unfortunately, none of the men have passports and they have reservations about trusting an unknown transporter who may cross the border with their carvings and never be seen again. Solution The curio vendors set up a network of trusted members using certain digital identifiers. Members include wood carvers and potential transporters with driving licences and vehicles. To become a member, an individual must produce two significant pieces of identity documentation. These could be a national ID card, bank card, birth certificate, marriage certificate, driver’s licence or personal testimony from a village head. The documentation is photographed and stored in a database which also includes a photograph of the face of each member. Thereafter, members can identify themselves as authentic, bona fide traders using their photographs. This system would allow a registered and known transporter to collect a consignment of high-quality curios from verified members of the group. The transporter may agree to pay a sum of money as a deposit before leaving for the border with the curios. Once the curios have been sold to retailers in South Africa, the customs fees and transporter’s costs can be deducted and the remainder of the income paid to the Malawian vendors before the next consignment is collected. Read our other scenarios on how digital identity might: be used to monitor food and cash rations   be used to help make cross-border trading easier help protect endangered southern ground hornbills in Zimbabwe promote education in Angola improve maternity and childcare in Kenya

4 min read
How could digital identity improve maternity and childcare in Kenya?

How could digital identity improve maternity and childcare in Kenya?

As we go about our social purpose work we regularly get to speak to local, national and international non-profit organisations. Over the years, we’ve found that many struggle to understand the many ways digital identity solutions might help them in their work.  As part of our wider efforts to help the sector make sense of the technology, today we’re publishing the fifth of six articles looking at the use of digital identities in six different humanitarian and environmental settings. Please note that, while the technology use-case is real, the scenarios are hypothetical in nature, and the projects do not exist as stated. Location Kenya Scenario Maternity and Childcare Clinic Background  According to the World Health Organisation, 60% of mothers in sub-Saharan Africa give birth without ever consulting with a healthcare worker. This leads to an increase in the likelihood of complications that can cause maternal and child death. In Kenya, in particular, the mortality rate of mothers during pregnancy and childbirth is considered to be high and was given as 342 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2019. The reason for this is that many women live in rural areas where there are no health care clinics and they can therefore not access antenatal guidance or the help of trained health professionals. Transport to clinics in larger towns is also costly and this adds to the likelihood that pregnant women in Kenya will be unable to consult a health care worker for assistance. UNICEF states that “The causes of maternal death are mostly preventable”, and links decreased maternal mortality with regular attendance at an antenatal or primary health care clinic. Historically, Kenyan women had to pay a fee to attend a maternity clinic and this added to the inaccessibility of these services to the average mother-to-be. In 2013, the Kenyan government implemented a Free Maternity Service policy which resulted in an increase in the number of women who attended maternity clinics. In addition, Kenya has made great progress in recent years in institutionalising community primary health services. Numerous small maternity clinics have been established in rural areas, usually with the help of NGOs, donors and other stakeholders such as UNICEF and USAID. Trained nurses and midwives at these clinics focus on educating mothers-to-be about nutrition, childbirth and hygiene, and on assisting and supporting during the birth of the baby.   Challenge With maternity clinics and antenatal services more accessible to Kenyan women than ever before, there has been a significant increase in the number of women seeking to register at these facilities. However, many of the women have no documentation and are unable to identify themselves officially. In rural communities, children are mostly born at home and their births are not recorded in a hospital. This means that many people in these communities have no birth certificates. In Kenya, a birth certificate is needed in order to apply for a national identity card which is, in turn, required for a biometric identity number – known as a Huduma Namba, or “service number” in Swahili. Rural women may therefore remain undocumented, along with millions of others in the Kenyan population. Solution A maternity clinic could register pregnant women who wish to make use of the antenatal and health care services offered. Registration would involve recording a woman’s name, address details and any other relevant information, along with a scan of her fingerprint or face. This is the same technology currently used by the Kenyan government authorities in their drive to register every citizen with a digital identity and work number. The database could be stored at the clinic of the woman’s choice, with an undertaking that she must return to the same clinic where she registered for all subsequent check-ups and health issues. Each time a patient returns for a check-up, she would use her fingerprint to authenticate her identity. This would enable the clinic to monitor the progress of the woman’s pregnancy and ensure she attended antenatal classes regularly, to educate her on issues of nutrition, hygiene, breastfeeding and baby care. If she failed to attend one of the classes, the clinic staff would be alerted and may decide to visit her home to ascertain if problems had arisen. After childbirth, the baby’s immunisation schedule and growth could also be monitored and the data stored under the mother’s digital identity file. This data could also be accessed when the woman returned to the clinic for subsequent pregnancies. Read our other scenarios on how digital identity could: be used to monitor food and cash rations   be used to help make cross-border trading easier help protect endangered southern ground hornbills in Zimbabwe promote education in Angola

4 min read
How digital identity could help promote education in Angola

How digital identity could help promote education in Angola

As we go about our social purpose work we regularly get to speak to local, national and international non-profit organisations. Over the years, we’ve found that many struggle to understand the many ways digital identity solutions might help them in their work.  As part of our wider efforts to help the sector make sense of the technology, today we’re publishing the fourth of six articles looking at the use of digital identities in six different humanitarian and environmental settings. Please note that, while the technology use-case is real, the scenarios are hypothetical in nature, and the projects do not exist as stated. Location Angola Scenario Resources for Trainee Teachers Background  When Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975, the new government estimated the level of illiteracy in the country to be between 85% and 90%. There then followed 27 years of civil war, during which the country’s education system (what there was of it) was left in chaos. Not only did most of the qualified teachers leave the country, but schools were damaged by gunfire and landmines and civilians became displaced. When the civil war ended in 2002, UN figures indicated that about 45% of Angolan children did not go to school. Those who did attend school often experienced a lack of teachers, overcrowding in unsuitable classrooms or a total absence of classrooms or classroom supplies. However, the Angolan government quickly focused attention on improving the education system and introduced four years of free, compulsory primary education (between the ages of 7 and 11). With the help of aid agencies such as UNESCO, the government has rebuilt many schools and opened hundreds of new ones. By 2018, it employed 17,000 teachers but still estimated that a further 200,000 trained teachers would be needed in order to give all Angolan children a primary school education.   Challenge Teachers are particularly needed in rural areas and the NGO, known as ADPP (Aid for the Development of the People by the People), which works with the Angolan Ministry of Education, has set up secondary schools in rural areas specifically to train teachers to work in local primary schools. The three-year training promotes teaching skills through a combination of studies, courses and experiences, and students are expected to research topics for themselves, share ideas and ask questions. The students are usually from poor backgrounds and only have a few years of primary school education themselves. They are not able to purchase textbooks or access internet resources in order to fulfil the research aspects of the training course. In addition, many of them are not in possession of the national ID card due to the problems with access to, and issuance in, rural areas. Solution Each of the new training schools, called Training Colleges for the Teachers of the Future (CTFs), has a library that contains relevant references and study material for the courses offered. Students who register for a course have their personal details recorded, along with a fingerprint and face scan. They are also issued with a student card displaying their photograph. Access to the library involves scanning a student’s fingerprint, whereafter he or she is authorised to enter and borrow resource material.  In addition, this gives access to the computer terminals available for research. Students who have already graduated as Teachers of the Future but who may still need to use the resources in the library for reference and guidance may also be given access, via fingerprint scan, for a period of time after completing their training. Read our other scenarios on how digital identity could: be used to monitor food and cash rations   be used to help make cross-border trading easier help protect endangered southern ground hornbills in Zimbabwe

4 min read
An unfolding crisis

An unfolding crisis

The past few weeks have seen the largest movement of people in Europe since World War II, with millions fleeing the war in Ukraine in search of safety, and many more trapped or under siege, unable to leave. While food, water and medicine are among the more immediate needs, many people have been forced to flee without identity documents as they get lost, misplaced or potentially confiscated along the way. While the situation remains fluid, humanitarian organisations are reporting the lack of any form of ID as a growing problem as people arrive at border crossings seeking help. In the longer term, the lack of ID can hinder visa applications, or potentially make moving back harder when it’s finally safe to return home.  However, this is only part of the problem. Large numbers of local and foreign volunteers and workers are responding to the emergency, and in many places there’s a growing need to verify the identity of drivers or aid workers providing help and support. Reports of donated goods and supplies – and worse, women and children – going missing are already beginning to emerge. With vast numbers of vulnerable people congregating around borders, the potential for a huge humanitarian disaster is very real and incredibly worrying.  For the past few weeks, we’ve been speaking to an increasing number of humanitarian NGOs, and collaborating with friends at TechFugees. Within days of war breaking out, many of the organisations in their network began reaching out to ask about our digital identity solutions, and how they might help those responding to the humanitarian crisis mitigate against some of these risks, or help citizens fleeing the war to secure their identities. We’ve been doing all we can to provide support to any organisation keen to implement our technology, which we’ve been providing for free. We understand how important it is to help them streamline the flow of humanitarian aid in times of crisis and to ensure that those delivering it are who they say they are. As part of our efforts to help anyone in the country who wants to safely store and secure their identity documents, we’ve fast-tracked the translation of the Yoti app into the two most widely spoken languages in Ukraine – Ukrainian and Russian. The app, with this new language support, is now available in the App Store and Google Play stores and free to download by anyone in or from Ukraine worried about losing the ability to prove who they are, either now or in the future.  A short information sheet has also been introduced to explain the potential benefits of digital identity to them.  Yoti in the humanitarian sector Thanks in large part to our social purpose efforts over the past few years, we know there are countless opportunities for Yoti to support the wider humanitarian sector, who can use our solutions often for free or at a heavily discounted rate. Operational uses may include verifying someone’s personal details when they sign up as a volunteer, confirming the identities of people accessing critical humanitarian data, or verifying that someone who claims to work for an aid agency does actually work for them. For people fleeing war or conflict who try to enter neighbouring countries or apply or register for help, securing their identity digitally is likely to prove hugely beneficial. Outside of any emergency use, Yoti can also be used to register patients for health programmes, identify people before making cash payments, registering and assisting refugees accessing camp services, or to clock teachers and pupils in and out of school. You can find more about our wider offering to the charity sector here, or on our broader social purpose efforts here. Planning ahead While we’re doing all we can to support the humanitarian response in Ukraine, we recognise our efforts are more reactive than proactive. Naturally, humanitarian crises can be hard to predict and the scale of what’s been taking place across the country has even taken many of the aid agencies working there by surprise.  While we’re still learning about how digital identity solutions can support current efforts, it’s important to be as well prepared as possible before the next crisis strikes, and that means striving to always understand the most immediate needs of humanitarian relief organisations when they first hit the ground. What might they need from a company like Yoti to help them better understand what we offer? Would it make sense for us to ‘package up’ some of our solutions so they’re ready ‘off-the-shelf’ to meet some of the earliest needs, such as issuing digital ID cards to aid workers or volunteers? Should they have time before fleeing their homes, how do we help vulnerable people understand the very real benefits of securing their identities digitally?  As our response to events in Ukraine is ongoing, there’s still a lot we don’t know. We’ve made the decision to hire a consultant with deep humanitarian crisis experience to help us unpick what we’ve been doing, and to help us gain valuable insight into how we can do it better for those that might benefit the most.  The global response to the war has been incredible and it’s been encouraging to see so many people and organisations step up and help. As a company committed to doing good, and with technology with the potential to help the most vulnerable, it’s only right that we put ourselves among them in whatever way we can.  If your organisation is working in Ukraine or one of the bordering countries, and you’re interested in how our digital identity solutions might help in your crisis response, please feel free to email social.impact@yoti.com and one of the team will get straight back to you. It goes without saying that our hearts go out to all those affected by events in Ukraine, and we pray for a speedy end to this horrific and unjust war.  Ken Banks Head of Social Purpose at Yoti

6 min read
How digital identity could help protect endangered southern ground hornbills in Zimbabwe

How digital identity could help protect endangered southern ground hornbills in Zimbabwe

As we go about our social purpose work we regularly get to speak to local, national and international non-profit organisations. Over the years, we’ve found that many struggle to understand the many ways digital identity solutions might help them in their work.  As part of our wider efforts to help the sector make sense of the technology, today we’re publishing the third of six articles looking at the use of digital identities in six different humanitarian and environmental settings. Please note that, while the technology use-case is real, the scenarios are hypothetical in nature, and the projects do not exist as stated. Location Zimbabwe Scenario Conservation of southern ground hornbills Background  Southern ground hornbills (Bucorvus leadbeateri) are large, black hornbills that move around on the ground. Their huge, black bills and bright red facial pouches, along with their considered, slightly comical gait, make them unmistakable in the African savannas and woodlands. Sadly, population numbers throughout most of their range declined by as much as 50% over the past 30 years. This is attributed largely to loss of habitat as human populations expand into, and cultivate savanna areas. Ground hornbills roost in trees and use hollow trunks to lay eggs and raise their young. As trees are cleared for agricultural purposes or firewood, the hornbills have nowhere suitable to roost or breed. In parts of their range, ground hornbills are also hunted for meat and poisoned accidentally by farmers targeting leopards or jackals. Hornbill feathers are sought-after as tribal decorations, and there is a long history of using them or their parts in traditional medicine. Traders of traditional medicine in a market in Zimbabwe stated that ground hornbill parts were used by people to get revenge on someone, to bring rain, protect against bad spirits and lightning, guide the family, give a person strength, make dreams come true and prevent theft. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List classifies southern ground hornbills as “Vulnerable” to extinction throughout their sub-equatorial range in Africa. In Zimbabwe, in particular, the government-sponsored ‘Agrarian Land Reform’ policies encourage the development of previously pristine, natural areas, which has put populations of ground hornbills in communal farming areas in jeopardy. Urgent research on population numbers and breeding success is critical in order to inform conservation and management measures.   Challenge Conservation organisations, such as BirdLife Zimbabwe, are conducting research on ground hornbills that occupy territory and breed in communal lands or newly settled farming areas. A starting point for this research is to monitor population numbers and breeding success each year. Since it is not practical or financially viable for researchers to follow each family group of hornbills as it moves through its large home territory each day, the participation of local community members is essential to the success of the research. However, the reporting of ground hornbill sightings and nest locations could attract individuals with nefarious intentions, considering that traditional medicine traders are prepared to buy birds or bird parts for resale to the public. Should such individuals be inadvertently included in the research community, the effects on populations of these long-lived, slow breeding hornbills may be devastating. Solution Community participants who wish to be included in the citizen science network to report and observe ground hornbills would need to have a digital identity that verifies them as bona fide, living and trusted individuals. This may involve an interview, in person or via an online platform, as well as the registration of the participant’s name, address and facial biometrics. This would enable a participant to join a messaging group, such as WhatsApp, where the sightings and observations are submitted. Behavioural identifiers could also be included in the digital identity since an individual observer will be submitting records from within a well-defined area (close to their home) each time and this could be used to authenticate the observations.  In South Africa, the Kruger National Park, the South African Bird Atlas Project and the Mabula Ground Hornbill Project have used citizen scientists in a similar way, thereby involving the community and expanding the capacity for data capture. Read the other scenarios on how digital identity could be used to monitor food and cash rations and how digital identity could be used to help make cross-border trading easier.

4 min read
How digital identity could be used to help make cross-border trading easier

How digital identity could be used to help make cross-border trading easier

As we go about our social purpose work we regularly get to speak to local, national and international non-profit organisations. Over the years, we’ve found that many struggle to understand the many ways digital identity solutions might help them in their work. As part of our wider efforts to help the sector make sense of the technology, today we’re publishing the second of six articles looking at the use of digital identities in six different humanitarian settings. Please note that, while the technology use-case is real, the scenarios are hypothetical in nature, and the projects do not exist as stated. Location Lesotho Scenario Informal Cross-border Traders Background  Lesotho is a sovereign state that is completely enclaved within the territory of South Africa. It has an area of around 30,000 km2 (11,583 sq mi) and a population of just under 2 million. It is mountainous and landlocked, and the levels of poverty are high. Given their close geographical proximity, Lesotho and South Africa have a long history of trade relations, commencing more than 150 years ago when migrant labourers from Lesotho were employed in the South African gold mines. Salaries earned by migrant labourers proved to be important to the economy of Lesotho, as indicated in the Lesotho Official Yearbook (1996) that states this income contributed 30% to the country’s Gross National Product.1 Since 1994, however, the South African government has encouraged the employment of South African miners, and Lesotho’s miners have seen massive retrenchment. This has left the population desperately seeking alternative ways of earning an income. Many have turned to informal trade, particularly involving cross-border trips, either to purchase goods for resale in Lesotho or to sell goods produced in Lesotho, to South African markets. The majority of informal cross-border traders are women, and this form of commercial activity is crucial in Lesotho for supporting poor families and putting food on their tables. The government recognises the importance of this economic sector and, in the sense that they allow small consignments of goods to enter the country without import permits, have tried to make border entry a little easier.   Challenge Ten years ago, Lesotho had no national identification or registration system. With the 2013 launch of the national ID system, the government has moved to rectify this, but 10% of the population still has not been registered. Combined with this, bureaucracy at border posts is time-consuming and complex and largely of a manual nature. Cross-border traders experience bottlenecks and delays on a daily basis. In addition, the loss of a passport would render a trader unable to earn an income for the three months that it may take to obtain a replacement. Informal cross-border traders at Lesotho’s border posts report that passport issues complicate their commercial activities and make them vulnerable to corrupt officials who may extort a “fee” before allowing them to cross the border. Solution Since informal cross-border traders exit and enter Lesotho through one of only three border posts, it would be possible to register every trader on a database that could be held at each border. Traders’ names, addresses and National Identity Register numbers could be recorded, along with fingerprint, hand or face biometrics. An offline system would suffice as long as the trader only used the border post with which he or she registers. Subsequently, any crossing through a Lesotho border post could be done by automated systems that scan the fingerprint, hand or face. Naturally, a bilateral agreement with the South African border authorities would complete the process so that cross-border traders could move unimpeded through both sets of controls. This would also be particularly useful for those Lesotho residents who have permanent employment just across the border in South Africa and have to make this journey twice a day, every weekday.   Read the first scenario on how digital identity could be used to monitor food and cash rations.

4 min read