How Bitcoin Can Get Aid Directly to Refugees

Technology is revolutionizing international aid

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies have grown in influence and usage the past few years. People looking for an alternative to government-issued fiat currencies, or who simply don’t trust having their spending tracked by banks, have flocked to them.

Bitcoin also has become an interesting method of payment across international borders and a way to avoid transaction fees.

There is another use for bitcoin that might get some use in these tragic times: as a way to provide relief for refugees. Refugees, by definition, are a mobile population. The explosion of cellphone technology means even many of the world’s poorest have them. The proliferation of microfinance and microbanking has lifted many of these poor cellphone users out of poverty.

However, a major problem refugees face is lack of access to traditional banks. The banks in their home countries may be out of service. They also likely do not have the proper documents to set up a bank account in their host country. Bitcoin can provide a way to bypass the traditional banking system and give aid to refugees directly.

Tiffany Hayden, the CEO of Enable, a firm that aims to be the “first provider of emergency financial assistance,” sees bitcoin as a disruptor that can change the way aid is given.

International relief and development organizations regularly disperse high volume, low value payments to millions of recipients. In emerging countries, this often involves the time consuming burden of distributing physical cash.

By providing cost-effective solutions beyond stopgap measures to humanitarian agencies, funding can be disbursed quickly, fairly and in a transparent manner. Reporting tools that are built into the platform can provide critical financial information that is needed during an emergency. ...

The Enable app will allow users to save, spend, distribute and receive money. Local merchants can also use this same mobile application to receive and disburse payments. For merchants that are already accepting physical vouchers, the benefits are even greater! Manual paperwork and delayed payments will no longer be an issue.

By utilizing distributed ledger technology and focusing on interoperability, it is possible to build a globally accessible, currency-agnostic platform that all responders  —  individuals, organizations, states and NGOs  —  can “plug in” to; a platform that will, furthermore, convert aid into digital assets that can be distributed instantly to mobile wallets and in a way that is fair, transparent and accessible to all.

That helps with aid in the camps. It also would allow aid to be tracked and provided transparently. The data collected can help aid workers and relief agencies plan for how to meet the needs of refugees in future events. Finally, it would allow the various partners to work together to help people.

Most bitcoin wallets allow users to convert bitcoin into gift cards. If refugees need to convert bitcoin to their host country’s local currency, a company called Bitplastic might be able to help. They have developed the world’s first bitcoin debit card. The debit MasterCard works much the same way as a traditional bank’s debit card, except it’s tied to a bitcoin account.

Refugees have the chance to be contributors to a host nation’s economy in many ways. If bitcoin can help streamline and disrupt the often bureaucratic mess that is international aid, it should be given the chance.

Cross-posted from RStreet.org.

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