WFP is taking first steps to harness blockchain technology to enhance our ability to provide effective, efficient assistance to the people we serve – and save millions of dollars.

Underpinning WFP’s Building Blocks project is blockchain, a cutting-edge technology that could transform the way in which humanitarian agencies deliver aid. Blockchain is a digital ledger technology used as a trusted way to track the ownership of assets without the need for a central authority, which could speed up transactions while lowering the chance of fraud or data mismanagement. Crucially, its peer-to-peer nature removes the need for verification from costly intermediaries such as banks or other institutions. 

Maximising Cash-Based Transfers

As a means of addressing the challenge of providing food assistance to over 80 million hungry people worldwide, WFP is taking early steps to harness blockchain technology to be able to deliver assistance more effectively. Building Blocks aims to make WFP’s growing cash-based transfer operations faster, cheaper, and more secure. Full implementation of the technology promises significant cost savings to WFP, and donors alike, potentially totalling millions of dollars per annum. By passing on cost savings, integrating retail innovations such as biometric scanning and mitigating the risk of identity fraud or data mismanagement, WFP could also ensure more people receive crucial food assistance.

Pilots in Pakistan and Jordan

With the support of the Innovation Accelerator in 2016, Building Blocks established an early, but robust concept suitable for prototyping in a field environment. Utilising an open source blockchain platform, ‘Building Blocks’ commenced field pilots in Pakistan in January 2017 and is currently test authenticating and recording cash-based transfers on its own blockchain in a refugee camp in Jordan.

Depending on the results of the pilot, WFP will explore use cases beyond cash-based transfers and potentially expand the use of blockchain technology to areas such as digital identity management and supply chain operations.

WFP built the Building Blocks system with the support of Datarella and Parity. For the pilot in Jordan, we integrated with the existing biometric authentication technology IrisGuard, which allows refugees to identify themselves with the blink of an eye.

 

Since a neutral blockchain collaboration platform could be beneficial for the entire humanitarian community, WFP invites interested organisations to reach out to us and explore opportunities for collaboration. To do so, please write to global.innovation@wfp.org

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