Imagine you lose your ID, passport and anything that defines who you are, or what you have done, with no means to retrieve this information. This is the case for every refugee who enters a refugee camp and gets handed a number.

As a result of lacking identity credentials, 2.7 billion people, including 65 million refugees, do not have the ability to enter into the economic system, and are thus unable to open a bank account or access fair loans. Many are driven to survive on the outskirts of society due to a lack of this identity.

In the current climate, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) are not facilitating this vital process and only maintain and alleviate the situations suffered by 800 million people living under $2 a day with little effective long-term success (concluded from the fact that the aforementioned unbanked figure is rising yearly). In addition, funding for this sector is waning. Donald Trump emphasises the current climate when he announced his desire to cut spending in the sector by 32% which would total $19 billion.

This is where BanQu steps in. BanQu provides, via an app or merely an Internet connection, those suffering from financial exclusion with an economic identity. BanQu’s technology verifies who you are and allows you to build your history around that identity, from vaccinations to remittance income, via blockchain. Blockchain at the same time offers a decentralised, secure ledger that provides Know Your Customer (KYC) and last-mile visibility to the partners who could offer products and services to these individuals. Crucially democratising the process of ownership of one’s identity, women who have been farming all their lives are now able to open a bank account for the first time with a trust that this network fosters.

Actually, fostering women’s development was the catalyst for the BanQu idea. Ashish Gadnis, CEO and Co-Founder, experienced this first hand in Congo, with banks insisting, “I can’t bank her, but I can bank you”, thus giving rise to the BanQu name. BanQu empowers these women by providing them with a network of institutions and connections within their supply chain or their social needs, guaranteeing a buyer via the UN, removing harsh pricing by brokers, and generating a network of companies or bodies that can serve to improve their harvests.

BanQu, by building transparency in the supply chain, is highly attractive for the buyers (maybe less so for the middlemen!). Through blockchain, the buyer would be able to track its produce from the supplier all the way through via updates in real time on a permission blockchain ledger. This provides immense value, through smart contracts on the blockchain, by building trust around sourcing in many areas, such as Fair Trade.

BanQu offers the possibility not only to enable many of the global SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), but also to build a trust between its related partners that can transform the way they operate, removing the silo mentality that plagues the current NGO system, and the refugee system in particular.

While the idea and the proposition seem so altruistic and ambitious that one may deem it implausible (BanQu is a for-profit enterprise at the end of the day), when reading and listening to their co-founders, Ashish Gadnis and Hamse Warfa, it is clear that their vision is realizable under their unique leadership.

Hamse has come from escaping the civil war in Somalia and residing in the Dadaab Refugee Camp for 3 years, to relocating with his family in America. Since then, he has become an Ashoka Fellow, CEO of one company, co-founder and Vice Chairman of BanQu, and works on various social causes focused on improving the community for Somalis in the USA.

Ashish, meanwhile, has emerged from poverty in India, benefitting from strong educational policies at the time, to successfully start and exit three start-ups as well as chairing a committee targeting financial inclusion in the USA. He regularly volunteers in the very refugee camps and farming societies that BanQu is aiming to improve. Experiences such as these provide BanQu with the first-hand knowledge of the situation and what is needed to be done, instead of reading such issues on the screen in the comforts of an office and hoping to make a change with little direct experience to rely on.

The passion that is transmitted from the founders is a statement of their drive to succeed in their mission to eradicate poverty by 2300. While this may not be the outcome, if 20 million people are pulled out of poverty, what a success story this company will soon be.

 

By George Baker White