From Slums to Your Smartphone: Meet the Man Who Wants to Solve the Refugee Crisis with Fintech

From Slums to Your Smartphone: Meet the Man Who Wants to Solve the Refugee Crisis with Fintech

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This plucky 24-year-old wants to help solve the refugee crisis with fintech, biometrics and a desire for change.

David Maduri, 24, is offering a new kind of aid for refugees

Born in a small, rural village in the western part of Kenya, David Maduri, 24, is no stranger to the plight of the poor. 

He was raised in a grass-thatched and mud-walled house together with two brothers, and slept in a sack on the floor to keep warm during freezing nights. As part of his high school curriculum, David visited a refugee camp in Kenya where he encountered up-close the struggles of being a refugee, with no job, home or family.

David (top left) grew up with his parents and two brothers in a humble, mud-walled house

That visit left an indelible impression, spurring the entrepreneur to come up with an idea to empower those who have been forced from their homes by conflict and persecution. 

Enter a blockchain-based online marketplace, aptly named Refuge Network. 

“My hope is for Refuge Network to be like Amazon for the poor,” says David, who will be at the UNLEASH 2018 conference in Singapore, a global “innovation lab” that will bring together 1,000 young talents from across the globe to explore ideas and solutions to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals

Refuge Network: Where Aid Meets Fintech 

Refuge Network is a decentralised financial ecosystem, comprising an e-commerce and investment platform, and digital cards, built on blockchain technology that will enable refugees to sell goods and receive payment — without needing access to the Internet, smartphones and bank accounts. 

Expected to launch in August 2018, the platform will list everything from handmade accessories to clothing and household items — similar to the platform offered by the likes of e-commerce giants Amazon and Alibaba. What sets it apart is its accessibility to refugees, whom David defines as people who have been forced from their homes and marginalised.

The world’s displaced often end up in slums or refugee camps, with little access to job opportunities (Photo: Shutterstock)

“The problem is that 20 percent of refugees who live in rural areas lack access to the Internet, which shuts them off from the economic opportunities of the global economy,” he adds. To make things worse, very few companies are willing to hire them because they don’t have a bank account and identity documents.

To address these challenges, David plans to issue digital debit cards that will enable unbanked refugees to accept payments without being connected to the Internet.

Here’s how it will work: the Refuge Network team creates profile pages for refugees who want to sell their goods on the online marketplace. Interested consumers can purchase these goods by scanning a QR code on the seller’s page. All payments made by buyers are then loaded directly into the seller’s debit card and secured by blockchain technology.

Refuge Network is hoping to bank the unbanked with these digital debit cards

The Men and Women Called “It”

But breaking the chains of poverty goes beyond a debit card. 

“Solving a humanitarian problem like the refugee crisis goes beyond just the financial aspect. These people don’t even have a form of identity, which is fundamental to starting a new life,” says David. 

For refugees, identity documents are not a given. Critical paperwork is often either lost or destroyed when they flee conflict or disaster, or it is misplaced in the midst of their journey to another country. Without proper identification, refugees are unable to land a job and consequently find themselves trapped in a cycle of poverty, with little access to education or the economy.

Refugees are often trapped in a cycle of poverty because they lack proper identification to secure a job

“That’s where our debit cards come into play. Beyond payments, these digital ledgers will also be able to store every single piece of information about the holder and secure it with biometrics. If you go to the hospital, doctors will be able to access your past medical records with your consent,” he enthuses. 

Investing in a Shared Future

When asked how he plans to make this business model sustainable, David says he hopes to include the world’s top corporates in Refuge Network’s ecosystem. 

Aside from purchasing goods, one can also choose to invest in the products sold by refugees. Every time a product is bought, investors will get a rate of return in real time. 

“We want everyone to be part of this ecosystem. The hope is that people will see that they are investing not simply for returns, but to help a humanitarian cause too,” he says.

David hopes to unite everyone from consumers to corporates in his efforts to empower refugees (Pictured with former US President Bill Clinton)

Temasek is partnering with UNLEASH, and will be held alongside Ecosperity — a series of conferences that places the spotlight on sustainable development across Asia and beyond. 

UNLEASH 2018 will be held in Singapore from 30 May to 6 June.


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