MyAgenda: Niall Dennehy

Aid:Tech harnesses blockchain technology to bring social and financial inclusion to the world’s underserved population, by giving all users a digital identity. Co-founder Niall Dennehy takes DigitalAgenda’s 10-question Q&A test.

nialldennehy2What’s top of your agenda for change?

“We want to bring digital identity to the world’s undocumented and underserved population using blockchain technology. In the world today there are 2.4 billion people living without a legal identity. This means that they are legally, socially and financially excluded from services that people in the developed world take for granted.

What are you doing about it?

“We have created a digital identity, based on blockchain technology, which can be assigned to beneficiaries either as a durable plastic card or mobile app. We’re partnering with the International Federation of Red Cross/Red Crescent and the United Nations Development Program to distribute.”

How did you find yourself doing what you do now?

“My co-founder Joseph Thompson ran a 151-mile footrace through the Moroccan desert in 2009. He raised a large sum of money but wasn’t able to tell donors where the money was spent. Determined to solve this problem, he started looking into blockchain technology as a mechanism for transparently delivering humanitarian aid.”

How is technology helping you to secure the change you want?

“The technology that underpins our solution is blockchain. Blockchain is a permanent, immutable, distributed ledger, which can transparently store real-time records of all transactions that have ever occurred. This is perfect for humanitarian aid and related causes e.g. donations, remittances where transparency is badly required.”

What’s the project you’ve worked on that has made the most difference to date?

“We ran a project in 2015 with the Irish Red Cross where we distributed humanitarian aid to 500 Syrian refugees in a Lebanese refugee camp. All of the aid was delivered in a completely transparent manner and we eliminated fraud. Interestingly, the most important thing that came out of the project was the sense of empowerment it gave beneficiaries who used our Digital Identity to obtain products like food, water and cooking products.”

What’s the biggest challenge for people wanting to make a difference through technology?

“We really don’t think there’s many challenges for those wanting to make a difference through technology nowadays. With the proliferation of internet access and mobile, it is relatively easy to create tools than can impact people’s live in a positive way. However, technology isn’t a panacea for all the world’s ills and it’s important not to lose sight of that.”

What technologies are most exciting you in the space right now?

“Obviously we are very excited about blockchain technology. Trust is the foundation on which lots of relationships are built. And in the world we live in today, trust is something that is not always easy to establish. In our view, blockchain is the delivery mechanism for trust and all that goes with that.”

What would you have done differently in your work looking back?

“We would have built up a board of directors and advisors earlier. Our board of directors and advisors have been essential for us and we have gained immense knowledge and support from their sectoral expertise.”

4BuyZq1vWhat’s your piece of advice to people looking to do good through digital?

“Just get out there and do it. Do something today, do it fast. Less paralysis by analysis.”

You’ve won a 2017 DigitalAgenda Impact Award. What impact does that make on your work?

“Firstly, the DigitalAgenda Impact awards event was one of the best events we’ve ever attended in this space. The DA team put an immense amount of work into it and as a result, all of the attendees were very focused on making connections with everybody in attendance. For us, it has already resulted in significant interest from prominent impact investors and raised our profile immensely.”