This Dutch impact startup gives ‘invisible’ children digital identities thanks to blockchain technology

This Dutch impact startup gives ‘invisible’ children digital identities thanks to blockchain technology

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Imagine: you don’t have any proof of your existence and therefore lack access to healthcare, education or insurance. This is the reality of the CEO of Dutch impact startup and Rockstart-alumnus Tykn, Tey El-Rjula. As an ‘invisible man’ – his birth certificate was destroyed during the Gulf War – the Kuwait-born entrepreneur conceived a solution that uses blockchain technology to identify children with similar difficulties. 

Which problems are you solving?

“We are collectively tackling the issues of paper-based vital records systems, and with 230 million children worldwide without birth certificates, this became our primary focus with Project ZINC (Zero INvisible Children). Having said this, the birth certificate is also by far the weakest link in the identity chain. Where passports, ID cards, and driver’s licenses have just about thirty different security features, birth certificates are largely still a piece of paper, which you have to pick up at the municipality where you were born just to claim the proof of existence that serves as your ticket towards healthcare, education, insurance, etc.

Not to mention the fact that, in conflict zones, the fallible nature of these documents is even more threatening, since it can effectively turn people ‘invisible’ if a birth registry is destroyed; pair this with geographical immobility, lack of financial means and a significant knowledge gap, and you can start to see the hurdles to birth registration in LEDCs (Less Economically Developed Country, ed.) and conflict zones that we are trying to resolve.”

How are you using Blockchain technology?

“Even though we try to remain fully Blockchain agnostic, we are currently leveraging Hyperledger Indy (a ledger specifically tailored to accommodate identity solutions, ed.) through the Sovrin Network as the back-end to our APIs. By doing so we can permanently certify vital records and grant decentralized, digital identities, even to those without direct access to an electronic device through the use of Pure Decentralized Identifiers, for the purpose of authentication and verification.

Tey El-Rjula’s driver’s license states ‘onbekend’ (unknown) as a place of birth.

Tey El-Rjula’s driver’s license states ‘onbekend’ (unknown) as a place of birth.

This back-end is linked to our front-end that is the ANA App, to be released Q1 2018, a self-sovereign identity management application linked to the Sovrin Network through Tykn’s APIs. With the identity registered through the Ana App, claims can now be made through a zero-knowledge proof algorithm. The implication of this would be that one could provide a proof of age or proof of nationality without providing sensitive details such as one’s date of birth or national ID number.”

Where are you now, in terms of development, and where do you want to go?

“At this point in time, we can share that we are partnering with the Sovrin Network as Founding Stewards, creating a sustainable network backend for the future. This is a huge milestone for us and we are excited to have reached it. We are also doing research with NGOs for interfaces that best match the problems faced in emergency situations and developing countries, and have locked down enough capital to sustain our operations for the next 18 months through angels, VCs and the winning of awards. As for where we are now, we are still very much engaged in preparing both the front and back-end of the ANA App for the alpha release in Q2 2018, as well as the writing of a white paper that delves into the absolving of some of the financial hurdles faced by the same demographic.

In the meantime, we are negotiating some exciting pilots and partnerships with multiple governmental and non-governmental organizations, to be announced soon! We also realized quite early that, changing the world for 230 million invisible children, there are essential partnerships that need to be established to facilitate pilots, lobby for the reshaping of the legal landscape, and of course employ our solution on a larger scale. Whilst we can’t exactly talk about it yet in great detail, we definitely believe that the ones we have lined up meet those criteria.”

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