Gravity Earth is using the blockchain to help refugees gain access to financial services

There’s considerable interest in the way blockchain technology could be used to manage personal data — so-called “self-sovereign ID” — but, to date, there are precious few examples of exactly how it might work.

At TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin on the Startup Battlefield stage, Gravity Earth gave insight into how blockchain can be used to help refugees gain access to financial services and other resources to raise their standards of living.

The Nairobi-based startup was founded by Johannes Ebert and Paul Langlois-Meurinne. It has developed a platform that allows a person’s digital data to be stored securely on its decentralized platform. That’s a lot of technical terminology, and in practice it translates to helping digitize data that can be used by NGOs who are working at refugee camps with some 80,000 people. In Gravity Earth’s case, it is close to its first deployment at a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya.

The rollout will see Gravity Earth’s solution used to track daily attendance at three schools in the camp, and student’s academic performance. That’ll be based on biometric data, with teachers able to upload performance and test data via a web app.

Going forward, Ebert said the startup will work closely with NGOs to track other data and indicators that can be used to positively impact the lives of the residents in the camp.

[gallery ids="1752291,1752292,1752293,1752294,1752295"]

“Everyone in the camps is basically an unknown person, so every piece of information known about them gains a lot of value,” Ebert explained. “That could be tracking attendance in school, or basic identity such as age, the number of kids in the household, languages spoken, etc.”

Gathering data can be challenging, but the Gravity Earth platform allows third parties to provide and validate data on users. Validators are incentivized with bonuses such as free mobile airtime and lotteries.

“Trust is built and identity is validated through the community, so being able to capture claims being made by, for example, a village chief is very interesting,” Ebert said. “How is this person connected in the network? How many people have validated them, etc.?”

The goal is to connect the platform to third-parties, such as financial services platforms, to enable users to gain access to banking, financial services and more in the future. That requires some learning on both sides, with users educated on granting third-parties access to their data.

Gravity Earth has raised undisclosed seed money to date, and there are plans to raise VC capital in 2019. Ebert, however, said that the company isn’t planning to run an ICO.

“We’re not considering an ICO and we don’t issue any tokens,” he explained. “For us, the focus is really on the product — the front end — because there are so many things to figure out there. How do we drive adoption and keep our users engaged?”

The company is already looking at expansion opportunities focused on Africa.

“We’ll consider new projects once there are a critical number of users on the platform and we have rich data profiles for the users,” Ebert explained. “The thing we’d like to move to is access to financial services for refugees — we also see this as a way to monetize and prove our business model.”