What are you doing?
Mautinoa Technologies is building a platform to allow those in need of humanitarian aid to receive and use digital cash in their local economies.
In the last ten years, the humanitarian aid community has recognized people in need during a humanitarian crisis are much better served by being given money and being allowed to spend that money on the things they need, rather than by being given handouts of goods. While handouts are fine for the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, over the medium to longer term, handouts distort local economies and disempower beneficiaries.
Using cash as aid, beneficiaries have more agency in their lives in the midst considerable disruption. Cash aid also strengthens local vendors and prevents large-scale corruption by not having to rely on a small number of wholesalers who drive prices upwards and corrupt supply chains.
Direct cash transfers to individuals are simply the most efficient form of aid.
So what is the problem?
Using cash as aid poses its own set of problems. As cash is not traceable, it is impossible to prevent the funding of weapons, terrorism in unstable areas, or petty corruption. Cash is difficult to move in bulk, in addition to being vulnerable during transport, especially where a mixture of high and low-value bills is required.
Electronic transactions solve these problems because they’re traceable, difficult to steal, and capable of being used by beneficiaries immediately upon receipt.
Following the World Humanitarian summit in 2015, world leaders recognise current crises increasingly overstretch the conventional aid. Leading NGOs have pushed for cash to be recognised as the dominant aid modality, but until concerns about diversion, corruption, safety, security, and terrorist financing can be met, it is nearly impossible to distribute cash in aid in the areas where it is most needed. Maunitoa can overcome these problems with a combination of technology and ingenuity.
So what makes you guys think you can crack this one?
Following our founders’ experiences in humanitarian operations during the Ebola epidemic in 2014-15, along with recent improvements to smartphone standards and a rapid fall in costs, we concluded:
- It is possible to build a platform to allow people in humanitarian need to access cash funds
- Cash funds can be transferred from individuals or organisations via mobile app
- Aid organisations can use the app to distribute funds through a transparent transaction platform
- This enables beneficiaries to rapidly receive funds much more rapidly and regularly than with conventional cash distribution
- Merchants can receive and process those funds turning the emergency funds back into conventional money in the banking system or via agents, in a manner that does not cause a local liquidity crisis or other economic disruption
What does the workflow look like?
We imagine the workflow looking like this: Upon being registered by an aid organization (e.g. Red Cross/Red Crescent), beneficiaries will receive a smartphone with a Mautinoa Technologies platform app preinstalled, or if they already have a suitable smartphone, the app will be installed at registration. As the prices for smartphones are likely to fall very low, even a large scale deployment of smartphones will be less of an issue in the future. Tax breaks and write-offs also make the donation of relatively powerful smartphones an attractive proposition as demonstrated in the West African Ebola Epidemic crisis.
Retailers in the surrounding area, along with third parties, such as government institutions, will be able to register on the system and receive payment transactions from users. In turn, wholesalers can receive payments too from unbanked small retailers. Those retailers and wholesalers who have bank accounts can receive money via the conventional banking system.
How is this going to work with the conventional banking system?
The system will have an interface with local banks, money agents, or mobile cash systems to exchange the virtual money into real world currency for retailers and wholesalers via Electronic Funds Transfer. Where local financial institutions are unable to clear transactions electronically themselves, we will work to establish supporting correspondent banking arrangements, and appropriate mechanisms to facilitate clearing of transactions in a timely fashion. Those ‘cash out’ transactions can be monitored by international regulators to make sure funds are not diverted to known bad actors.
What does the technical architecture look like?
The core of the system is a cryptographically safe communication infrastructure that allows for tamper-resistant money storage on-device utilising the onboard Secure Element, safe small monetary transactions without access to a central server, and opportunistic synchronisation with the overall system when network access is provided. As we go along we’ll be documenting this as it’s developed and where appropriate share with the wider community, as we think transparency will build confidence.
Are you using Bitcoin?
No, Bitcoin and other proof of work based cryptocurrencies don’t work in intermittent network environments. In a high transaction environment, significant network outage or fragmentation can rapidly result in a hard fork which makes reconciliation impossible. Our field telecommunications experience in emergencies such as the Haiti Earthquake in 2010, Super Typhoon Haiyan and the West African Ebola Epidemic point to infrastructure as being a key weakness that rules out technologies such as bitcoin. Yes we know it’s flavour of the month, but our architecture and designs have to be rooted in operational reality.
What about after the immediate emergency?
As conditions improve, we envision our platform providing a low cost, low overhead way for diasporas to remit money to their communities, until conventional banking systems recover to the point where conventional international money flows can resume, with lowered costs for all.
How do NGOs and Donors monitor what is going on?
A backend infrastructure will allow for importing and interfacing with existing programmes, providing dashboards and management functions for programme managers, as well as liquidity management and transaction tracking for Financial Regulators., enabling dynamic programme management and efficient funding allocation, a vital property as the pace of displacement and environmental disaster picks up and aid budgets get more stressed in the face of increasing demands.
How are you going to be sustainable over the long term, don’t these systems have to run for years or decades?
Mautinoa Technologies is designed as a long-term sustainable business. We anticipate our platform services having to deal with significant amounts of money flowing into and out of the system in a variety of different currencies. This allows us to charge management fees at low rates, as well as leveraging cash flows via treasury management to generate income. We aim to net fees from partner money transmission networks and local financial institutions as they are given integration access to the platform. We will not charge the beneficiaries or the merchants fees but aim to recover value further up the value chain and horizontally via money flows. The total budget for global humanitarian emergency aid was 25 billion dollars in 2015 and is only set to get larger. At the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, major agencies and donor countries pledged to deliver 50% of aid as cash within the next 5 to 10 years, so we are well placed to help.
Who are you?
Mautinoa Technologies consists of an international team of brilliant individuals with backgrounds in humanitarian aid, IT security and cryptography, software development, user experience design, product management, banking, FX and Treasury Management.