Since fighting broke out in 2011, more than 750,000 refugees have fled to Jordan and over 1 million to Lebanon. Due to the haste of their flight and lack of cross-border identification mechanisms, refugees arrived without evidence of educational achievement, verifiable work experience, or credit histories. Absent this information, they have had difficulty obtaining meaningful work or finance, as employers and financial institutions are hindered from assessing their skills or credit-worthiness. The refugees’ uncertain future is also a challenge, as potential employers and lenders hesitate to engage with refugees not knowing if they will return home in the next week or year. Worse still, when the refugees return home, they will face the same problem, as they will not be able to communicate their accomplishments during their time as refugees.
Creating digital economic identities for refugees present a potential solution to this challenge. Educational certificates, employer references, and credit transactions, verified by the issuer and stored in a personal “digital locker”, can provide Syrian refugees with the performance history they need to improve their livelihoods, and restart their lives when they return home.
To test this concept, Making Cents International is piloting the “Hawiyatii” (My Identity) initiative with the technology company BanQu and microfinance institutions Microfund for Women, Al Majmoua, and Tamweelcom to provide digital economic identities for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. The economic identities will enable Syrians to capture business information and financial transactions on the BanQu platform that is verifiable, portable across borders, and immutable. Because identity information provides credible work and credit histories for prospective lenders, the identities will facilitate access to loans for refugees upon return to Syria. Likewise, the identities will incentivize repayment of loans in Jordan and Lebanon, since the refugees will know that their credit record, whether good or bad, will be communicated to lenders in Syria.
The Hawiyatii pilot will be implemented through 2020 with 2,000 Syrians and host-country populations and potentially scaled up to additional refugees and other countries.