Kotani Pay partners with RIO & Impact Market to enable UBI Payments to Refugees in Africa

Kotani Pay
5 min readApr 14, 2021

If you are in the technology, finance, NGO or Blockchain space you have probably heard of Universal Basic Income by now. Andrew Yang popularized the concept during his 2020 United States(US) presidential run. Universal Basic Income (or UBI in short) refers to unconditional cash transfer to all members of society regardless of their employment status, gender or wealth status. As a concept UBI differs from conventional social protection programs in the sense that one does not necessarily have to qualify for a particular set of criteria contrary to social protection programs, where you have to be disabled, unemployed or elderly e.t.c.

Although UBI has not been rolled out as a national social protection program in any country yet, there have been a couple of experiments globally. Global leaders in piloting the concept of UBI have been Canada, which began a pilot in the Spring of 2017 involving 4000 adults and Finland which ran a quasi-UBI program for the unemployed back in 2019. The Coronavirus Pandemic saw governments around the world becoming creative with the concept of UBI and rolling out quasi-UBI programs such as the US stimulus cheques that were meant to cover US citizens from the ill economic effects of the pandemic. In Africa, Kenya and Namibia have run UBI projects of their own, with a project in Kenya where 6000 individuals received $20 per month for a period of 12 years.

Some benefits of UBI include its ability to reduce socioeconomic inequality, poverty and homelessness and its ability to encourage people to take risks e.g. starting a business. Some demerits have also been noted including its effect in discouraging part-time work, higher cost in comparison to the current benefit system and promotion of laziness among groups on UBI programs.

Kakuma Camp community on Impact Market (click to view the smart contract)

Kotani Pay has partnered with Refugee Integration Organisation (RIO) and Impact Market, an organisation at the leading edge of UBI implementation globally, with the unique twist of using Blockchain technology to enable UBI payments. Impact Market enables any community to have its own Unconditional Basic Income for their beneficiaries.

In this article, we sat down with Avina Ajit and Rya Kuewor from RIO to discuss the merits and demerits of UBI, the use of Blockchain technology in UBI implementation in Africa and the exciting partnership between the two projects.

Kotani Pay: What are RIO and Impact Market and how did you get involved in this project? Could you share with us some of the work RIO is doing in Africa and some of the success stories achieved so far?

RIO: The Refugee Integration Organisation (RIO), helps refugees and migrants economically integrate into their host communities through Unconditional Basic Income (UBI), microfinance, and entrepreneurship and financial training. We’re currently present in 3 refugee camps, namely, Krisan, Kakuma, and Ampain.

RIO also consults for the IOM for migrant integration purposes, and with the African Union for practical solutions on refugee integration.

Our newest endeavour is a data collection drive and research with refugees in Ghana. The primary purpose of this (data collection and research) is to help make our microfinance programme more efficient, more inclusive, and more socially equitable.

Kotani Pay: Why are the advantages of using Blockchain technology and in particular the Celo protocol to implement UBI transfers to users in Africa?

RIO: For one thing, it is much cheaper than conventional methods. It is also safer, more secure due to its transparency, and most importantly, it is decentralised. Using Blockchain technology will certainly help keep fraud and corruption from this programme, ensuring that for once, every dollar will go to the people they are meant for.

Kotani Pay: What excites you the most about the partnership with Kotani Pay and why is this partnership valuable to your current work?
The valuable and strategic partnership between RIO, Kotani Pay and Impact Market is achieving a never-before-done implementation of UBI through cryptocurrency that is available to non-smartphone users. This is a pioneering achievement in the world of UBI, cryptocurrency, and inclusivity of refugees. Another valuable asset about this partnership between 3 grassroot organisations is its accessibility to the vulnerable groups we’re serving and our ability to mould according to the needs of our beneficiaries and to embrace change.

RIO: Perhaps the most thrilling part for us at RIO is the fact that this UBI programme will entirely be managed by the very refugees it is meant to serve. Having been in the Refugee space for nearly a decade, we’re very happy the narrative of helplessness is being changed; the narrative of complete dependency is being changed. One of our main goals as an organisation is to help refugee camps become sustainable micro economies that go on to contribute to a host nation’s (larger) economy.

Of course, a cornerstone of this three-way partnership (RIO, ImpactMarket and Kotani Pay) is the different tiers of applied technology (Blockchain, crypto-currency and USSD). This is an innovation that is a first of its kind in a refugee camp, and indeed, in the largest refugee camp in the world.

Kotani Pay: Any last words of advice to other Blockchain UBI projects looking to implement projects in Africa?

RIO: When managed the correct way, UBI does not foster dependency. We do not advise that UBI should be implemented as a sole means of economic development. We believe UBI should be coupled with business training, entrepreneurship awareness, and other financial inclusion services, such as micro loans. Naturally, if there is a community so destitute that it needs unconditional basic income, then it very well will obviously become dependent on it for its survival; this is true for any community of any people that needs this sort of intervention. We must recall that UBI is meant to cover the very basics of human (economic) needs; we should therefore not condemn it as ineffective when it does just that.

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