Rethinking aid: Removing the obstacle of IDs in the humanitarian sector

by Charlotte Colombeau, Project & Administration Officer (F4ID)

In the age of cash and voucher assistance (CVA), NGOs are exposed to an increased risk of fraud and aid diversion, rendering beneficiary ID crucial.


According to the UN’s Mark Lowcock, one in 33 people worldwide need humanitarian assistance or protection; however, one billion people lack any form of identification (The World Bank). This means many communities are invisible to the humanitarian sector and unable to receive the assistance they require.


There are a huge array of barriers to obtaining an ID such as, high fees and complications acquiring the required documents.


“The humanitarian sector cannot help people if it fails to see them” (World Disaster Report 2018).


For those who do have IDs, some feel unsafe to share it with NGOs and have their information stored in a database. Those who are comfortable to do so, might go through this signup process several times due to a lack of cross-working between organisations, making the procedure of delivering assistance long and inefficient.


To solve these issues, many are looking towards innovation to create digital identities, particularly through biometric technology.


Although this is crucial and innovative work, it is important to appreciate the barriers NGOs may face due to their limited resources such as costs, technology and the digital literacy skills needed to be taught. There is also an enhanced risk of personal data breaches that can put beneficiaries in danger. So a solution without the need for IDs is essential.

Fintech for International Development’s ecosystem, L20, does not require a person’s ID.

L20 uses biometric technology for face-matching (i.e. it matches the face of the person registered for assistance with the person receiving the assistance).


This ensures the right person receives their right entitlement without the need for ID.


At no point does L20 store a facial image.


At no point does L20 know the identity of the person.


That person is always in charge of the system accessing their biometric data.

This unique approach to humanitarian aid means that those without any ID can still receive the assistance they need, as well as providing end-to-end auditability.

In an age where ID might be the final obstacle standing between a person and the assistance they need, it is the responsibility of the humanitarian sector to find effective solutions. It's time to rethink aid.