Community empowerment, blockchain and financial inclusion

Muhammad Noor
June 23, 2018

The Rohingya are a stateless people.  Being stateless means lacking the basic elements of identity.  These include a passport to travel, or a national identity card to open a bank account. They also include a birth certificate to prove that your son or daughter is actually your son or daughter. The vast majority of Rohingya lack these instruments of identification. Simple tasks become arduously difficult, and yet this is the reality for nearly three million of Rohingya.

The Rohingya Project is targeting a central issue the Rohingya diaspora face as a result of statelessness: financial exclusion. Many second and third generation stateless Rohingya live a shadow existence in their host societies and encounter significant obstacles in generating a livelihood and keeping themselves out of poverty. The goal of the Project is to create the foundation for a viable economic future for the Rohingya and connect them to opportunities to learn, equip and empower themselves. The Project seeks to bring the Rohingya inside of the exploitative ‘dark economy’ where they currently reside - lacking credit history, job access or fair wages - into the mainstream economy of today and the digital economy of the future.

The Project takes a multi-pronged approach to tackling financial exclusion. The first approach, in cooperation with our FinTech partner Ata Plus Sdn Bhd, is through the creation of a secure and international Waqf-based ecosystem, to offer those Rohingya who for years have been sidelined, a range of financial applications and other services to encourage collaboration, innovation and entrepreneurship. Among the applications include apps to allow Rohingya to create their own personalized profiles and open themselves to freelance opportunities across borders, to manage projects and crowdsource the funds to build these projects, and other apps for resources and consensus-building across the diaspora.

A second important approach is through a regular series of training and capacity-building programs offered to Rohingya, in particular to Rohingya youth, through our dedicated Rohingya Training Center. These programs focus on vocational, management, accounting and digital skills to ensure that our Rohingya have the tools to develop their own career profiles.  Another critical part of tackling exclusion is through financial representation. Rohingya lack institutions that represent their collective interests, especially on the economic front. Having a viable community-led project interact hand in hand with financial institutions and government actors can greatly assist the process of financial integration of Rohingya into host economies, and open access to them to both the labor market and credit.

Since our launch last December, we have achieved a number of milestones and partnerships to lead to the realization of our vision. We have officially partnered with Pro-Civis, a Swiss e-government service to look towards the design and execution of the Blockchain-ID and registration system for the pilot phase of our project estimated in early 2019. The Rohingya Project has also engaged in an applied research partnership with the Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies at the University of Washington, USA to produce a soon-to-be-published feasibility study exploring the implications for our project within the international legal and financial framework. Along with this, the Rohingya Project continues to collaborate with international agencies, such as recently with the UNHCR by conducting a financial survey of stateless Rohingya based in Malaysia.

We realize that this is a huge undertaking. Beyond our own organizational capacity, it will require the resources and coordination of many stakeholders in the international community to accomplish what we are setting out to do.

Noor is the Co-Founder and Director of Rohingya Project. A Rohingya himself, Noor has established several Rohingya organisations and trained several highly-regarded members of the Rohingya community worldwide.