Geneva, Switzerland — San Francisco, CA — 15 December 2022 — UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the Stellar Development Foundation (SDF), the non-profit that supports the growth and development of the Stellar blockchain network, announced today the launch of a pilot first-of-its-kind blockchain payment solution for digital cash distribution to internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other war-affected people in Ukraine.
UNHCR, in collaboration with United Nations International Computing Centre (UNICC), the UN’s technology solutions provider, are amongst the first to pilot the new Stellar-based aid disbursement solution, which ensures the delivery of cash assistance directly into the hands of those being assisted quickly, efficiently, and securely with full value transfer traceability and accountability.
The pilot phase of the project is designed specifically for Ukraine but can be adapted worldwide. UNHCR confirms eligibility and distributes assistance in Circle Internet Financial’s USD Coin (USDC) — a stablecoin where one USDC is equal to one US Dollar — directly into a recipient's Vibrant digital wallet which they can download onto a smartphone. This provides a secure place to hold and transport funds in USDC, a stable store of value, allowing people to travel within the country or cross borders without the need to carry cash.
When recipients choose to convert to cash, whether it is dollars, euros, or local currency, they can withdraw their funds at any global MoneyGram location, including over 4,500 MoneyGram locations in Ukraine.
The program is being piloted in Kyiv, Lviv, and Vinnytsia and will expand to other towns and cities in Ukraine. The money will provide humanitarian assistance to some of the people most impacted and vulnerable due to the war, to help them cover basic needs like rent of accommodation, food, medical care and heating during the winter. The solution has been extensively tested over the last six months and is expected to be expanded to reach more war-affected people inside Ukraine as well as refugees from Ukraine in early 2023.
This blockchain initiative complements UNHCR’s goals to further expand the systematic and rapid use of Cash-Based Interventions. Since 2016, when UNHCR issued its first Policy on Cash Based Interventions, UNHCR has delivered almost USD 5 billion in cash assistance to some 35 million people in 100 countries. UNHCR is committed to further expanding the provision of cash, which is normally the preferred assistance modality by people forcibly displaced, as it gives them the freedom and dignity to themselves decide how to prioritize the assistance given, based on their personal need.
“Ukraine is a global lead in the development of technical solutions to increase access to social protection, including assistance for displaced people. Across the world, UNHCR has been collaborating for years with the tech sector, which has played a crucial role in helping us to innovate to deliver assistance faster, as speed is of the essence in humanitarian action. It’s also essential to provide people with a range of options for receiving aid, as one size does not fit all. Programmes need to be designed with the people they are meant to serve at the centre. I am very pleased that UNHCR and the SDF have chosen Ukraine for this launch, and look forward to expanding it beyond this pilot, so it can benefit many thousands more people in need of assistance as a result of the war,”said Karolina Lindholm Billing, UNHCR Representative to Ukraine.
“SDF, together with UNHCR, is realizing the promise of blockchain and pioneering a new future for the delivery of billions of dollars in aid disbursed annually. Using Stellar, we are helping get funds into the hands of those who need them – and doing it quickly, transparently, and without the need for bank accounts or credit or debit cards. We are proud to work with UNHCR to deploy blockchain innovations that will play a role in assisting those in crisis”, said Denelle Dixon, Stellar Development Foundation CEO and Executive Director.
"Today, we can see how blockchain technology allows us to scale humanitarian efforts in a way that wasn’t possible before. For fleeing Ukrainians, and primarily for those whose banks are inaccessible, this pilot project providing humanitarian assistance using a digital wallet, will serve as a possible lifeline for survival. The project itself is a vivid example of how blockchain has the potential to transform and revolutionize the way humanitarian funds are allocated. The use of blockchain technology allows humanitarian organizations such as UNHCR to be more transparent and accountable and ensure that the most vulnerable people will have access to funds provided in their name. In this way, humanitarian efforts around the world will be strengthened in an unprecedented way. The Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine is grateful to SDF and UNHCR for standing with the people of Ukraine and doing this in such an efficient & modern way,” said Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation of Ukraine on IT industry development Oleksandr Bornyakov.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, protects people forced to flee their homes because of war, conflict and persecution. We work in over 130 countries, protecting millions of people by responding with life-saving support, safeguarding fundamental human rights and helping them recover and build a better future.
For more information about UNHCR, visit www.unhcr.org/about-us.html
Stellar is a decentralized, fast, scalable, and uniquely sustainable network for financial products and services. It is both a cross-currency transaction system and a platform for digital asset issuance, designed to connect the world’s financial infrastructure. Financial institutions worldwide issue assets and settle payments on the Stellar network, which has grown to over 7 million accounts. For more information, visit stellar.org.
About the Stellar Development Foundation
The Stellar Development Foundation (SDF) is a non-profit organization that supports the development and growth of Stellar, an open-source network that connects the world’s financial infrastructure. Founded in 2014, the Foundation helps maintain Stellar’s codebase, supports the technical and business communities building on the network, and serves as a voice to regulators and institutions. The Foundation seeks to create equitable access to the global financial system, using the Stellar network to unlock the world’s economic potential through blockchain technology. For more information, visit stellar.org/foundation.