DFID's innovation chief names blockchain as next tech game-changer

U.K. Department for International Development officials visits an M-Pesa kiosk at the Mukuru low-income settlement in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo by: Rob Oxley / DfID / CC BY-NC

The new head of innovation at the U.K. Department for International Development believes blockchain will be the next transformative technology in development and humanitarian relief, she told a crowd gathered at the Royal Society of Art on Tuesday.

Tamara Giltsoff, who joined DfID seven months ago after 20 years in the private sector, said she thinks blockchain will be most catalytic because of its cross-cutting potential. She compared the technology’s prospects to the transformative impact of mobile payments, which DfID first funded to scale in Kenya through the M-PESA platform in 2004.

“Blockchain cuts across so many different areas, whether it’s supply chain logistics, delivery of goods or tracking goods in a humanitarian context,” Giltsoff said.

She also lauded the technology — which records currency transactions and other information in a self-verifying and transparent database — for its usefulness in contexts that might not seem immediately relevant to the development industry.

“[It could be used] around digital identity,” she said, “and making sure that people who are moving around the world, or not moving around the world, have a known identity that is stored in a safe place that is encrypted.”

Giltsoff comes to DfID — and her first government role — after founding Product Health, Ltd., a tech start-up specializing in telemetry, data analytics intelligent alerts for the Solar Home System and energy storage markets. She had served as director of business development.

DfID’s Research and Evidence Division is already undertaking several small studies looking into blockchain, “testing new systems for sharing information in crises and for improving the way people can identify themselves when they are displaced,” DfID official Olivia O’Sullivan wrote on a post on Medium in December.

“Many people in DfID recognize that we need to keep ahead of the game in terms of tracking the emergence and the use case of technologies like drones and other technologies like the internet of things,” Giltsoff said. “We’re doing a very good job, I think, of investing in the use of those technologies and trialling those technologies.”

Giltsoff’s role at DfID is to support the piloting of emerging technologies, to establish a case for their use and determine how the business model will contribute to DfID’s work, she said.

“My interest in frontier technologies, ‘game-changing’ technology as we’re saying here, is not necessarily the technology itself, but the business model around that technology that emerges,” she said.

For more U.K. news, views and analysis visit the Future of DfID series page, follow @devex on Twitter and tweet using the hashtag #FutureofDfID.

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    Molly Anders

    Molly Anders is a U.K. Correspondent for Devex. Based in London, she reports on development finance trends with a focus on British and European institutions. She is especially interested in evidence-based development and women’s economic empowerment, as well as innovative financing for the protection of migrants and refugees. Molly is a former Fulbright Scholar and studied Arabic in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Morocco.