Do you know her?
The World Food Programme (WFP) uses digital technology in even the most remote locations to deliver assistance and give people choices. It’s fast and efficient, but how do we make it safe?
By Aldo Pentenero
It’s early in the morning. The sun has barely finished showing its face and some high clouds comb the sky. It’s already a hot and humid day in Arauca, a small town at the northeast of Colombia. A young couple, parents of three, have been awake for several hours already, making breakfast and preparing themselves. Their youngest, a toddling smiley kid, will walk with them for around 40 minutes to a WFP-associated supermarket, while the other two children stay at home looking after each other.
This routine belongs to Aidimar and her family, she’s an 18-year-old head of household in a village a couple hundred meters away from the border with Venezuela. They all live in a single room entirely made of zinc-roof panels and wooden beams. About a year and a half ago, Aidimar, her partner and their children fled to Colombia due to Venezuela’s internal crisis.
You could change their names, ages, country and story for anything that comes to mind and probably get really close to one of the real stories from the 138 million people who need food assistance. Read it slowly: 138 million faces, 138 million stories, 138 million different needs. Families, not faceless statistics or data.
WFP knows its mission goes beyond “feeding people.” WFP wants to save lives and change lives, but even if arriving with assistance is already — in many occasions — a difficult thing to do, it’s not enough. You can’t give everyone the same; the contexts change and so do the needs. More importantly, you can’t make decisions for people if they can make their own. This is why it’s important for WFP to know and understand the people it serves, to bring choices and more meaningful assistance; knowing people better, is serving them better.
WFP uses a variety of tools to securely collect, store, manage and analyze peoples’ data. The largest is a self-developed platform called SCOPE, which not only allows to collect and manage information, but also to manage the transfers of the benefits to the people who need them.
When we talk about managing people’s data, everybody expects a high level of confidentiality and protection, but when it comes to vulnerable people’s data, “high” is not enough. WFP recognizes that data is as valuable as the lives it represents and is continuously strengthening rules, protocols and procedures to ensure responsible management at every step — giving as much recognition to the role of ethics and security as to the role of the technology. This includes only collecting what’s really needed; ensuring encryption and security throughout its life cycle; the segregation of access to limit visibility among specific professions; or the privacy impact assessments to understand the risks and actions required regarding data protection and privacy.
Data allows WFP to reach and empower people in remote settings; switching from deciding what they need to letting them decide for themselves. Swapping imposition for inclusion gives a better overview of their situation, opens reliable feedback channels, boosts efficiency, and improves transparency and accountability.
For Aidimar, that means taking her kids to the supermarket, just like any other family. They choose what they need and then, with a simple fingerprint check, Aidimar can pay using WFP’s SCOPE card, without having to reveal any other personal data. It’s simple and secure way to make sure that the right benefit reaches the right people; the card is encrypted to make sure it cannot be read by any other systems if it is lost or stolen.
Maintaining these levels of security in data protection is not easy and there is a long path ahead to stay in front of future risks or threats. Every step forward lets WFP and its partners continually improve the options available to people, like Aidimar, who deserve the best.
The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.