Like any millennial, I was scrolling through Facebook one day and a video clip about MONI popped up on my feed. Initially, I wanted to scroll past the story. Coming from a human services background I thought, “What could social justice and finance possibly have to do with one another?” But nonetheless, I decided to watch the clip to learn more. As I watched it, I was fascinated how a resource like a bankcard could bring a sense of empowerment to displaced and marginalized populations, like refugees.
MONI and the Ongoing Refugee Crisis
In 2015, there was a total of 19.5 million refugees worldwide, 1.3 million of which went to Europe. These numbers have only continued to rise over the years with the amount of ongoing political unrest and violence. For many countries that have received an influx of refugees, they were uncertain of what to do with these populations and the kind of aid they would be able to provide them, if any. Many refugees arrived into these new countries without any form of legal documentation or papers, making it challenging for them to apply for jobs and or partake in other opportunities.
Along with the help of the Finnish Government, a FinTech startup in Finland found a way to alleviate refugee struggles through the distribution of MONI, a money card that uses blockchain technology, a distributed ledger system. It was a resource provided to refugees to help get them back on their feet.
MONI is a bank card founded in 2014 by Antti Pennanen. Through the use of blockchain technology, the resource is accessible to users making it easy to sign up for a card with a local address and a phone number. With no intermediaries, or corporate middlemen, it is easier for refugees to not only deposit money or pay bills, but send funds to family and friends through the mobile application.
Blockchain Technology 101
There are two kinds of blockchain: public blockchains and private ledgers (Johan Toll, Product Manager Blockchain, NASDAQ). Private ledgers consist of a restricted network, participants must be permissioned, and there is lowered complexity and quicker verification. On the other hand, public blockchains, the system MONI functions on, operates on an open internet, anyone can join the network, and there is higher complexity in the verification process.
Perspectives on MONI and Blockchain Technology
Depending on who is discussing the topic, the advantages and challenges of MONI and blockchain technology are subjective. From a social justice standpoint and within the context of the ongoing global refugee crisis, MONI is advantageous because it encourages displaced persons to find identity and stability. It gives them a sense of empowerment during unstable and transitional times. While MONI is beneficial to populations of lower socioeconomic status (SES) or refugees, there is a lot more to think about within larger systems. Professionals in business, finance, and technology have a different perspective on MONI and blockchain technology due to security purposes and regulating funds.
Because it operates on an open internet, components of ethics and transparency are considered within blockchain technology systems. With its lack of privacy and no intermediaries, how will the money be regulated? Even more, what kinds of security can be provided to consumers as the system continues to expand over the years? The ambiguous nature and myriad sources are a few of the many components to process when examining the impact blockchain technology will have within larger systems.
MONI utilizes traditional forms of currency such as euros. But with the emergence of cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, how will this be used and integrated into already established programs and institutions such as education, health, and recreation? If parents want to pay for their child’s field trip using cryptocurrency or a cancer patient wants to pay for chemotherapy but only has Bitcoin as their source of currency, will schools, hospitals, and insurance companies accept this as an appropriate form of payment? Time can only tell how potential enacted policies and legislation will affect these areas of basic human needs.
According to a recent article from the MIT Technology Review, other refugee camps across Europe are hearing about MONI. The demand for the card remains significant and the need for its supply will only continue to persist. Providing someone the opportunity of financial independence is empowering because it gives them control over their lives and this is a practice MONI wants to continue to give to refugees living in other European countries.
Moving forward, it’ll be fascinating to witness the impact social justice frameworks and the need for humanitarian aid will have on finance and technology. It’s evident these areas of expertise are different, cater to different audiences, and don’t often intersect. Collaborative efforts are needed among social justice advocates, finance, and technology professionals to make blockchain technology worthwhile. With the right balance and implementation of ideals and practices from each professional setting, advocating for humanity and ensuring user security and privacy becomes more probable as emerging technologies like blockchain technology continue to advance and unfold.