The African offices of the large multinational bank Barclays recently announced a pan-African challenge to build new solutions for supply chain transparency and efficiency, and encouraged the use of blockchain or distributed ledger technology.
The Barclays Africa Supply Chain Challenge is open to entrepreneurs and developers, between the ages of 18 and 35, who are based in Africa. Applications close on Sept. 18, and five finalists will be announced on October 12. One member from each finals team will be flown to Cape Town, South Africa, where they will pitch their idea to a panel of Barclays executives and industry experts on Nov. 3. One winning entry will be crowned Barclays Africa Innovation Challenge Winner 2015. The winning team will receive $10 000 USD in prize money and a Barclays mentor for 6 months.
“The journey from manufacture to eventual use by a sick person may involve ten different companies, a fleet of trucks, warehouses, export and import authorities, and a wide variety of shops or dispensaries,” read a statement by Barclays Africa illustrating the challenges the problems of the modern supply chain. “At each step, the medicine is logged, registered and accounted for by a different company, into a different database. More often than not, however, these companies and databases are not linked in any way. This means that there is no single, traceable route between the manufacturer who provided the medicine and the person who uses it.”
”If the world had one golden source database, which managed privacy and security, and could balance this with openness, many of these problems could be solved.”
— – Barclays Africa
Though it is encouraged, potential solutions don’t have to use blockchain or distributed ledgers, the bank is open to other technologies. Successful Kenyan businessman and philanthropist Chris Kirubi was present at the launch event, and helped bring to market a "smart card" to reduce fraud and the cost of medical services in West Africa during the late 2000’s.
According to Stephen van Coller, Chief Executive of Corporate and Investment Banking at Barclays Africa, the Challenge is about improving supply chain transparency for African businesses. “The journey of a product from manufacturer to consumer is often disjointed and inefficient and there is currently a huge amount of interest in finding ways to increase the transparency of provenance, not least of which is the use of blockchain technology,” commented van Coller.
The continent has had many difficulties with fraud and theft within its supply chains, making doing business and buying consumer goods much more costly and difficult than it should be. “Blockchain and similar technologies have substantial potential in creating transparency about the series of transactions that occur along any supply chain process.” explained van Coller.
The challenge kicked off on July 24 at the Capital Club, a prestigious private business and social club in Nairobi, Kenya. At the event van Coller gave a speech about innovation in Africa and the potential of blockchain technology to solve some of the major problems facing the continent.
During his speech van Coller explained that an example of innovation that addresses the issues came from Barclays London-based innovation hub. “It’s called EverLedger and empowers financial institutions and consumers in tracking the movement of diamonds through the supply chain. The solution is a permanent ledger for diamond certification and related transaction history that simplifies verification for insurance companies, owners, claimants and law enforcement.”
EverLedger, who graduated Barclay’s European fintech startup accelerator, is now working with the large bank to bring the company’s anti-fraud solution to market. The startup’s CEO Leanne Kemp says that blockchain technology could eventually be applied to other luxury goods and supply chains in general. Bitcoin exchange Safello also graduated from the bank’s accelerator, which was done in partnership with TechStars, and is now working with Barclays to make a yet-to-be announced product using the blockchain.
“Blockchain will have a huge impact on our world and the financial industry and the way we engage as individuals & institutions.”
— – Jeremy Awori, Barclays Kenya Managing Director
Following the speech from van Coller a panel explored the startup environment in Africa and blockchain technology in more detail. Panelists included prominent East African businessmen, the Kenyan government’s Information Cabinet Secretary, Fred Matiangi, and the CEO of bitcoin startup BitPesa Elizabeth Rossiello.
Rossiello attracted a lot of attention during the panel as she is one of the few people that has experience running a bitcoin and blockchain business in Africa. The company, Bitpesa, has raised over $1 million in funding and serves as a blockchain-based remittance provider for businesses and consumers. Users of the service outside of Africa can send money to people in Kenya, Tanzania, or Uganda. The startup also operates a bitcoin exchange in those countries and Ghana.
The Kenyan government’s Information Cabinet Secretary, Fred Matiangi, also gave a speech highlighting the benefits of technology, networks, and communication. He also announced that the Kenyan government would be launching an initiative to support and fund Kenyan startups, later this year. This would be the first program of its kind from the Kenyan government.
The challenge launch, and comments by government officials, constitute the second favorable mention of blockchain and bitcoin technology from African government officials this week. The Tech Ministry of Tunisia, a nation located in North Africa, posted on several social media channels that it was looking for an intern which would conduct research on bitcoin and blockchain technology.