The US Agency for International Development (USAID) has found a new ally in Mastercard, with the organizations announcing a new partnership aimed at bringing digital and online technology to refugee settlements. Under USAID’s “Power Africa” initiative, the organizations say they will launch pilot programs in the first half of this year.
In a statement, USAID and Mastercard said their aim is “to transform refugee settlements into digitally-connected communities,” adding later that they “will work together to introduce internet and mobile connectivity, access to clean, efficient energy, and digital financial tools for communities in Kenya and Uganda,” and plan to expand these efforts to other refugee-hosting states later on. The effort includes other partners from the tech world including Accenture, Microsoft, and the GSMA.
The organizations also framed the collaboration as complementary to the UN General Assembly endorsed Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework and the Global Compact on Refugees, saying that the agencies welcome public-private partnerships aimed at reducing the strain of refugee populations on host countries.
The nuts and bolts of the project aren’t yet clear, but Mastercard and USAID say it will involve the development of “an integrated set of identity, payment, and data tools that improve the delivery of essential services,” as well as offering “energy access to refugees and host communities in a more efficient and low-cost way,” the latter presumably being an essential basis for offering more connected services. Their announcement made no mention of biometric technologies, but given Mastercard’s intensifying activities in this area, and the UN refugee agency’s enthusiasm for biometrics in tracking and assisting refugee populations, it seems a likely component of the efforts to come.