July 14, 2020 in COVID-19

Crisis and Innovation: How ZAKA is helping people get back to work



This interview is part of a series about innovative startups in Village Capital's network that are responding creatively to the challenges raised by COVID-19.

In 2018, the United Nations and World Bank launched Identification For Development (ID4D), an audacious initiative aimed at providing everyone in the world with a legal, digital identity by 2030.

London-based ZAKA is positioned to help ID4D meet its challenge by allowing people to use their phones to build a set of verifiable digital identification credentials – ultimately helping them connect with health, financial and educational services. We spoke with co-founder and CEO Nick Mason about how ZAKA has responded during the coronavirus pandemic.

On the importance of digital identity:

Over 60% of African adults use feature phones.The first step to improving the financial health of low-and moderate-income populations across the continent is being able to verify who you are. Our mission at ZAKA is to ensure that any person, with any phone, can identify who they are so they can access any service at any time.  

On how ZAKA has adapted during the pandemic:

Prior to the pandemic, we were engaged in two different pilot programs: the first was with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs to provide refugees in the country with digital identification credentials so they could access services and the second was a consortia of private and public entities in Rwanda to provide digital identification services to people with basic phones in the country without having to see someone face-to-face.

While these partnerships continue, as the crisis quickly spread around the world, we began to wonder how the ZAKA platform could be used to help during the crisis. At its most basic level, ZAKA, a self-sovereign identity solution, allows an entity to issue a credential, a person to hold a credential, and a person to have their credential verified by a third party. As a result, ZAKA has a great use case for helping private employers, factories, and other businesses where the verification of COVID-19 status plays an important role in managing a safe return to work.

For example, we were able to help keep a neuroscience program going. Andre Fenton is a Professor of Neuroscience at NYU. He runs a lab located inside of a big building on their campus. To meet New York City occupancy guidelines during the crisis, Professor Fenton is using ZAKA’s technology to monitor the occupancy of his lab. Here is how it works: people who enter and exit the lab use our application to scan QR codes that are located inside labs, classrooms and common spaces. This creates an anonymised and timestamped log report of who was where, at what time. This technology is then used to mitigate against the risk of having to close down the entire lab in case of an outbreak since those identified as being at risk of contracting COVID-19 can self isolate. 

One of the benefits of ZAKA is that the solution is private-by-design. The platform uses a technology called Zero-Knowledge Proofs - which verifies the truth of a fact without revealing all the data associated with the fact - which helps with data minimization. We hope to share our findings from this partnership with Professor Fenton in the near future.

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