Applying blockchain-backed logistics to global development challenges

By Evelyn Rupert

March 18, 2019

In Afghanistan, like in many other countries, a textbook can face many obstacles on its way from printer to a child’s hands. The logistical challenges that exist within the country can hinder governments’ ability to deliver needed materials to remote communities or keep businesses from efficiently reaching their clients.

GraphLi CEO Vinodh Subramanian

Through the USAID Afghan Children Read program “Track and Trace” technology is helping overcome these hurdles and ensure that schools receive the teaching and learning materials aimed at improving early grade reading across the country.

Creative Associates International, implementer of Afghan Children Read, partnered with logistics firm GraphLI to implement the Track and Trace program.To stay on the forefront of logistics technology, the Creative Development Lab and GraphLI are also working on applications of blockchain in the international development context, not just for education but also economic growth.

In this Q&A, GraphLI CEO Vinodh Subramanian explains the potential of blockchain to build upon the success of track and trace and touch other sectors.

Where has GraphLI’s logistics technology been applied in partnership with Creative?

Vinodh Subramanian: GraphLI and Creative partnered together on innovative Track and Trace technology for the USAID Afghan Children Read program. This technology allows educational materials and textbooks to be monitored along their route, all the way until they reach the intended school and a headmaster signs off on their delivery.

Our goal was to eradicate “leakage” in the shipping process, which can deprive students and teachers of these quality educational tools.

We used SMS to capture data in places with no internet connection and made reporting easy through an app with barcode scanning and easy-to-fill digital forms. Drivers, delivery teams and educators use the application and SMS tools to confirm the location and delivery of materials at each step of the way.

To date, we have tracked more than 500,000 books to 500 schools.

From Track and Trace technology, how is GraphLI evolving to use blockchain in logistics?

Subramanian: The retail industry loses an excess of $230 billion a year to fraud, damage and errors. Missing or incomplete documentation create huge problems and makes inter-company collaboration extremely difficult, particularly when parties have isolated systems that maintain their own independent records.

Seamless shipment and context-based flow of information are the key to eradicating these problems. By using blockchain technology, we can connect all of these parties on a standardized and trusted network that ensures they are all working off of the same information. This can be thought of as a shared database which all parties have restricted access to and which no single party has full control over.

This system provides a fabric for secure and trusted collaboration which can help eliminate the older, inefficient and less secure means of email, phone calls, and one-off integrations.

GraphLI’s end-to-end smart InfoStream platform integrates shipment information with its event- and tracking-based milestone information to reduce errors, avoid damage and eliminate fraud from the supply chain.

For example, we work with one of the world’s largest wholesalers to track wine production from the vineyard to the bottle by providing a mobile first workflow platform to connect various stakeholders for smooth information flow from the field to the back office using blockchain. A consumer or buyer can scan a code on a bottle to get verified information down to where grapes are sourced from.

What implications does this technology have for international development?

Subramanian: In the context of international development, donors want to make sure their programs are operating in the most efficient manner possible. With blockchain-based Track and Trace, everyone along a value chain could access real-time data to ensure logistics run smoothly and without loss.

We feel that it is extremely important to help ensure development programs are having the largest impact possible. Investment in technologies that can drive transparency, reduce fraud, and help us better understand what is happening on the ground make all the sense in the world.

Looking back at Afghanistan, there is a great need to build an environment conducive to efficient business processes. Blockchain-powered technology can help verify and store data along a variety of value chains, so that the private sector, implementers and donors can have the confidence to do business. It is for this reason that GraphLI and Creative have partnered to create a blockchain-based Track and Trace product modeled on our experience delivering books in Afghanistan.

Blockchain can provide additional benefits to our Track and Trace product by improving the visibility and information to all stakeholders in the value chain. The data collected on the ground will be secured an untampered format, readily available for all selected participants in real time. This data – GPS coordinates, pictures, signatures, etc. – will be published in a dashboard with an API for developing applications to sync data into other business systems.

This blockchain network will create a standard network for validation and sharing between all project stakeholders, setting the foundation for smart contracts with use cases such as results-based financing. These opportunities are exciting for us and serve real potential to improve the way development is implemented.

  • UPDATE: The “Track and Trace” model in Afghanistan has been handed over to the Afghan Ministry of Education. A few changes are currently being piloted. Stay tune for updates!

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