Solution Overview

Solution Name:

Biometrics for cash transfers

One-line solution summary:

Using contactless biometrics for cash transfers at the frontlines to ensure no one falls through the cracks

Pitch your solution.

Over 1 billion people in the world lack any form of reliable ID, which severely restricts their access to welfare programs and services. In the midst of a global pandemic, when social protection programs are on the rise, the ability to identify people and ensure no one falls through the cracks becomes of utmost importance to support vulnerable groups. In such a scenario, contactless biometrics can help provide accurate registries for social protection programs, ensuring that cash transfers reach their intended beneficiaries. Contactless biometrics also minimise the risk of fomitic transmission of Covid-19, and are portable to suit first-mile contexts. When adopted at scale, our solution can provide accurate data on social protection programs, and ensure that no one is left behind by allowing governments to tie each transfer to a beneficiary who needs it.

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

1.1 billion people globally lack any formal identity, barring access to essential, life-saving services. Without reliable identification, it is incredibly difficult for NGOs and governments to link social protection programs to those most in need and eliminate ‘ghost’ beneficiaries to reduce leakages. Bar codes, plastic cards, and enrolment numbers are some of the most common ways of identifying people, however, they pose a significant challenge to maintain, as paper records are easily lost or misplaced, and enrolment numbers easily forgotten. In times of emergency, such as the one created by Covid-19 where a lot of vulnerable people have been forced to the edge, a forgotten number can translate into a life lost. Another consequence of lack of reliable identification is leakage of valuable assistance, as it can often go unaccounted for, or to ghost beneficiaries.

Over the past few years, the uptake of touch-based biometrics has increased in frontline contexts. However, unlike contactless biometrics, they pose a potential risk for Covid-19 transmission. Our contactless biometrics solutions can work offline to drive ‘one person, one record’ by introducing a digital ID solution that works at the first mile, while minimising Covid-19 transmission risk to the users. 

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

We work with two types of users: one, front line workers who use our technology, and two, recipients of services. Due to the lack of an inclusive ID deployable offline at the first mile, the former often struggle to identify the most vulnerable, and the latter miss out on essential services.

To address these challenges, Simprints has been working with governments and frontline workers over the past 5 years to build a rugged, contactless solution suitable and safe for the first mile. We have deployed our solution exclusively in LMICs, targeting the poorest people within those countries, particularly those living in extreme poverty (people living on <$1.90/day). We also routinely conduct vigorous user acceptability testing with our users and iterate our product to ensure that it meets their needs. As a result, our contactless biometrics solution can be used in the field without any internet connectivity, and has been designed keeping frontline worker needs and safety in mind. By enabling frontline users to link beneficiaries to biometrics, Simprints can help capture those who fall through the cracks of social protection programs.

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

  • How can countries ensure that everyone—especially vulnerable and marginalized groups—are able to apply/register for an ID in a way that protects people’s health, data, and the integrity of the ID system?

Explain how the problem, your solution, and your solution’s target population relate to the Mission Billion Challenge Global Prize and your selected dimension.

Our solution aligns with the Challenge for the following reasons:

  1. Safe to use: Contactless biometrics, unlike fingerprint biometrics, can work with high accuracy at a safe distance from the beneficiary, reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission. Further, our solution is designed with the highest privacy standards (GDPR), protecting the integrity of beneficiary data.

  2. Inclusivity: Our solution makes it possible to enrol and identify hard-to-reach populations. It is designed specifically for use at the first mile: it is mobile and rugged, and can work offline. This facilitates hassle-free usage at the frontlines, making it easier to enrol and identify hard-to-reach populations. 

Where is your solution team headquartered?

Cambridge, UK

What is your solution’s stage of development?

  • Pilot: An individual or organization deploying a tested product, service, or model in at least one location.

Who is the primary delegate for your solution?

Toby Norman

More About Your Solution

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

  • A new application of an existing technology

Describe what makes your solution innovative.

Developments in AI have accelerated the potential of mobile-phone camera-based biometrics, eliminating the need for separate hardware, cutting costs and increasing scalability of digital identity. However, progress has been hampered by the crippling racial, ethnic, and gender biases found in camera-based AI algorithms. Responding to these challenges, in July 2018 Simprints began exploring inclusive, ethical AI-powered biometrics to improve accuracy, cost-efficiency, and scalability in future impact projects. Our aim is to reverse the current Western data "bias" within camera-based AI, as well as the widespread oversight in protecting beneficiaries’ privacy rights and data security, to provide a powerful, ethical, and inclusive biometric identification system at scale.

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting elevated risk of fomitic transmission, we've doubled down our focus on contactless biometrics. Our AI-powered contactless biometric solution achieves an accuracy of 98% from a distance of 1 metre, helping minimise the risk of transmission of Covid-19, while delivering the same program improvements as contact biometrics. 

Unlike our competitors whose solutions are largely tailored to developed-country contexts and unsuitable for vulnerable groups at the first mile, Simprints has remained laser-focused on first mile technology. We build our solutions to be rugged, wireless, long-lasting, and highly-accurate and we continuously optimise for frontline contexts, such as reliable syncing in unreliable areas, wraparound data analysis, and streamlined workflows.

Provide evidence that your solution works.

Simprints is already in use in 12 countries, and has reached 400,000 people to date.  In 2016, we deployed Simprints in a pilot project with BRAC HNPP to reach 28,000 expectant mothers and newborns with essential care. A longitudinal study funded by DFID and the Global Innovation Fund showed that the deployment of Simprints increased postnatal healthcare coverage by 11% and antenatal healthcare coverage by 38%. Because of that increase, 9% more women gave birth with a skilled birth attendant and 19% more newborns received essential care. Brown University’s evaluation of the deployment of Simprints across clinics in Malawi offering clinical care for pregnant women with HIV, and found that the biometric system captured nearly 50% of HIV visits that were missed by the current EMR system used to monitor HIV visits (Improving Monitoring of Engagement in HIV Care for Women in Option B+: A Pilot Test of Biometric Fingerprint Scanning in Lilongwe, Malawi). 

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning
  • Software and Mobile Applications

What is your theory of change?

Social protection programs are vital for helping people escape poverty. However, the absence of any form of identity means that these programmes may fail to reach the people who need them the most, and the most vulnerable often through the social safety net. When biometrics are used to create a register of beneficiaries, not only does it solve the problem of duplication, but the portability of our solution also ensures that the most vulnerable can be reached, no matter where they might be. Once a person has been registered to a unique record, each transfer can be tied to a unique person, and the biometric database can help identify those who have been missed out. 

A major output of our solution is more accurate data on those who have been reached and more importantly, beneficiaries who have fallen through the cracks. This allows policymakers to target their interventions better, which, as an outcome in the long run, makes social protection programs more inclusive and effective, enabling them to empower beneficiaries to escape poverty.

How can your solution be incorporated into identification systems?

Most programs deployed on-ground are coupled with some form of a data collection platform. Keeping this in mind, Simprints is designed to integrate into existing digital platforms such as CommCare, SurveyCTO, and ONA that are already widely used in the development sector when working with marginalized people who would otherwise have no form of ID. Further, we use open standards for biometrics data collection, making us interoperable with existing identification systems.

Simprints integrates into existing digital infrastructure to enable greater market choice for partners. We adhere to open standards (ISO 19794-2) widely used by biometric vendors and ID systems, such as India’s Aadhar system; and we have also developed image transfer in order to be able to preserve the raw images captured for future interoperability purposes. 

Describe how 'user friendly' your solution is to incorporate into a digital identification system.

Design with users has been essential to ensure Simprints works for frontline workers. We spent >700 hours co-creating with users to build solutions that are mobile and rugged. Our app works offline and plugs directly into data collection platforms used by frontline workers, enabling one seamless workflow that doesn’t require connectivity. These factors are critical where frontline workers spend >12 hours outdoors in harsh conditions, going house-to-house to deliver critical services. Further, our contactless biometrics solution accurately identifies beneficiaries from a distance, allowing us to put the safely of our users first.  At a program level, our solution is designed such that it is easy for program implementers to integrate with their existing digital tools, without the need to overhaul any existing infrastructure. Our user-centred approach has been recognised by the Core77 Design for Social Impact Award and 2x BIMA awards (Product and Service Design: Innovation, Advance Award: Innovation).

Explain how your solution is interoperable with existing technologies and open standards.

Simprints has built interoperability into its core architecture so it can support large-scale programmes and is interoperable with any other biometric technology or initiatives using open standards. For example, Simprints is compatible with India’s national Aadhaar UID programme and Tanzania’s National ID Authority (NIDA) programme, both of which use ISO 19794-2 standards. Thus, Simprints supports—rather than duplicates—existing large-scale ID initiatives, and can be swapped out with alternative vendors if partners choose to do so in the future.

How does your solution account for low connectivity environments and for users with low literacy and numeracy levels?

Simprints can be used for enrolment and identification in the field without any internet connectivity. Our app runs offline and stores data locally on the phone in an encrypted database. 

Our solution also accounts for low literacy and numeracy levels in our users:  we can customise the app in the local language and help build capacity on-ground to ensure that using the platform for enrolment and identification is straightforward for frontline workers. 

To incorporate user feedback, we conduct regular user acceptance testings and pilots before scale-up. We’ve piloted our contactless biometrics solution in Kenya, and made changes to the user interface to make it better suited for the users. 

Select the key characteristics of your target population.

  • Women & Girls
  • Pregnant Women
  • Informal Sector Workers
  • Migrant Workers
  • Children & Adolescents
  • Elderly
  • Rural Settings
  • Low/No Connectivity Settings
  • Peri-Urban
  • Urban
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Middle-Income
  • Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons
  • Minorities & Previously Excluded Populations
  • Stateless Persons

In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Bangladesh
  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • Tanzania

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Bangladesh
  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • Tanzania

How many people does your solution currently serve? How many will it serve in one year? In five years?

Simprints’ fingerprint biometrics technology currently serves over 400,000 beneficiaries, and is on track to reach 700,000 by the end of the year. Our camera product has presently been piloted with 656 people in Kenya for a program that was distributing aid in schools. We will be running numerous facial recognition projects in the next year, aiming to reach over 100,000 people in total. Additionally, we’re in talks with a few existing government partners to deploy our solution for the verified delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine, once it becomes available. Through these partnerships and others, in the next five years we expect to reach 10m people.


What are your goals within the next year and within the next five years?

Simprints’ mission is to transform the way the world fights poverty. We build technology to radically increase transparency and effectiveness in global development, making sure that every vaccine, every dollar, every public good reaches the people who need them most. In the next year, we are projected to reach 2M beneficiaries across fingerprint and contactless biometrics, and have a goal of 10M for the next five years. 

We anticipate being able to serve NGOs, aid organisations and governments with our contactless solution. This includes our current partners such as the Ethiopian Federal Ministry of Health and BRAC, who will be able to expand their use of biometrics to include facial recognition without needing to pivot away from their existing data-collection tools. We will also be able to meet the needs of new partners more effectively, particularly those who require touchless biometrics (such as a government responding to a pandemic), or those who require a rapid deployment (such as an aid organisation responding to a humanitarian crisis). Specifically, the world’s increasing vulnerability to epidemics and pandemics provides both an opportunity and an imperative to scale by partnering with governments to ensure effective and equitable national-scale social protection programs.

What barriers currently exist for you to accomplish your goals in the next year and in the next five years?

A key barrier for us in accomplishing our goals is obtaining core funding. While most project budgets cover program costs, core costs are often barely accounted for or are often overlooked. Core funding can enable us to invest in continuous R&D, build an incredibly talented team, and ensure our organisation stays sustainable in the long run. 

One technical challenge is ensuring that the structure of our system will allow us to operate effectively at scale with government partners. For biometrics to have long-term sustainable impact, there needs to be a high level of local capacity by partners to choose and maintain their systems. However the requirements of governments are very different from businesses or NGOs. While for-profit biometric companies often focus on end-to-end, proprietary, and cloud-based systems, our interviews with multiple Ministries suggest the priorities are actually systems with modular hardware, modular mobile software, and significant capacity transfer services for local staff. This gives Ministries the power to maintain data sovereignty and replace components at any time without major re-builds, and therefore rapidly scale secure, cost-effective, and locally-maintained biometric systems that are fit for their needs. 

How do you plan to overcome these barriers?

To overcome the core funding barrier, we are working with our network of current partners to raise catalytic funding for Simprints. While this has been put on hold due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are hopeful that our conversations will progress, and we will be able to raise the required core funding.  

In order to meet requirements for system modularisation, we will continue retooling our existing architecture to be fit-for-purpose for Ministries. We are currently seeking innovation funding to help us accelerate this process.


About Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

  • Nonprofit

How many people work on your solution team?

Simprints currently has 43 full time employees that work on its fingerprint and camera products, across product development, project delivery and business development.

How long have you been working on your solution?

We have been working on a contactless solution for two years.

Why are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Simprints has been working with biometrics on the frontlines for the past five years. In this time, we have learnt that biometrics are not a standalone solution, but instead can add great value in collaboration with the right partners. Today, we have 43 team members around the world, with offices in the UK, Bangladesh and Ethiopia. These are people we hired from leading companies all around the world: BCG, the UN, or Amazon to name a few. And we have purposefully focused on team diversity to build the most inclusive solutions with over 20 different nationalities represented. In addition, our board of directors brings together world-leading experts from McKinsey, Salesforce, Google, and Harvard Medical School, among others. In the past, our work has been awarded grants and recognition by Innovate UK, World Bank, and BIMA awards. Additionally, we won the Mission Billion Challenge last year, and are a member of the Million Lives Club.

What organizations do you currently partner with, if any? How are you working with them?

Simprints, as a solution, has been designed with a partnerships model in mind. In all projects, we work with an implementing partner and plug into the workflow of a data collection platform. To make our projects sustainable, Simprints has also set up regional offices in Bangladesh and Ethiopia to equip our partners with the ability to run and maintain systems with minimum support from us once the program is fully set up. We currently have three groups of partners:

  • Governments: MoH Ethiopia, MoH Bangladesh

  • Private funders: CIFF, Botnar, Gavi, ARM, Cisco

  • NGOs: BRAC, D-Tree

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

Simprints focuses on building tech that is optimised for the development context, with frontline workers in mind. Our platform is rapidly deployable, with minimal set-up required, making it easily scalable for larger projects. In addition to program accountability, we can provide deep insights into program activity through customised M&E reports. 

Additionally, each project is allocated a dedicated project manager, who provides advice on program design, implementation, and workflows. They also conduct customised training for users to be onboarded on our platform, and are available round the clock if any assistance is required.

To sustain our business, we are committed to being an earned revenues-driven organisation. We partner with governments and private philanthropy organisations to introduce verified impact in a range of programs, including mass drug administration for neglected tropical diseases and continuity of care in maternal and child health services. We also raise innovation funding to improve our product and keep up with the latest developments in technology.

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, or to other organizations?

  • Organizations (B2B)

What is your path to financial sustainability?

From the beginning, we fully committed to the social enterprise model of putting impact over profit, while ensuring that we build a sustainable tech company that can achieve scale through B2B and B2G sales. Simprints became cashflow positive in 2019, four years after our founding, having already won over £11M of funding at a 65% compound annual growth rate by focusing exclusively on lean product development, earned revenues, and financial discipline. In keeping with this drive toward financial independence, we aim to concurrently scale up our business development with increasingly large-scale project contracts. We expect to continue to fund our work through a mix of innovation grants, government projects, and catalytic funding.

If you have raised funds for your solution or are generating revenue, please provide details.

In the past, we have received over $600k in innovation grant funding from Cisco, Autodesk and InnovateUK to work on our contactless biometrics product.

If you seek to raise funds for your solution, please provide details.

We seek to raise $2m in innovation grant funding over the next year to make our solution accessible to all, in addition to project revenue to cover deployment costs. We are in conversations with a number of Ministries of Health to deploy our product at scale once a Covid-19 vaccine becomes available.

What are your estimated expenses for 2020?

Across our fingerprint and contactless biometrics products, we expect to spend $3m in 2020. 

Partnership & Prize Funding Opportunities

Why are you applying to the Mission Billion Challenge Global Prize?

Our commitment to empowering beneficiaries directly aligns with the goals of the Challenge. Simprints operates across two industries: biometrics/digital ID and international development. Historically, both of them have repeatedly fallen short when it comes to inclusion of the most vulnerable – biometric algorithms are built on highly biased datasets, reducing their accuracy for people of colour, and often work only in high-connectivity settings. Further, privacy and data security haven’t always been top priority, which has led to large scale breaches of highly sensitive information. Although inclusion and privacy are often treated as an afterthought in global development, we design and deploy our solutions with respect for these values at the centre.

The Mission Billion Challenge allows us to amplify our presence in the biometrics thought leadership space, and build partnerships with organisations that can use our solution to drive impact in their projects. 

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Business model
  • Product/service distribution
  • Funding and revenue model
  • Marketing, media, and exposure

What organizations would you like to partner with, and how would you like to partner with them?

We are keen to partner with governments, funders, and NGOs to deploy our solution at the front lines to drive impact. 

Please explain in more detail here.

The Challenge has a diverse panel of judges, participants, and audience. We can greatly benefit from the feedback we get from them on our proposed solution, and iterate it to make it more suitable to the needs of our users. Further, the Challenge provides us with an opportunity to expand our network of advisors and mentors, who can guide us to better shape our business model and realise product-market fit. Finally, the Solve network can help us form partnerships with organisations who will be interested in deploying our solution at the frontlines to drive impact.

Solution Team

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