Reshaping humanitarian aid accountability — an interview with Areti Kampyli
“Through its DLT4EU journey and its latest Innovate UK grant, Alice is expanding into a decentralised data analytics and visualisation platform for the impact sector. As such, Alice creates a decentralised data ecosystem that fosters a responsible data economy and delivers sustainable societal development and value,” says Areti Kampyli of Alice.si as we speak about their project collaboration in the DLT4EU accelerator programme.
DLT4EU stimulates cutting-edge distributed ledger technologies (DLTs) for public and social good by connecting the expertise of leading entrepreneurs and developers with real-world challenges and beneficiaries.
This interview is part of an ongoing DLT4EU Interview Series and was first published at “proofing future, bridging people + ideas”.
Areti Kampyli is the COO of Alice.si where she is in charge of product strategy, innovation, UI, UX design, and product management as well as leading business generation and commercial expansion. She has 15 years of experience in project management, product development, and leading R&D teams. As a serial entrepreneur she launched her first start-up in 2009, a digital networking app, that become profitable in under 2 years. Her specialisms are complex R&D management, team leadership, and product innovation, User Interface and User Experience design, business generation and development. Areti is a former Corporate Advertising Manager at Ogilvy & Mather. She holds an MSc in Media & Communications from the London School of Economics.
Sebastian Klemm: Which deep economic reforms do we need to tackle, in order to arrive at regenerative & intragenerationally just societies that manage to live within planetary boundaries?
Areti Kampyli: First of all, we need to have a common denominator for our definition of ‘just societies’. A just society is one that creates non-discriminatory economic opportunities and a good quality of life.
Then the main economic reform that needs to be applied is the gradual introduction of trustless systems to minimise the ability of human-led corruption and system manipulation. And it is a fact that DLT technologies, independently from their original technological design and application, enable such reform, as they lead to the paradigm shift from ‘trusting humans’ to ‘trusting machines’ and from ‘centralised’ to ‘decentralised’ control.
Within such decentralised and arguably fairer human exchange, however, we still do not address the non-discriminatory part of the economic opportunity. For that to be achieved, we need to set the right structures to bring to force an Universal Basic Income.
Sebastian Klemm: Why do you participate in the DLT4EU programme?
Areti Kampyli: We participated in the DLT4EU programme, because ‘it does what it says on the tin’: Connecting distributed ledger technology (DLT) to social and environmental challenges across the European Union.
In particular because it ‘shakes up’ the status-quo of governmental and non-governmental bodies’ old and manual practices to a significantly advanced level of operations, enabled through technology, and specifically DLT technologies.
Public and charitable organisations are traditionally resistant to technological advancements compared to the private sector, simply because they do not need to ‘prove’ themselves to their ‘customers’ to be financially sustainable. In the private sector, if a product or service does not sell, or acquire a sustainable number of users, it gradually loses market share and dissolves. The level of ‘proof of a good service’ in government and charitable organisations is so difficult to identify or capture that it becomes elusive.
Technologies like DLT with their innate characteristics of transparency, immutable recordability, security, and automation, offer a variety of advanced solutions that actually capture that ‘proof of good service’ for governments and charities. However, permeating these industries is extremely difficult for an innovative startup and it involves long commercial cycles.
DLT4EU comes in to facilitate and accelerate that process, connecting the startups with these bodies, and enabling them to apply their tech directly to their projects. And that alone constitutes a major missing link in the ‘technical awakening’ of these industries altogether and the main reason for which we value the DLT4EU programmes’ existence and, as such, are very grateful to have had the privilege to participate in the programme.
Sebastian Klemm: What particular qualities of the DLT4EU accelerator distinguish this programme in your opinion?
Areti Kampyli: There are two in particular:
1) Building our product *with* our customer: DLT4EU enables the service providers, the startups, to work closely with their customers, the challenge owners. This allows the startups to ‘sculpture’ their product alongside their users, creating something that, as a result, meets their needs and is bound to scale, beyond the DLT4EU programme.
2) The way DLT4EU was delivered: The programme planning, the collaborative and hands-on sessions, and the remarkable mentors constitute some of DLT4EU’s qualities that we value immensely.
Sebastian Klemm: What are the societal and environmental challenges that your particular project “Reshaping humanitarian aid accountability“ addresses? How do you apply distributed ledger technologies in your project to help solve these challenges for the public good?
Areti Kampyli: In order to answer this question, we need to present a) The current state-of-the-art outlining the challenges we address, b) The innovation our product entails, and c) Our product’s benefits altogether and the societal, environmental and ethical ones in particular.
Areti Kampyli: Alice’s Proof-of-Concept addresses the DLT4EU ‘Digital Citizenship’ challenge area, and in particular the challenge of Charitable Aid Accountability for Humanitarian Agencies with the Vodafone Foundation and Digital Future Society as our challenge owners.
The urgency of the environmental crisis and the widening wealth disparities globally, especially in the aftermath of Covid19, force all institutions, from governments to private corporations, to seek greater accountability for their social and environmental footprint.
However, if we examine how impact reporting is delivered today, we see humanitarian agencies and social enterprises creating bespoke databases in fear of data loss, and spending their time cross-checking those databases manually, to infer the impact of their work. As a result, the delivery of humanitarian programmes is hindered by two challenges:
(a) Proprietary data silos that obstruct any form of collaboration or cross-programme learning, and
(b) Repetitive, time-consuming and very costly admin processes.
To tackle these challenges Alice was matched with the Vodafone Foundation to improve their reporting operations and streamline their accountability processes for their ‘Instant Network Schools’ programme.
Challenge owner’s humanitarian programme:
Areti Kampyli: Instant Network Schools was set up in 2013 by the Vodafone Foundation, Vodafone’s philanthropic arm, and UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. It gives young refugees, and their teachers access to digital learning content and the internet, improving the quality of education in some of the most marginalised communities in Africa. To date, Instant Network Schools programmes have been set up across eight refugee camps, in Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan, and have benefited over 86,500 refugee students and 1,000 teachers.
In October 2020 the Vodafone Foundation and the UNHCR started the expansion of Instant Network Schools with the intention to reach 500,000 refugee students by 2025.
Alice’s Proof of Concept solution:
Areti Kampyli: To enable the Vodafone Foundation to report on the impact of their work on the fast-increasing number of young refugees Alice automates the analysis and visualisation of their impact data by applying machine learning algorithms in a decentralised data ecosystem.
Having a data source as simple as students’ and teachers’ survey results in an excel spreadsheet, we automate the analysis of information, derived from raw data, to generate actionable insights. Applying machine learning algorithms we predict the Vodafone Foundation’s performance in each school, camp, and country and we produce prescriptive analytics, to identify how the Vodafone Foundation can serve the refugee children better and expand their contribution to SDG4 Quality Education.
Scalable SDG impact:
Areti Kampyli: To scale our solution beyond the Vodafone Foundation, however, we needed to address the security fear of humanitarian agencies and break their data silos. To achieve this we built an end-to-end decentralised data ecosystem, decentralising not only our data storage but our data processing logic as well.
By building a decentralised data ecosystem:
( a ) we contribute to the creation of inclusive societies, SDG16,
( b ) we incentivise the development of effective, accountable and transparent institutions, SDG16 Target 6, and
( c ) we enhance knowledge sharing on mutually agreed terms, SDG17, on a decentralised data governance system that revitalises global partnerships towards more sustainable developments.
The social, environmental, and ethical benefit:
Areti Kampyli: The social benefit: Creating a system that showcases and predicts the performance of a humanitarian aid programme, we are able to recommend actions that optimise programme delivery and serve beneficiaries better. This way, not only do we track the social effect on beneficiaries, but through continuous implementation of improvements and cross-learning between programmes, we could reach a point where we eliminate a certain social issue.
The environmental benefit: Server farms of the centralised web, as we know it today, consume an ever-growing amount of electricity. Utilising available storage space, offered by community developers in a decentralised network, like Arweave, we optimise the use of available server space, and as such reduce electricity consumption, benefiting significantly the environment.
The ethical benefit: The abolition of a centralised server means that no user data is concentrated in the hands of a few, who can impose censorship, or manipulate one’s private information. Giving beneficiaries control of their data ensures their privacy and their dignified treatment in humanitarian aid programmes.
Sebastian Klemm: Many citizens are interacting with digital platforms in their everyday, thereby leaving traces of their data and identity. This has already proven as fertile ground for business models that are designed to aggregate personal data, analyse it and use it for subsequent influencing, sometimes in disregard of citizen’s personal privacy. Therefore, mainstream platform economic models might have left us with an unfinished sympathy of platform ownership.
Conversely, blockchain based token could enable service platforms solutions — as well as companies & startups behind it — become owned by their core stakeholders.
In how far can decentralised networks become a pathway to community control? In how far can citizen & community owned platform models provide a more integer basis for citizens’ data processing and management in your point of view?
Areti Kampyli: For me, decentralised networks are the only long-term and sustainable pathway to effective community control, because decentralised networks are out of the control of ‘corruptible’ humans and in the control of decentralised governance.
Decentralised networks are also the main success enabler of decentralised companies, as the companies rely on community-led governance to achieve viral adoption. The world is moving away from central servers and centralised data control through open-source protocol co-development and community voting. The new ‘App store’ is now Compound or Uniswap on top of which developers build their decentralised apps, their dapps. Those developers are the recipients of reward tokens, with which they govern Compound or Uniswap, and as a result they create ever expanding network effects, sustainable protocols and more engaged communities.
Therefore, community owned platforms provide, by design, a more integer basis for citizen data management. However, they will become the norm, only when mainstream users are no longer faced with any of the technical complexities that decentralisation entails.
Sebastian Klemm: Throughout the DLT4EU programme and along the bootcamps with mentoring therein: What have you been developing so far?
Areti Kampyli: Alice started as a decentralised impact finance and measurement infrastructure, built on the Ethereum blockchain. When Alice was launched in 2016, it was the first ‘Payment for Success’ system on the blockchain, that recorded proof of impact as a conditional metric to release funding to nonprofits and social enterprises.
Through its DLT4EU journey and its latest Innovate UK grant, Alice is expanding into a decentralised data analytics and visualisation platform for the impact sector. As such, Alice creates a decentralised data ecosystem that fosters a responsible data economy and delivers sustainable societal development and value.
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Sebastian Klemm: Ethereum is a decentralized, open-source blockchain featuring smart contract functionality.
In our previous interview, Alex D’Elia says about their project: “Our ambition is to make our software toolkit a ‘white box’, a system that can be understood by users without a technology or energy background. White Box also means open, in terms of Open Source software we use and develop as well as in terms of a modular solution that is open to further integration and adaptation.“
Why do you embrace the Open Source ethos at Alice? In how far can a wider application of an Open Source ethos enable more just distribution of opportunities within society?
Areti Kampyli: Alice introduces an end-to-end decentralised data ecosystem. It ‘reshapes’ the impact sector towards a fully decentralised, open source web infrastructure, which ensures data security and absolute privacy for beneficiaries.
We pioneered end-to-end data decentralisation in three steps:
1. Decentralise data storage: We use Arweave to store encrypted datasets and we parse it to create an object-based structure, ready for further processing.
2. Decentralise data processing logic: From the object-based data structure, we create interdependent variables and based on them, we build data processing frameworks/schemas. This way, we pioneer the decentralisation of our data processing logic.
3. Decentralise frontend deployment: To enable a fully decentralised architecture and user data ownership, we also decentralise the deployment of our frontend application, using ArGo.
Decentralising and open sourcing every level of our product creation and service we invite community developers to build on top of our product and achieve long-term sustainability for them and further adoption for us.
We, therefore, see Open Source software and infrastructure as the only way to achieve resilience in the impact market. Because resilience is feasible through strong network effects and a strong community ecosystem, and open source, by its very nature, enables precisely that!
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Sebastian Klemm: “We need inclusive capitalism, and investors that are patient for return but impatient to make a positive difference, and we need companies and collaborators that empower communities and individuals to literally take their power back and create and own the solutions that they want to see in the world,” says Franz Hochstrasser, the CEO of Raise Green, in our previous interview.
Next to your DLT4EU Virtual Field Lab: Could you elaborate on realized solutions in other projects where you at Alice applied impact finance to foster socio-ecological regeneration and resilience?
Areti Kampyli: During the DLT4EU programme we received a grant from the UK government, in partnership with Resonance, the biggest property impact investment fund in the UK, to reduce Covid-19 induced homelessness through big data analytics.
In July 2020, the surging unemployment, induced by Covid-19 containment measures, caused 500,000 people to be in rent arrears and 40,000 households at serious risk of homelessness. To reduce Covid-19 induced homelessness, Alice collaborates with Resonance, which houses over 1,600 financially vulnerable people across 559 buildings in the UK, to measure and predict the effectiveness of Resonance’s housing offering to homeless people.
To achieve this Alice automates the analysis and visualisation of tenant-generated impact data, and applies machine learning algorithms in a decentralised web infrastructure.
The government funded project will springboard data-based impact monitoring and evaluation of a wide range of social services delivered to vulnerably housed people, and drive, as a result, reduction of admin costs and more effective funds allocation by local authorities and philanthropic organisations. As such, the project’s long-term mission is to minimise Covid-19’s financial impact and deliver long-term societal development.
Sebastian Klemm: What evidence of positive impact and benefits of the DLT4EU accelerator do you see already?
Areti Kampyli: As highlighted befored, DLT4EU enabled us to build our product alongside our customer and as such with a customer success mindset.
Thus, we used the Proof of Concept as a buildinging block for the creation of data processing frameworks, that allow us to automate the analysis and corresponding visual representation of any humanitarian programme’s impact data.
In essence, we built a fully modularised product that allows us to take on any social or environmental programme that caters to any type of beneficiary.
The reason we were able to build a product with such broad applicability and scalable potential was our close interaction with the Vodafone Foundation’s Instant Network Schools team.
The value of such product development methodology became apparent already in the first half of the DLT4EU programme, when we secured our Innovate UK grant with Resonance, as described above, expanding our value proposition to fit the workflow of any customer in the impact sector.
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Sebastian Klemm: In our preceding interview about DLT4EU, Alice MacNeil says: “One of my favourite experiences was with the Venture Teams as part of a Storytelling Masterclass by Hayley Bagnall of Altus Impact, as part of the Barcelona Bootcamp in November. It was rewarding to see how the teams shifted their narrative about what they were doing, from a technology-first perspective to a more social, impact-driven focus. Not only was it fun, but we learned a lot about how to tell the story of your project and the power of storytelling. DLT can be quite niche, and this kind of approach allows us to tell a better story to a wider audience, to connect DLT4EU to a more public and democratic space.”
What have been inspiring moments to you personally during both your work together as a Virtual Field Lab team & within the overall DLT4EU programme so far?
Areti Kampyli: For me the Pentagrowth session during the Amsterdam bootcamp was one of the most inspiring moments. The realisation that the ultimate result is a ‘symbiosis’ of everything and everyone you bring together, as Lynn Margulis put it, was truly enlightening! Through the presentation of aspiring companies, we realised how your company’s human and product assets can achieve success and resilience, only if your users are truly empowered, and your communities and networks become your product’s advocates and promoters. This is the only way we can encapsulate a new dimension of performance — therefore true innovation!
Sebastian Klemm: Speaking of symbiosis and biomimicry: How do you see biomimicry, innovation inspired by nature, gain traction in the business world? In your point of view, how does Alice.si showcase value growth and impact through collaboration?
Areti Kampyli: As Stephen Pratt, a biologist at Arizona State University says “The organisation of insect societies is a marquee example of complex decentralised systems that arise from the interactions of many individuals.”
Ants, in particular, organise themselves in such a remarkable way that they can build bridges or weaves, with their own bodies. This big-scale achievement is the result of lots of individual interactions at a small scale.
The decentralised organisation that DLT technologies entail is an accurate reflection of an ant’s decentralised society, where open-source individual contributions and decentralised voting ensure the seamless functionality of the whole.
We achieve this intrinsic collaboration by simply open-sourcing our protocols and inviting anyone to contribute to our code and enhance it. With an open source development we leverage those communities to not only grow our code, but to also drive our product’s visibility and adoption. We essentially create an open market for vendors to offer support and further commercialisation within their own communities, building this way, strong network effects, and as such, forming ant-like symbiotic relationships.
Sebastian Klemm: How will you sustain your engagement and project development beyond the final presentations at the European Commission in March 2021?
Areti Kampyli: We have already engaged with one of Ideas for Change’s customers to offer our decentralised infrastructure solution to one of their projects.
We have secured a TEDx talk, funded by DLT4EU, where we will be presenting our company’s latest developments with their major, long-term social benefits.
We are applying a vertical approach for our customer acquisition. Rather than trying to attract multiple customers at the same time (horizontal expansion) we are rather focusing on permeating all humanitarian programmes of the customers we have already acquired.
And we have got a few requests to initiate funding discussions for the decentralised data analytics extension of our product. Alice has already raised € 1,100,000 since its incorporation in the 2nd quarter of 2016.
We will continue the invaluable relationships we have developed with some of the mentors and hopefully we’ll be able to work again with both Anna Higueras from ‘Ideas for Change’ and Alice MacNeil from ‘Metabolic’, who have created an absolutely fantastic experience for us at DLT4EU. Thank you!