From the start, we have been dedicated to building opportunities for people while addressing the global issue of identity theft and certification fraud. Challenged by high costs and the slow manual processes needed to verify the authenticity of their skills, identity and credentials. As a result, some of these individuals are forced to repeat years of education while dealing with long and tedious credentialing processes. These markets suffer from a severe loss of productivity and inflated unemployment.
To tackle this challenge, we have created a platform that enables educational institutions and NGOs to issue a “skill-ID,” digitally verifying a record of their educational and work history on the Ethereum blockchain. Our mission is to build an ecosystem of trust, by enabling educational institutions and organizations to safely issue and verify digital credentials. This will build a bridge for global work opportunities for untapped talent and combat rampant identity theft and certification fraud.
We recently issued the first set of skill-IDs to students and administrators at Clarke University in Kampala, Uganda.
These are the first ever blockchain backed, digitally verified certificates issued in Africa.
Uganda: “Ground Zero”
There is a high amount of certificate fraud in Uganda. This harms Ugandan organizations reputation and negatively impact the organization’s’ overall performance, as well as the infrastructure growth of the country. The Uganda education authorities have until now had limited resources in providing certificates that are unquestionably authentic. This has provided ample opportunities for others to exploit this gap in educational authentication. In recent years, Uganda has made headlines, due to reports of certificate fraud that had resulted in individuals either receiving unwarranted certification or securing high-ranking posts through falsified documents.
Beyond the question of authenticity, these certificates are extremely valuable. After all, a certificate is a proof of one’s achievements. One student told us “It’s my life…..it’s everything”. Should a certificate be lost the student has to go through a lengthy process to replace them, which can cost as much as several hundred dollars.
What value does the platform provide?
Uganda has a strong, young, and innovative work-force. That said, this demographic struggles in acquiring valid work-skills and opportunities. A report published by the Ugandan Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) shows the national unemployment rate stands at 9.4%. The report also claims that the rate of underemployment (employed at less than full-time/regular jobs or at jobs inadequate with respect to their training or economic needs) in the youth (18–35) workforce is approximately 15 %.
Even with the proper education and training, being able to validate and prove one’s credentials is still a challenge, and most verification processes are done manually by calling around to the various actors.
The Diwala platform aims to contribute data verification and data protection to an ecosystem involving several organizations within the education and employment sector. By leveraging Uport, a self-sovereign identity solution that allows end users to control their digital identity and own their personal data, we have been able to create a platform that;
1. Allows institutions to create and issue cryptographically signed and secure credentials
2. Provides students with their verifiable credentials, which can easily be shared digitally with employees and organisations.
3. Provides a way to verify and show all parties that the data is trustworthy and not tampered with.
We are digitizing the way educational and employment information is viewed, removing the risk of it being forged or misused in any way.
Through months of research, we have validated the assumption that certificate fraud is a major issue for Uganda’s education sector. We have also become aware of the lack of official statistical data on certificate fraud in general.
Uganda’s largest universities have developed counter-measures (official seals, watermarks, signatures, specialized paper, etc) with varying degrees of success but smaller institutions lack the financial and/or human resource means to combat fraud.
The result of this is graduates being denied jobs or entry into certain unions and organizations due to worries about the validity of their certificates. This does not look good for the school that provided these certificates, as they are dependent on their trustworthiness.
Due to the presence of false certificates and the lack of data about this issue in general, schools are very interested in acquiring realistic and certified data. Parallel to the lack of data of fraud on certificates is lack of data on success stories of education resulting in steady jobs across the continent. This data is valuable for institutions, not only for improvement strategies for the institution itself but to use in a marketing promotion context.
By using decentralised technology, information issued via the Diwala platform can now be trusted and viewed from an authentic and verified source. The information is tamper-proof, which ensures data validity enabling schools to gain accurate data about their certificates and graduates employment status. A lot of time and money will also be saved by removing outdated and time-consuming administrative processes concerning the certificates and making all verification digital.
Currently, our main focus is on live user testing, feedback aggregation, and platform iteration with Clarke University in Kampala, a values-based educational institution, focused on competency-based learning, accelerated learning, creativity and innovation.
“We are in a battle to end academic credential fraud and ease identity verification processes. We are pleased to work with Diwala to implement the Digital Identification and Verification System which enhances verification and authentication processes of both local and foreign students’ academic documents”
— Orban Martin Luther, technical program associate at Clarke University.
In addition, we are currently executing a second implementation pilot in Kenya with Lumen Labs, a digital literacy skill program focused on computer and problem-solving skills. During this pilot, we are especially looking into how we can issue digitally verifiable certificates in rural settings where offline solutions are needed.
When a student graduates from a Ugandan university, they’re given a hard copy (the official document with the seal) and a soft copy of their degree (A paper that acts in lieu of the actual document). In order to validate their degree, the students must then acquire different stamps and signatures from various sources. Unfortunately, these processes can take a significant amount of time; Students have reported that it took up to 6 months to even receive their certificates after graduation. The validation processes necessary to verify the certificates can cost up to 2–300 hundred dollars, depending on how many certificates you have.
Take the case of Akile Wua Justice, a Nigerian student who graduated from Cavendish University in Uganda. He told us about the lenghty process a student/graduate must go through if they should lose their documents and have them replaced. The student must start by reporting their loss to the Ugandan police, and make a case. Both the police and the university must then investigate and verify that the student graduated from the reported institution before they can get a new copy of the lost certificates.
“Then you need to bring a coloured copy of those certificates to the ministry of education of Uganda to certify. Then after that, you have to go and certify it with your embassy… Because there are a lot of fake certificates everywhere.” — Akile Wua Justice
Justice added that replacing damaged or lost documents are incredibly expensive. The replacement fee for one document from his school is 250,000 Ugandan shillings. And because he had two degrees and needed two different transcripts, he was forced to pay 500,000 shillings for new copies. That is roughly $140 and does not include the additional $10 fee for verification per certificate.
Several students that we talked to reported that this process could take up 12 months.
Because of the cost and difficulty in acquiring a new copy of graduating certificates, it is also necessary for the students to securely store and protect them. “When you graduate and get your certificate…you just go and laminate it very well. That’s because you have to save those documents and keep them somewhere very special. But, when you go to a job interview and you have been selected, you have to take the original with you..” says Justice.
Today a students’ information is stored in many different data silos. Since the different institutions store their students’ verifications and certificates in their own database, the student does not have true digital proof of their achievements. Imagine the consequences if the database fails, goes offline or if the school decides not to provide the information anymore. How can the students then verify their skills?
Justice believes that his data is safe because the university’s database is secure. “They can never delete the database because they are aware of people faking certificates in their name. So, that database needs to be really secure and safe”.
However, this might not be the case everywhere. Due to the conflict in Syria, many people have had to flee the country. As homes and schools were destroyed, so was the information (documents, digital data) they stored. Many of the displaced people are not able to adequately prove their level of education due to this loss of information. They have to go back to school in order to validate the skills they already have. This presents time consuming and difficult challenge for displaced people trying to find their feet in a new country.
The Diwala platform and app will save the student time and money in verifying their certificates. On top of that, it will allow them to have easier access to their credentials. This will provide students with a measure of protection from certificate fraud and mismanagement, which also includes the risk of losing it.
Like any business entity, organizations in Uganda search for new employees all the time. Once a potential employee is found their credentials must be validated and verified. In the Ugandan context, this process can take many weeks and is usually done manually by having someone call the school to verify that the student actually attended. Simply having the “soft copy” isn’t enough. When a person gets called in for an interview they are generally required to bring the hard copy of their degree.
By providing a link to a verification page which contains the certificate data, the Diwala platform will immediately be able to show whether a certificate is authentic. This will drastically increase the efficiency of organizations seeking to validate a potential employees credentials.
Through our platform and application, we aim to not only provide self-sovereign identities to the youth of Uganda and Kenya, but also to empower them with ownership of their data. Moreover, this platform will create an of ecosystem where students, schools, and organizations will have transparent, authentic and digitally-trusted information to rely on. With innovative technology, we can make an outdated and tedious process of “certifying certificates” more efficient and secure. This will remove some of the friction these processes enforce and enable more opportunities for youth.
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Facts and numbers mainly from “Reality check — Employment, Entrepreneurship and Education in Uganda” written by Yusuf Kiranda, Max Walter, Michael Mugisha.