In July, Trulioo sponsored the AngelHack event in San Francisco and challenged participants to help build a solution focused on financial inclusion, aligning it with AngelHack’s overarching theme: Seamless Technology.
The winning team of our challenge was Verifood, a group of young computer science enthusiasts who wanted to create a food security solution for the homeless population, and we invited them to share the inspiration behind their winning idea. Yi Zu, a member of the Verifood team, recollects his overall experience at the hackathon.
“On July 21st, I was working on a project at the San Francisco Public Library when I witnessed a homeless man unable to check out a book because he did not have an identification card. It surprised me that he could be denied something which I had always taken for granted. Reflecting deeper into this problem, I also wondered:
How can homeless people access food stamps when they can’t perform simple tasks like checking out a library book without a photo ID?
Going home, I decided to research how homeless people can access food stamps in California. I found this document from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) highlighting this fact about receiving food stamps:
‘You need proof of identity. A photo ID is one way to prove identity. You can’t be turned down for SNAP benefits because you don’t have photo ID. You can use another ID like a work or school badge, a health benefits card, an ID from another social service, a pay stub, a birth certificate, or a voter registration card. The SNAP worker can also check your identity by calling shelter workers or employers.’
The truth is that many homeless people are unable to stay at shelters due to large demand, with waitlists being established in some areas. Moreover, many homeless people have never been issued physical identification cards that could be used for registration, or have lost them during their constant travel. Digitizing the identity verification process results in a more efficient and trustworthy way of proving identities of individuals who lack photo IDs.
Additionally, the use of physical food stamps enables the creation of a secondary market, wherein food stamps can be exchanged for money or illicit benefits.
So how can we incentivize spending money on just the essentials?
Tokenizing food stamps and restricting the recipients of these tokens limits the creation of a secondary market for illicit goods, while the use of a digital wallet provides more security than physical food stamps that could be lost or damaged. Combined with a process that allows for identity verification, this provides a gateway for the homeless population establish food security—entering a specific food bank or food stamp-accepting institution. Our team’s solution is VeriFood: An identity verification platform for homeless people to access digital food stamps.
This year’s main challenge at the AngelHack in San Francisco was to build technology that solves a social or environmental problem and positively impacts the local community. 32 teams had 24 hours to tackle this challenge sponsored by companies like Trulioo, ConsenSys and others. Team Verifood entered as a group of four people: Eric Frankel, Tommy Gao, Tyler Zhu and Yi Zu.
Firstly, our team decided to tackle Trulioo’s challenge consisting of building an application that leverages Trulioo’s API to verify the identities of underserved individuals for them to access basic financial services. The company is leader in providing a global identity verification service, provides instant electronic identity and address verification for 5 billion people in more than 60 countries.
Initially, we wanted to understand how we could leverage Trulioo’s service in the context of the homeless problem, as well as for people who would likely need food stamps. We decided that on top of basic information like first name, middle name, last name, and date of birth, we would also include a cell phone number, address, and zip code, which could be queried in different databases using the Trulioo API.
After talking to the Trulioo team, we obtained a demo API token that allowed us to start making queries. We also implemented a method to prevent previous users from reverifying for more food stamps. Over the course of the last few hours, we were able to set up test data and specific matching rules with the Trulioo team. If the user’s information matched that in the databases that Trulioo queried, VeriFood will credit the user with 20 tokens to spend on food.
Our vision is to have our platform adopted by local food banks for streamlining the identity verification process to award digital food stamps. Here is walk through the user journey reflected in the process flow map below:
Process Flow for VeriFood Identity Verification and Food Stamp Platform
1. Homeless person enters foodbank
2. Food bank employee displays the VeriFood platform on an iPad or computer
3. Homeless person inputs his identity credentials
4. Trulioo API’s call checks for the identify of this person
5. Once verified, the person would be granted 20 food tokens every 2 weeks
6. The homeless person picks the desired food items
7. Food bank employee hands over the food
We foresee our platform to be supported by government agencies and non-profit organizations who focus on tackling the homeless problem. The VeriFood solution caters to homeless people who want access to food stamps in an efficient way avoiding the time-consuming application process for traditional food stamps.
Overall, out of the 6 projects competing in the Trulioo Challenge, VeriFood’s concept was chosen as the winner for its ability to support financially underserved individuals, and its applicability as a practical solution. The hackathon revealed how a tight deadline, supportive teammates and sponsors can transform an idea into an impactful solution. We would like to thank AngelHack for organizing the event and Trulioo for the technical support at the event. If you are interested in how Trulioo is using its innovative technology to improve the identity verification process, I recommend checking out their blog.
We thank team Verifood for sharing their earnest, philanthropic ideas with us, and using our identity verification API to make a positive impact on the world. As we continue to follow through with our mission to verify the identities of everyone in the world, connecting to individuals who want to use our technology for good is truly special.