Above: Rhonda Maingot, director and founder of the Living Water Community. Still from a video by Shannon Britto.
Originally published in Newsday’s BusinessDay on March 21, 2020
Aldwyn Wayne couldn’t see how it would work.
He’d been looking at the distribution of stimulus payments and when the government announced how they would be distributing the support payments, all he saw were problems.
His company, WiPay had been working for the last few years on technology to facilitate lowest common denominator transfers of value, using the ubiquitous SMS system to transmit information that moved money around.
The company successfully implemented it for field payments to the TT Bureau of Standards and with the Court Pay project for the Judiciary, which lubricated child support and alimony payments for everyone.
For Wayne, it was the same problem, just in a different order. It took the company two days to reengineer its payment systems to transmit a QR code, using it as an identifier that would tag the recipient, identify them to the resource they were accessing and provide a virtual receipt for repayment.
The project was built using the company’s Digital Fiat Platform, but got implemented so fast it doesn’t even have a formal name.
“We were divorcing the system from the money, so it was easier to build a solution,” said Wayne.
“We were essentially building an identification system that identifies a person to the business and the person dispensing the money.”
Practically, the system got its first test a week and a half-ago in Point Fortin, Wayne’s home town, when Mayor Kennedy Richards, made the first support payments of $500 each to ten single mothers.
Richards had raised $25,000 from the business community to spend.
“We see a lot of people needing food, and that’s a big challenge. How do we get the food out to them?”
– Rhonda Maingot
The Living Water community had an even bigger problem. Working with funding from international agencies, the faith-based NGO had been working with as many as 500 families per month, the poor, the undocumented and refugees.
After the Covid-19 lockdown, the system collapsed as unprecedented numbers of people arrived at the brick-red gates of the community looking for help.
The police tried to enforce social distancing and gave up, dispersing the crowds.
From Wednesday last week, Living Water began distributing some of its charity using the WiPay system.
“We see a lot of people needing food, and that’s a big challenge,” Maingot said in a promotional video. “How do we get the food out to them?”
“We see all these old ladies who come to us and have to carry a heavy load to the taxi stand. With the code, they can go to supermarkets in their area.”
The new system, distributed for free by the company to the borough of Point Fortin and to NGOs, requires the recipient to submit identification information, name, address, photo ID or a selfie, which the donor uses to log them as a unique instance and generate a QR code that they receive as a text message.
The supporting business where it’s redeemed scans the code, which represents a promise to pay the designated sum by the donor, verifies the identity of the individual and assigns the value for their purchases.
“You can distribute a grant instantly,” Wayne says, “you can actually do it before you get the money, because it’s a promise to pay, not e-money.”
Living Water will continue to distribute hampers, but has high hopes for the efficiencies of the new system.
“This is not going to be a one month or two-month business,” said Maingot, “this is going to be a long-term thing.”
“We want to be able to help the person in need near to where they are, and at the same time, keep in touch with them to see in what other ways we can assist.”