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Fighting Poverty and Promoting Health Outcomes using Biometrics

By Lalit Kumar, Managing Director – Africa, and May Lew, Investment Associate  |   Posted 8th January 2021

Globally, one billion people alive today do not officially exist. Identification has become increasingly essential for people to access basic services and exercise their rights. Its absence is not just an outcome of underdevelopment, but also a driver. This lack of formal identity perpetuates poverty by restricting access to welfare-improving social programs and economic opportunities, and these challenges disproportionately affect those who live in the world’s poorest countries, where 36 percent of adults do not have any identification and, in sub-Saharan Africa, 56 percent of children under five do not have a registered birth.

In the context of health services and public health management, linking patients to their records is critical for efficient and effective service delivery, particularly with vaccinations for children which require successive care visits. Fragmented data also creates challenges for governments to plan and target resources accurately towards diseases which have the highest burden. Integrated biometric technologies can verify service delivery, improve efficiency, and ensure adherence in interventions requiring iterative engagement such as HIV-AIDS and Tuberculosis.

GIF is, therefore, partnering again with Simprints, a non-profit tech company building and deploying biometric ID solutions designed specifically for last-mile markets to improve and track the delivery of goods and services by NGOs and governments. Following a successful grant project, GIF is now supporting Simprints’ move to take on risk capital. This funding trajectory demonstrates a pathway for non-profits and investors to challenge status-quo practices of seeking or deploying purely grant capital to support growth.

GIF has a unique financing model and ability to tailor investment instruments to support growth at crucial phases in an organisation’s evolution. Simprints provides ID, verification and analytics services to non-profits, governments and other development actors around the world. Simprints is working to fill a gap in the market where many biometric technologies are expensive, inaccurate in low-income settings, poorly designed, or are provided by companies lacking development sector expertise. Simprints provides mobile hardware to scan fingerprints, as well as a mobile app and a cloud-based system for data aggregation, deduplication, and analytics. These are designed to integrate into existing mobile platforms used by NGOs and governments to verify the intended beneficiaries. Simprints has also developed a camera-based, contactless biometric product, which reduces risks of Covid-19 infection via touching contaminated surfaces.

In 2016, GIF provided £150,000 of grant funding to Simprints to test for business model sustainability and contribute to the biometric evidence base through a research study. Since that pilot grant, the company has deployed its technology in 12 countries in partnership with BRAC, Mercy Corps, the Ethiopian Ministry of Health, and many more, reaching more than 927,138 beneficiaries worldwide and achieving profitability.

We have partnered with Simprints to develop and deploy a £2,100,000 revolving line of credit to support the company as it transitions from pilot projects to working on scale-up projects in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and beyond. This facility will provide Simprints with the flexibility it needs to manage its working capital during a critical period of growth.

Managing liquidity risk is critical for continued performance, scaling and delivering impact. GIF’s investment allows Simprints to transition from primarily working on pilot projects to delivering large global health projects at scale. The line of credit allows Simprints to demonstrate robustness of its business model and readiness to access mainstream financing by demonstrating its capability to accept risk capital, manage the debt facility and financial covenants.

Forecasting the impact of this investment was challenging, as Simprints works across several sectors and deploys its technology to help resolve challenges in education, cash transfers, and health services. Through a review of Simprints’ past projects, current portfolio, and pipeline projects, GIF chose to focus on Simprints’ concentration in the health space to calculate the projected impact.

We believe that Simprints’ impact in health is driven by improvement in continuity of care, reduction in fraud and other cost leakages, and operational efficiency gains through data-driven decision-making. However we take a conservative approach and base our current impact model solely on the improvement in continuity of care from a more consistent application of frontline health work. This should result in better health outcomes for beneficiaries as measured by reduced disease morbidity and lives saved.

This investment also demonstrates a model and method for other similar social enterprises with credible revenue models to venture into mainstream financing. Revolving credit facilities are often an underutilized resourcing mechanism which needs to be accessed more in a world where an increasing set of priorities are competing for a limited pool of grant funding to alleviate poverty.