Toufic ‘Tey’ El-Rjula’s personal records were destroyed during the Gulf War making him an invisible man. His personal life and the thousands of people he met with similar stories, while moving between different refugee camps, inspired him to develop a blockchain solution that will help the invisible people of our time. Read the second part of the story about Tykn, who has just settled in impact startup location Apollo 14.
Tey, a Syrian software analyst, co-founded Tykn in 2016. This blockchain startup aims to improve the identity management system for humanitarian aid. He explains: ‘our vision and mission states that identities need to be portable, whether on paper or digital, and you need to carry this with you. Second, it needs to be private. You control it. Next thing is the security, people need to have the right that the data is safe and there is no way that it can be found on the market the next day with a list of passwords, credit card numbers, and addresses’. It is Tey’s personal story that inspired him to work on the future of resilient identity.
Shocks of Beirut
It all started when his own records were destroyed during the Gulf War in Kuwait and he had to flee to Beirut, Lebanon at the age of five. Tey states: ‘the major difference between The Hague and Beirut, other than drinkable tap water, 24-hour electricity and internet access, bicycle lanes and so on, is planning. In The Hague you can plan ahead for one, two, three years, but in Lebanon you had to plan for tomorrow. There was a maximum of 24 hours, because after that you don’t know if you are dead or alive, if neighboring countries will invade the country and enforce new laws, or if the government still exists in the next 48 hours.
The uncertainty level was high, but this has also made me resilient to shocks that are also part of being a startup’. While studying Business Economics in Beirut Tey knew his strengths lie in business and humanitarian sciences. This period of his life was however particularly difficult, because it was during that time that the prime minister of Lebanon, Rafic Hariri, was assassinated. The Lebanese people believed he had been assassinated by the Syrian regime. That is why a few weeks after handing in his final report Tey had to leave the country and started working in Dubai.
After working in Dubai for six years Tey was offered a job in The Hague as a software trainer. ‘I remember arriving in freezing cold February and I was wearing so many clothes I could not close my jacket anymore. I was surprised by how different things were here and seeing trams, bicycles, small buildings, and tall people, but after two weeks I loved The Hague’.
Being raised in Lebanon basically means to love football according to Tey, ‘this is why I started looking for a football club to support. I liked the green and yellow of ADO Den Haag, the local club here. I even bought a scooter which had a hand sprayed ADO flag on it. Everywhere I went with the scooter people were clapping and once I started to go to the ADO stadium the scooter became really popular’.
One day, however, Tey’s work contract was canceled, leaving him without a work permit. He was advised to apply for asylum in Ter Apel where Centre for Asylum Seekers is located. This process takes two years to complete, during which Tey had to move between five different asylum camps. ‘Everything was paper-based, but most importantly there was no communication between all the systems in place.
This was not only my problem, it was the problem of every single refugee in the Netherlands. Besides, it also costs huge amounts of money and valuable time. The long processes are not the fault of the technology or infrastructure, I realized it is how procedures were done and the ones that suffer firsthand are vulnerable groups like refugees.
That is why I started looking into how software can improve the procedure of identifying people while in the meantime protects their privacy. Tykn offers a blockchain platform which allows transforming the current paper-based systems into a digital one. The major difference is that people carry their identity with them and so the role of NGOs and local governments is no longer to save data, it is to sign it and validate its authenticity’.
Find out more in our next blog about how Tykn is paving the way for the future of ‘resilient identities’ and fighting for identity as a fundamental human right.