Impact makers in Apollo 14:

Tykn part 1 - “Digital, secure and private identity goes beyond refugees”

The Hague based startup Tykn, which has just settled in the startup hub Apollo 14, is a wonderful example of ‘doing good and doing business’. Although the era we live in is known for accelerating technology in many ways we still depend on vulnerable paper-based systems. The pains and complications that Toufic ‘Tey’ El-Rjula experienced as a result of losing important records to war inspired him to co-found Tykn in 2016. With this digital identity startup Tey aims to help NGOs and governments with an identity management system for humanitarian aid. Learn more about about Tey’s story in a series of three blogs, which will be posted on the ImpactCity website.

Ever since Tykn was founded the startup has won various awards and hackathons. Tykn’s latest winning was the Dutch edition of the Chivas Venture competition. ‘It’s a great feeling winning these awards. I believe we have found what people need and what touches society. It’s a shared-point, a common link between refugees and the Dutch people’. Tey explains ‘What links them is privacy. Refugees want an affordable secure identity, while having their privacy protected and we learned that Dutch people are also growing more concerned about protecting their privacy. During the competitions we participated in, both the professional jury and public votes confirmed our message that there is a need for privacy compliance solutions in identity in The Netherlands’.

Anyone can become a refugee

The need for a digital, secure and private identity goes beyond refugees. ‘First, anyone can become a refugee in the future. It is not only people from specific regions that are vulnerable. Refugees are not necessarily poor people from an economically deprived zone. Citizens of The Hague could one day become refugees due to climate change for example. Flood, drought, other kinds of natural disasters or unexpected events can lead to people needing to flee. The wildfires in California illustrate that. These fires destroyed the houses of rich people, public figures, famous singers and artists and many ended up drinking soup in parking lots that was handed out by volunteers. Similar incidents occurred recently in Italy, France, the US. We see this happening more often and closer to us’.

The dark Dutch history

Another reason to ensure secure and private identity refers back to a dark part of Dutch history. According to Tey the Dutch are not only known for bicycles, tulips, marijuana, and red light districts. It is also known for what happened to the Jewish community during WWII. Lots of documentaries describe the Holocaust, but Tey feels they fail to interpret how the nazis were able to identify ethnicities systematically. Tey explains: ‘This happened because of a technology called a punch-card machine. A centralized paper-based civil registry system that was used in the entire Netherlands. With this machine one could see your name, your ancestors, where you live, it was basically your id card. Once the nazi’s had their hands on this technology they were able to locate everyone. The punch-card machine was used for terrible things.

Identities for everyone

This system, however, was not designed for prosecution and killing, it was actually designed to improve services for citizens. Today we use a similar technology while integrating new innovations in our lives like artificial intelligence, blockchain, cryptocurrencies, machine learning and so on. Although technology can be misused Tey states it should be like a car. ‘Are you going to ban cars because a car killed a guy on a bicycle? No, because a car can also transport wounded people to hospitals. Here you see we are having the same discussions today’.

‘It is a fact that technology is going to affect our lives, but how are we going to use it responsibly? The answer lies with the people that use it, not with the technology. Technology does nothing it is merely a tool, it is humans who decide. Therefore we are not only celebrating the winning of these awards, but by winning we believe Dutch people from all generations understand our message and are asking for privacy, portability and security in identities. Not just for refugees but for everyone’.

Find out next week how Tey’s personal life story as an ‘invisible man’ inspired him to develop a resilient identity and use blockchain technology to help the invisible people of our time.