LONDON – As the number of people in the UK carrying small change is dropping daily, the most vulnerable in society who rely on spontaneous giving are suffering the biggest consequences of this digital transition to a cashless society.
Irene Lopez, a Spanish entrepreneur living in London, has developed an app that tackles the problems homeless people are facing as fewer people on the streets are giving because many no longer use physical cash for transactions.
In August 2017, Lopez started developing “Giving Streets” with fellow colleagues who were working in the technology sector.
The idea stemmed from the fact that often they found themselves in a situation of wanting to give but being unable to do so because they had no cash on hand.
“This is a way of not looking the other way so that people that want to give can continue to do so,” Lopez told EFE.
The UK is the third most country in the world unlikely to have liquid cash in circulation, meaning more and more people rely on credit cards and e-payments for transactions.
According to the Crisis NGO, the official number of rough sleepers or homeless in the UK has shot up by 169 percent since 2010.
The combination of a spike in homelessness and less cash in circulation means the number of people in poverty is also on the rise.
When the group of techies that developed Giving Streets launched their project there was nothing like it on the market, but in the last year, several other online projects, whereby users can donate using contactless credit cards, have emerged.
However, many of these apps and digital media platforms rely on end users having bank accounts, credit cards or mobile phones.
With Giving Streets rough sleepers simply have a QR code on a card that potential donors scan with the cameras on their phones.
Once scanned, the code directs donors to a website where they can either make a one-off anonymous donation of their chosen amount or they can register their details to become regular donors.
Donors then process payments via their phones, and the people who receive the donation claim the money via their QR code which acts as a digital wallet, Lopez explained.
The Spanish innovator describes many of the donations the service processes as “micro-donations,” adding that they want to encourage everyone to give no matter how small the sum.
In the world of charitable giving, a key element of these transactions is trust.
Something Giving Streets is attempting to do is bridge the gap between two profiles of donors.
On the one hand, those who give regardless of what the given funds will be spent on, and on the other hand, those who prefer to give to charities because they feel uncomfortable with their funds being used on certain items.
Lopez said that in a bid to ensure transparency, QR codes are distributed by charities and organizations that work with the homeless and can ensure they are indeed going to the right people.
In addition, the app offers what she calls “a feedback loop” whereby donors can expect to get information on what their money has been spent on through an automated messaging service.
Certain products, such as alcohol, cannot be purchased using the QR codes.
The app has already proven successful and was named winner of the Chivas Venture last year.
The team is taking their project to the Chivas Venture finals in Amsterdam, in May.
The project has an even more ambitious goal, and that is to give rough sleepers the aspiration and possibility to save money for a deposit on a flat for example.
“We are people with a social conscience. We use technology to change how organizations work, how society works, how political environments work, everyone on the team comes from that area of work and we believe that with technology great things can be achieved,” Lopez stressed.
So far Giving Streets has been piloted only in the UK.
“There is a huge amount of social awareness in this country,” the social entrepreneur stated.